At Medeleni

excerpt Olgutza and Monica had forgotten the size and duration of a Romanian banquet. Compared with French meals, the Romanian ones are like a trip in a carriage versus a precise urban taxi ride. When you have finally reached the last course – incidentally, in Romania, especially in Moldavia, the last course is always the last but one –, the previous courses, lingering behind the horizon, are already erased from memory, or have become quite vague. One has the feeling one has been at table for a week and ate the soup, or cold cuts, say, on Monday, the fish on Tuesday, and so on.The real salon of a Romanian household is the dining room. This protrusion of the stomach may be after all a philosophy rather than a necessity. A fatalist behind his forehead, by bowing the Easterner has discovered the stomach. Accordingly, he has been honoring this brother in pious humility before the permanent, but unseen gods that look him in the nape.As it happens, this inaugural meal had a highly patriotic signification. It was meant to prove the original note of Romania in the concerto of European cuisine, and show the girls that this note, if not in purity, at least in warmth and plenitude, was not inferior to French cuisine.Judging from this point of view, the old woman had served a symbol, a kind of culinary emblem of Moldavia: goose-breast sarmalutze*. To the gastronomist, the pig is like Ali Baba's cave in The Arabian Nights: a treasure of goodies. But in making the goose, the Creator surpassed the pig. A goose has a liver, like France has Paris. The goose pâté de foie gras represents a universally-acknowledged supremacy. Aside from the liver, however, and perhaps above it, the goose femininely offers to the glutton its fat, tender, yet substantial breast for pastrami and sarmalutze. These vulgar-sounding sarmalutze are as Moldavian as Creanga's style. They are small, round, wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves – and they melt. The sarmalutza, the genuine Moldavian sarmalutza, epitomizes the beatitude of effortless delight. You don't chew it. The mouth clutches it, presses it, and like a slice of topatan, the unrivaled muskmelon of Dobruja, the sarmalutza vanishes unctuously, leaving behind the flavor and regret of its ephemeral fondant life. The sarmalutze, like kisses, are not to be counted. You don't ask, neither are you given, a number of sarmalutze, but a group. You are surprised to notice they have disappeared. You are given another. When you become melancholic, you stop asking for more. Only then can you claim you have eaten sarmalutze. The sarmalutze moment had been so excitingly patriotic that the old woman, like the kings who went alone to the fields of crucial battles, had turned up at the door of the dining room. The battle had been won: the sarmalutze plate was empty. After the sarmalutze came the turn of the roasted turkey, from which the old woman had elicited divine culinary harmonies comparable to those coming from the strings of the violin played by Enescu's hand. Crispy chestnut skin, like cheeks of saints from smoked icons, brittle like the water's first frost pierced by a child's finger, and underneath, succulent white and brown meat melting like the pulp of autumn pears. The turkey could not miss, because this stupid bird plays in modern life the biblical role of the fatted calf. This steak was symbolic. Can one upset a symbol, not take one's hat off before the flag?To make the appetite match the piety and patriotism, halts were made between courses. When the chocolate mousse, prepared by Mrs. Catinca, arrived in cups – the old carnation cups – , a clank was heard, and the clock cuckoo came smartly out of its cage and cuckooed twice. They had been sitting at the table and eating since half past twelve. Now they were sighing. Monica was sitting to the right of Mrs. Catinca, the author of the mousse strewn with roasted almonds, with a complex blend of vanilla, bitter almond and bitter chocolate flavors, possibly even a touch of rum.Under Mrs. Catinca's gaze, Monica dipped the tip of the teaspoon into the fragrant mousse, tasted, and heaved a sigh:"It's delicious… but I'm stuffed!""Well now!" Mrs. Catinca frowned. "What's my mousse? Some play made for applause? Either you eat it, or it's not good!" 1927
* Forcemeat rolls in cabbage or vine leaves.

by Ionel Teodoreanu (1897-1954)