Everyone's Cuisine - The Watchdog Of Gastronomy

For well over one year, since I and the retiring actor Stelian Nistor marketed our tee-vees to see the magazine Everybody's Cuisine through the press, our peers, notably those at The Catzavencu Academy, never fail to cheek me: "You meatball-journalist," "recipe commentator," "and what is the object of your investigations this issue – the E-files? Counterfeit dough?" Those green-eyed monsters… It is to them and to all those who are skeptical about the odds of a solid "gastronomic press" in Romania that I wish to address the following lines. Indeed, we, the editors of Everyone's Cuisine, are active in The Fourth Estate. Genuinely active. Even if we do not bring down governments – by the contents of our publication we labor to change the mentality of a people who, during 45 years of communism, has arrived at contemplating French fries and steak as the epitome of welfare. Therefore, even we, "culinary journalists," have our wars to foil: we fight against bad eating habits, for and against hamburger "gut wash," for and against cholesterol, against ketchup globalization, against coke-watered wine… Still, we have higher ideals, as well. We wish to bring to the Romanian table the finest of international cuisine and to rediscover what the (dietary) bygone regime of sad remembrance has obliterated from grandmother's cooking book. The truth has to come out, even if it were only the simple truth about traditional Romanian cuisine, surprising and refined. We will prove once and forever that our kitchen is neither plainly "Turkish" nor "Austro-Hungarian." For this we attempt to demonstrate in our pages that, from our plunderers, we have creatively (!) taken over the fast, food, the fast-food type dishes, that is the ones prepared in full gallop, as it were, under the horse's saddle, only to develop fully different formulae: the settled version, one which their arrogant cooks had never even imagined. We militate, for example, for the acknowledgement of being the first Balkan nation to have ever added meat to the Turkish-Greek sarma, then, at a later stage, we took it a step further and left them unwrapped, in cabbage "à la Cluj." (On top of all that, in order to obliterate any trace of outlandish intrusion, we poured sour cream in profusion). We wish to demonstrate that we were the first in the world to have grilled "La Iordache," the composition for minced meat. This, after the Roman Eastern Empire had high-handedly crammed us with intestine-wrapped hot dogs. It was about time for a gastronomic gazette to emerge, which would be a rostrum for the homemakers of either sex, so that the following could be stoutly avowed: even if not unitary, even if desirably alienable amongst foreign tourists, Romanian cuisine is unregimented! For, it has been far too often said in school times that we, Romanians, have a petty cuisine, set at the crossroads of European aromas; furthermore, that for centuries we have been forced to furtively gulp a bite of whey cheese, perhaps accompanied by half an onion, in order to withstand the enemy within the gates. During all this, forgotten in the calendered nooks and crannies of the grand Western chancelleries, the Roquefort would mold away untroubled – in the vicinity of a bunch of grapes. Not true! Absolutely not true! And we have the means to prove it! For the August issue, our special reporters discovered the Ţaga grottoes, where Năsal cheese acquires a coat of noble reddish mold, which stands alone in world gastronomy! […] In Ţaga, noble cheese goes as far back as the first mutton! Truth be told, when the Turk was at the Danube, we had only 24 hours at our elbows to choke down an entire mutton, thus preventing it from turning into a kebab. Nonetheless, this proved to be to our advantage. Firstly, we had discovered mutton "in the pit," cooked "à la outlaw"; secondly, deprived of fresh water, as the wells were being patently poisoned, the Osmanlis were forced to feast on a spoonful of sherbet on an empty stomach which wilted them to such an extent that they had to lie down for two-or-three hours in the shade. Which gave the enemy-deprived skirmishers of The Impaler or the messengers of Steven the Great just enough time to raid, in an erratic gesture, through the campaign kitchen and the recipe books. Along this line, the same August issue makes an epochal disclosure. The renowned Muslim couscous, today's bread in the Arab world (nothing more than pearl barley squashed and boiled) took on a new form in Slobozia, on the other side of the Prut, even if the name – "cuscutzi" – virtually stayed the same: Here, every grain of the pellet is coated in a delicate dough by way of a special procedure and, thoroughly pan-fried, becomes crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Never has this crossed the Turk's mind or particularly his guts, or the Bulgarian's, for that matter! In Slobozia Mare, we have also tracked down a kind of flat noodles cooked in chicken soup, contender to the Italian pappardelle which are amply addressed under the "Pasta" chapter of the previously mentioned edition. Finally, as with any self-respecting publication, interviews are also included in Everyone's Cuisine. Some might be disappointed, but we strictly chat with high-profile people who have something to say, though not necessarily in the domain of gastronomy. Even in this issue, the celebrated singer Valeria Peter Predescu – and, what laymen usually do not know, once in charge of the supplying laboratory for the 57 pastries in Bistritza county – gives an "exclusive" interview on cocorada, a species of Romanian pizza with sour cream kneaded into its dough. Interesting? I cannot further dwell on this month's investigations, for merely technical reasons. In the "Banana Files," you may learn that the banana tree is not actually a tree, but a large herb and that zander with banana peanuts garnishing is something to die for! We have, out of respect for the truth, prepared it in the editorial office and gobbled it up in the blink of an eye. Therefore, most esteemed colleagues, are we or are we not, members of the press? Please let me tell you this: even if we do not bite anybody's head off, except that we bite into our featured recipes, we still do credit to journalism.
Excerpted from Dilema, 1-7 August, 2003

by Răzvan Cucui