Monday, February 09, 2009
The Holy Pickles of Chisinau
Back in November, when Fumie and were in the Republic of Moldova, we were surprised at how good the food was - not something you would expect from a country that is widely known as one of the poorest in Europe. But we really enjoyed the offerings, especially the pickles. Susan and Diana Ghergus took us to the central market in Chisinau/Kishinev on one of our free days in Moldova's capitol.One of the clues that you are in the former Soviet Union is the little lacey aprons that the women wear in the meat and dairy markets. It looks like they were designed by Disney for some movie about french maids... and also the fact that nobody objects to having their photo taken. You can't just walk around a Hungarian or Austrian market snapping pix without fielding a bit of verbal abuse. In Moldova, no problem with photos at all.Fish was everywhere - interesting given that Moldova is landlocked, but Odessa is only an hour away and as former CCCP appetites know, if you want to drink you need some zakuska to eat with your vodka, and that means some smoked fish. In many ways, if you are used to New York jewish foods, you won't be dissappointed in fressing in Moldova. Jewish culinary traditions have been deeply absorbed into Moldovan cuisine - supermarkets are packed at the arrival of hot, fresh baked challah on friday afternoons.Turning a row we came on the pickle sellers, always happy to let you taste a bit because they know a sucker when they see one and I am a deep sucker for pickles. These were... and I don't like to use superlatives - the best pickles in the world.Pickles stuffed with pickles, eggplants pickled whole, tomatos, cabbage, peppers, if it grows it gets pickled. The cucumber pickles... oh my fracking Gods... Moldovans are proud of their wine and cognac, but they should be exporting the pickles. They should open pickle bars in all of Europe's cities and watch the money flow in. These weren't just good - they were A-Number One Hebrew Semitically Approved Sour Bombs.Whole pickled wathermelons. I mean, what if you and some friends are watching the TV one night and you need something to go with your beer? Why not a whole pickled watermelon. It tastes like... pickles.The wild mushroom pickles are everywhere in Moldova. While we stayed in Chisinau we rented an apartment and after a busy day were too tired to bother going out to a restaurant - and in Chisinau restaurants are not cheap. So we would pick up a little bit of food at the local supermarket take out stand, and we may have eaten far better than any restaurant could have served us. I mean, how many soviet style chicken soups do I need? Not so many. Instead we would have mushroom pickles, grape leaves stuffed with rice, bits of smoked fish, and more pickles.There was an entire section of the market dedicated to prunes in every form: dried prunes, smoked prunes, pitted or unpitted, I had never guessed that there were so many different kinds of prunes. And yes, they were good. Having eaten too many pickles by this point, I had no need of the medicinal properties for which prunes are famous, so I passed on buying a kilo of prunes, making this woman very sad.