Thursday, October 12, 2006

Negreni II: Mici

One thing about the Negreni market is the smell - the entire fair is covered with the smoke of dozens of tents serving beer and mici. Beery, smokey roast meat smells permeate the fair grounds. Mici, also known as mititei, are often mentioned as a Romanian national dish, although they are the the northern relatives of those ground meat, finger shaped delicacies encountered throughout the Balkans as Turkish köfte and Serbian cevapcici, but with a big difference. Mici are frigging primitive. Meaty, filling, but definately neanderthal cuisine.I'm not trying to slag off Romanian mici, but after a summer downing hundreds of of thumb sized ground beef and lamb fingerlings while in Turkey, I may now be lost to the pleasures of mici. Mici are much bigger than either köfte or cevapcici, and have less internal flavor. The meat used is usually beef neck meat mixed with some mutton - sheep, not lamb - and the grind is usually coarser. Apart from salt, the only spice is usually soda bicarbonate and charcoal smoke. A lot of charcoal smoke. Mici are almost never eaten at home. They are the meat snack of beer gardens, market places, grill resturants, and cookouts. They are usually wolfed down with thick hunks of bread, bright yellow mustard, and a big halba of beer. And tsuica. And another tsuica. And another tsuica. And another tsuica....Of course, there are other things to eat - a lot of families, proud of their cooking skills simply set up a table and turn out Mama's home cooking. Stuffed cabbage sarmale is a favorite - and some of the best stuffed cabbage I have eaten has been here at the Negreni fair. And I have eaten a lot of stuffed cabbage in my time... This year the ladies from the village of Szék (Sic in Romanian) maintained a catering tent of their own. Szék is an almost entirely Hungarian town - its a very big village - in the Mezöseg region east of Cluj, and women from Szék have carved out a niche as cooks for most of the larger weddings in the Mezöseg. Szék has the reputation of being an arch-conservative Hungarian village, and the women still maintain their traditional dress of red skirts and kerchiefs. Many still wear black head kerchiefs - in memory of the destruction of Szék during the Mongol invasions in 1243. Talk about holding a grudge! While Szék is a holdout of archaic Hungarian culture, they are a bit too self-conscious of it for my tastes, and have been so since the 1930s, actively playing a rather weak nationalist card to the Hungarian appetite for imagined "authentic folkore." To their credit, however, to this day they actually do manage to maintain a healthy local culture and folkore despite being the ideal of "authenticty" for the folkie scene in Budapest. But enough of turdy meat sticks! Everybody is here for shopping! You've all seen the Malls of The Future: this is the Mall of the Not-Future! This is where you can buy stuff that museums want to buy, but don't know what size to get it in. How about some nice furry sheepskin shepherds' cloaks, for those drizzly days minding the flocks up in the Apuseni montains?Here we see a set of bima cloths from a destroyed synagogue that was located near Bucharest. They were being sold by some Gypsy dealers from near Bucharest who wanted Euro 200 for these. Now, honestly, a lot of locals came up to me, Mr. Jew, and told me how heart-breaking it was to see these items for sale sitting on the dusty ground... and you know, there is a lucrative market in theUS and Israel for old Jucaica like these. But damn... if these folks weren't selling them as antiques these cloths would have ended up in the city dump or incinerator anyways. Sometimes the antique sellers have an unsettling way of evoking history.... no, these aren't neo-nazis, but obviously some old Nazi died and they bought the crap from his estate, and here it is. I have no idea how much it costs. I didn't careful about what you leave behind you when you die...Most folks simply need to buy normal stuff... you know, like horse trappings for the family mare... none of that SUV gas guzzling here. Petrol costs money, and who needs to spend money for farm transport when hay is free? Next post: The loudest noise that ever came out of anything looking something like a fiddle: Music in Bihor.

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