Tonight I was sitting in the kitchen eating dinner with my host mother, and she was quizzing me on the names of the foods we were eating. I’ve learned most of the names and ingredients of the common dishes here, and this week I learned how to speak in the past tense, so I was talking about what I ate for dinner and she was correcting me whenever I made a mistake or mispronounced something.
After dinner we always sit and have tea together (or chai, as its pronounced here—just like in Egypt!) and we talk in Ukrainian as long as my vocabulary holds up. Tonight we got stuck on the word “pechinka.” She said it a few times and I had no clue what she was talking about, and she gestured to her lower abdomen and said it again. So I bust out the dictionary (this is what happens when charades breaks down) and looked up “pechinka.” The dictionary informed me that it meant liver. So I told her I understood, and she asked me if I had one. And I said, why yes, I have a liver. The next question: do you like it? And I was confused, but I said that yes I like my liver. And mentally I was thinking, “isn’t your liver one of those organs you can’t live without?” I know you can do with one kidney, and without an appendix or a gallbladder, but I was fairly certain that your liver is essential. And as I was considering this, she asked about pork liver. And then the lights came on—she was asking if I liked to EAT liver. And I had just told her that I liked it! So I tried to backtrack, and I said in the U.S. we never eat liver, so I have no idea if I like it. And she says she’ll make it soon so I can try it… Awesome.
I honestly hope she doesn’t tell me when we eat liver. I much rather try it and decide if its good based on what it tastes like, rather than on my preconceived opinion against it. I don’t know why it sounds unappealing, but I’m sure it would be a much fairer test if I didn’t know it was when I tried it.
Case and point: last week, we had a salad with corn, carrots, mayonnaise, and something dark and crunchy (FYI: here anything with vegetables is called “salat,” even if there is no lettuce). I was learning food names, so I identified everything I knew (corn, carrots, and mayo) and then said “what else” in Ukrainian. And Anya said “teleyatina certza.” My host brother asked if I understood, and I said no. And he said “baby cow” in Ukrainian. So I figured he meant veal! But then he put his hand on his heart and made a gesture for a heartbeat… meaning we were eating baby cow hearts. And before I knew that’s what it was, it tasted fine. Nothing spectacular, but edible. Once I knew what it was, I couldn’t eat anymore!
I probably would’ve felt guilty even if it was just veal, as one of my earliest memories involves a close friend’s personal stand against consuming veal. The person in question was my first best friend (Beth)’s mother, who used to love veal until she saw a documentary about how baby cows were practically tortured in the slaughtering process. As a result she gave up eating veal. Beth’s dad felt no such compassion for baby cows, and so he still ate veal from time to time. But Beth’s mom would kill it for him by making pathetic baby “moo” noises as he ate, so he wouldn’t forget how his buying veal contributed to the torture of baby cows.
I wonder what she would think of me today, eating baby cow HEARTS! I have no idea about the slaughtering process here in Ukraine; perhaps its much more humane than in the United States? Or maybe this is my guilty conscience speaking. I guess we’ll never know the truth ; )
I’ve eaten many interesting food items in my travels, but so far the most interesting was “cuy” from Ecuador, which is guinea pig. They put the whole guinea pig on a spit and slow roast it over a fire until its nice and crunchy. Then the whole thing goes on your plate and comes out with the poor little critter’s head and everything, so I had a hard time eating that one. But my host dad in Ecuador thought it was funny that I felt bad for guinea pigs—he showed me a little hutch of guinea pigs on his mother’s farm, and said firmly “dinner—not pets!” I just don’t like thinking of small fluffy creatures as dinner. But as long as I don’t know what I’m eating, I’m fine.
I can’t think of any crazy dishes I tried in the Middle East… everything I had there I loved, especially during the semester when this Egyptian lady Karima cooked for us. Her cooking was incredible, and sometimes she threw in American dishes to surprise us : ) The only bad food I remember was in Syria, when we bought “shawarma” at a roadside stand. Shawarma was one of my favorite foods, and always consisted of a slow-roasted meat (whether chicken or beef) that was cut off a rack in slivers and mixed with onions, peppers, and spices and then put in a wrap. The shawarma meat we had in Syria was undercooked though, and ended up giving quite a few people serious food poisoning. And the worst part was we were traveling, so driving for whole days in a bus was torture for the people who were sick. But in Egypt, when I got shawarma from Mr. Koko, it was always incredible : )
Now that I’ve probably seriously grossed you out… I’m signing off. But if any of you live near an Aladdin’s Eatery, go and eat some wonderful Middle Eastern food and enjoy it for me too : ) I miss eating hummos so much! Maybe once I get my own place I’ll invest in a food processor and go on an expedition for chickpeas. I have no clue if they’re grown in Ukraine or imported (if I’m lucky), but if I can find them I’m definitely making my own hummos.
P.S: Have any of you eaten liver? Is it as bad as it sounds, or am I just overreacting?