I skimmed through my blog entries today and realized that I’ve only written one entry about food, and much of it was devoted to new foods I don’t necessarily enjoy. So this blog entry is going to rectify this imbalance by focusing on all the excellent Ukrainian food I’ve been eating here. I thought it was unfair that you have only heard about the 1% of strange foods I’ve tried, and not the 99% of great home-cooked meals my host mother makes!
So the basic staples of a Ukrainian meal are meat and potatoes, in endless variations. The Ukrainian word for meat is “miaso” and I never know exactly what type of meat it is that we’re eating. I know chicken, pork, rabbit, and beef are all popular, and I like almost everything my host mother makes. This week I finally tried liver, and it wasn’t bad. It has a unique taste, but I didn’t mind eating it. The worst part is the aftertaste, honestly. I was burping gaseous fumes the rest of the night!
Every lunch or dinner meal starts with a bowl of soup, either being a chicken-and-potato based soup, or borsch, which is a Ukrainian specialty. I love borsch, and so far its definitely one of my favorite things to eat here. It is made from beets, onions, cabbage, and sometimes meat, with tomato sauce as the base. My host mother promised to teach me how to cook it this Sunday, so I’ll post more details about its ingredients and such next week!
So after a bowl of soup, the main course is served. Like I mentioned before, it usually consists of meat and some form of potatoes. Sometimes my host mother makes macaroni noodles instead of potatoes to mix it up. She also makes a Ukrainian specialty called “Vareniki” that is like a miniature pierogie stuffed with meat and boiled on the stove. Another favorite food of mine is “Malintsi,” which is like what I’d call pancakes at home. Sometimes its just plain malintsi, which you dip in homemade jam. I’ve also had malintsi stuffed with cheese. But my favorite is malintsi stuffed with blueberries, which you dip in sour cream while it’s still hot. I think of it as Ukrainian blueberry pancakes, with sour cream instead of syrup on top. So delicious! (In Ukrainian, you would say “doozay smachno!”) My host brother has his own specialty—potato pancakes! I felt a little bit homesick when he made them and got out the sour cream to dip them in; it reminded me so much of my Dad at home! He always gets potato pancakes at the Fair every year, and I’m sure he would have loved these : )
The last Ukrainian dish I really enjoy is called “Holobsi” which is either cabbage or peppers (I’ve had both variations) stuffed with meat, rice, and onions. Its really flavorful, and I want Anya to show me how she makes it so I can make it at my permanent site when I move in December! I’m never home when she cooks except on Sunday (my only day off) so I need to use all the Sundays I have left to learn how to cook : )
Most days I have to be at school at eight, and I feel bad because Anya is about as much a morning person as I am (which is to say, not at all) and she feels like she has to make me breakfast every morning before I leave. This Saturday I’m going on a day trip to Nizhen, and the bus leaves at 7:20. She’s been insisting on waking up to feed me and see me off, but I begged her to let me make my own breakfast. She finally said okay but didn’t look like she believed me when I told her I could get my own bowl of cereal and make myself tea. I guess we’ll see Saturday if she gets up or lets me manage breakfast on my own!
Next week is Anya’s birthday, as well as Victor’s (her husband). Their birthdays are within a few days in the beginning of November, which is crazy because both of my parents (and my brother!) in America have their birthdays within the first two weeks of November too! I told Anya I want to buy my parents cards in the city and send them in the mail, and she laughed and told me they wouldn’t be there in time. I told her it’s the thought that counts, and she told me I have to write “sorry its late” in the card too. I think she’s hilarious, and I realized why she likes hosting Peace Corps volunteers—she likes continuing to mother even though her sons have grown up and flown the coop. I’m helping prevent an empty nest with my presence here, lol! To be honest, I really appreciate her, even when she’s mothering me. It makes me feel a little less alone and homesick when I see how much she cares for me and my well-being : )
I want to get her something for her birthday as a surprise, so I’m going to buy something tomorrow on my trip and hide it when I get home. She comes in my room all the time, which is fine, but I’m going to have to be creative if I want it to actually be a surprise : ) I haven’t decided if I will get Victor something, because I have no idea what a Ukrainian man in his 50s would like, to be honest. I have a hard enough time figuring out what to buy my real father, and we don’t have a language barrier in our way! Victor and I don’t talk as much, but he’s always very nice to me. Last week Anya had to go to the city before I left for school, and Victor and my host brother went crazy trying to make me breakfast. I had made a sandwich and told them I was fine, but Vasya (my host brother) insisted I needed an omelet (“Anya always makes you eggs!”) and Victor tried to force a second sandwich on me as I left for school (“Anya will kill me if you leave for school hungry!”) They’re hilarious.
Last week my language trainer came to my house to check on me (it was while I had a cold), and Victor told her I needed to have more time off to spend with them at home. He said the Peace Corps keeps me too busy and he and Anya would like to see me more. I thought this was so kind of him—I didn’t know he liked having me around! But all the happy feelings I was feeling evaporated when he ratted me out, telling Natalia that I needed to see a Peace Corps doctor because I still had a bad cough. They still don’t believe it was just a cold, even now when I’m perfectly healthy. But I always wear my house shoes inside now, so Anya doesn’t worry about me getting sick again : ) Here’s a picture of Anya and Victor, which I took for my Dad because he really wanted to see what my host family here looked like. So I thought I’d share it with you too : )
That’s all I have time to share, but I hope this time my stories about Ukrainian food made you jealous rather than squeamish ; ) Is there anything you want to know about Ukraine? I’m open to suggestions for blog topics, so just let me know if you’re interested in anything particular and I’ll tell you what I know : )
All my love,