November 2018. With M.A.D. we go to Beirut as Walid and Riad invited us to come.
In Walid’s garden.
From the left: Walid Merhi, I, Karim, Marta A. Dymek in Walid’s garden.
About their hospitality and our guest shows I will write later – today I will focus on something different. In fact, they were more hospitable than we could have imagined – we got so close to the Lebanon culture and cuisine as one only can during a 7-day visit. Everyday feasts, two, four or even five meetings by the table, the common table which was always full of delicacies. During all that time neither in restaurants, bars, food stalls nor houses had we seen hummus or tabbouleh which are always cited as the key Lebanon dishes. So we pose questions.
„You won’t get any fucking hummus or tabbouleh with me” – firmly states Walid and he starts to explain why he is so much pissed off. “People associate us only with that shit, they don’t order anything else, they don’t try anything else and our cuisine is way richer than that.” And I totally get his point! This is just like the Polish pierogi.
If anyone is the world was asked to enlist Polish dishes, they would say pierogi and maybe kiełbasa – the Polish sausage. And I share Walid’s opinion so much that I can literally count all the times that I had served pierogi in the last decade. How many times when I was running Solec people would ask about pierogi or they would ask to make a huge batch for tourists? I can’t event count that.
Let’s make it clear – there is nothing wrong with pierogi just as there is nothing wrong with the fact that they are always on the menu in the majority of restaurants and the restaurants in the Warsaw Old Town serve nothing more than pierogi, as they are the fundamental element of their culinary business. The point is that they are so bad so often. And the worst thing? Very often we don’t get any another option.
What will Polish John Smith say about his Polish cuisine? What will an Italian say?
Let’s take a look at the Italian cuisine, it’s so popular around the world and so spoilt by the stereotypical and wrong assessment. On top of that, each Italian citizen gets the best meat in his or her mother’s home. Everything that has not been made by mom is just bad.
If you have time just watch the first episode of Chef’s table and you will see what Massimo did. He served people tortellini – dumplings that everyone was familiar with. Not 10 pieces, but 6 – that evokes strong emotions – as he puts it „People from Modena wish me death”. Massimo continues saying „when you eat dumplings you immerse yourself fully in this process.” „This is 6 tortellinis – respect each one” adds Faith Willinger.
From being the public enemy, Massimo turned out to be the most beloved person in Italy. He is a hero who fought the entire Italy to win the new tradition-based quality.
„Tradition is paying respect to the ingredients”
It’s the 26th of December. I’m at Zoni Restaurant. There are as many guests as you can expect on that day, so I’m just working in the back kitchen. I’ve already made Ruthenian dumplings (they are often mistranslated as Russian) with dried pike roe, nadtwaróg (fresh cheese), potatoes, butter fried gold onion, tons of pepper, and a lot of flavorful pike roe cooked in sweet cream. I will serve two of these. Maybe three. It makes a lot of sense to me.
*nadtwaróg (hyper farmer’s cheese) – together with Gieno Mientkiewicz we assigned this name to the fresh farmer’s cheese made by Wojciech Pilch. It can’t go by the simple name twaróg. Once you try, you know why.
Come over to Zoni to try the Ruthenian dumplings with pike roe. I will be serving them from the 28th of December.
Translation: Magdalena Gendźwiłł