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Fish & chips does not equal sarmale 09/06/2015

Posted by allthingsro in food.
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If a Romanian treats you to fish & chips, what do you owe them, in Romanian cuisine?

This is not a purely abstract question of food equations. A Romanian once served me fish & chips. When I reported this to another Romanian (I collect them), he said, “Well, I guess you owe him sarmale.”

To which I say, no way, José. Fish & chips does not equal sarmale.

Let’s start with the fish & chips side of the equation. You do not make fish & chips. You go to the fish & chip shop. It is fast food: you eat it, enjoy it, but you feel kind of bad afterwards and, depending on the level of greasiness, you may feel like you need a shower afterwards. If you’re a mother and supper at your house is fish & chips more than once a week, the adjective “bad” may well be applied to your parenting skills (although your children no doubt love you dearly).

Now for the sarmale. They are quite simply a labour of love. There are two options here: 1) you go to a restaurant and 2) you know someone who knows the art of making them and who is sure to be on your Christmas card list for evermore. The preparation is extensive: there are cabbage leaves to be boiled, rice to be mixed with pork and herbs, little rolls to be wrapped. It is a day’s work.

Sarmale equate, roughly, to roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and three veg. The difference is that, although the British equivalent does require a lot of presence in the kitchen, you don’t have to be active on the cooking front for all that time: there’s considerably more scope for getting tipsy with a glass of red and leafing through the Sunday papers.

Fish and chips, I propose, equals a shaorma, a Romanian kebab. You buy it from the shop, consume it with gusto, but come home feeling slightly bad and probably in need of a shower. I hear some protests that a shaorma is not authentically Romanian but rather a Turkish import, so it might have to be mici instead: barbecued meat rolls. But for me, a shaorma is the equivalent.

And to go back to the fish & chips I was served: there was no greasy fish & chip shop involved. The components were removed from the freezer compartment, inserted in the oven, perhaps shaken a little. All in all, far short of the truly saturated-in-grease fish & chips experience.

So what do I owe for this fish-and-chips-from-the-freezer supper? Ciorba de burta (“stomach soup”). From a can, courtesy of Albinuta, the purveyor of all fine Romanian food in the UK.

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