This is a post I have been thinking of for a while. Endivio’s comments on another post recently brought it back to mind.
Two countries I have visited fairly recently are Poland and Turkey. The first is a secular majority Catholic state, the second a secular* majority Muslim state.
So in what way do they differ? Obviously they have different histories and cultures driven by centuries but what really struck me is food. Now, at least in Western Turkey (I don’t know about the sticks) getting a bit of booze is easy and the same can of course be said for Poland. But meat is different. Meat in Poland is almost synonymous with pig. You don’t get much pig in Turkey. Indeed I saw one restaurant that served pig in Istanbul (it was a Spanish gaff). Just one. Once when picked up from Krakow Airport we had to dodge a deer on the road. I asked if they ate ‘em. “Er… not really” came the reply. When you consider in dear old Blighty venison is considered a king of meats this seemed odd. The place was apparently wick with dear but did you see it on a menu? Is there any particularly compelling reason meat in Turkey almost invariably means lamb? It is culture and tradition and cooking what your mam made. Women walk the streets of Istanbul in mini-skirts** sitting outside cafes and bars and drinking Efes Beer***. So hijab is out the window for many (by no means all) Turkish women as does going out for a pint but pig is off the menu.
Whereas in Poland if there ain’t pig involved it ain’t dinner. I have to say Polish beer is better than Turkish but Czech beer is most excellent. It is an odd thing. The persistence in culture of food. It seems to last longer than anything I can think of.
And it exists within countries. I am I think peculiar in living in the same house from birth to going to university – basically from 0-19. At Nottingham University I met southerners. They would talk about Christmas dinner with bread sauce. Never heard of it but everyone from south of the Watford Gap swore by it. I’m still not entirely clear what it is. Food is culture and a Turk might relax with a beer with her hair out but offer her a ham sandwich and you’ll get a funny look. Offer a Pole some venison and ditto. Offer me bread sauce and much the same. Food is something we tend to stick with perhaps more than any other religious or cultural aspect of life. As a Brit who lives with a staggering diversity of food (thank you Empire!) I find this odd. Perhaps foreign folk find our curry habit odd. Well, apart from South Asians obviously.
If I might push the boat out food defines us more than almost anything. My wife and I have a lot of cook books and a lot of those (most) name a country or area on the front and spine. You don’t get that with novels.
OK, I’m off to write as shopping list**** for we are having Mexican tonight.
*Though Mr Erdogan seems to doing his level best to fuck this up.
**Should I even mention what they wear in the “Russian Quarter” – if you have seen movies from the ’80s you’ll know. And it is all priced in Turkish lira and rouble.
***Remarkably similar to US mass-made lager. Yes I know there is good American beer but mainly you get stuff like Coors and I used to drink that but now I am older Budweiser. Terrible joke, sorry.
****Am I th only one who thinks of that as a Chopin Liszt? That’s an even worse joke.