The Art of Food

Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.

Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.

I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.

Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League [1], these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.

Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India [2]. Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.

A starter with local smoked salmon

We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,

A different restaurant’s smoked salmon with trout cavier, accompanied by rolled slices of cucumber
… and a third restaurant’s smoked salmon appetizer. Art on a plate
Traditional beet borscht soup, updated with yellow lentils and pieces of elk meat that melted in my mouth

local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….

First course of wild mushrooms sauteéd and served in spinach blini purses

Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!

Lamb marinated in juniper berries served with yellow beetroot cream, cranberries and barley
Fresh fish with beet root puree and kale (out of all the meals we ate, the kale was the one item that was not perfect)
Venison stew with roasted onion halves
Beef with sweet pepper-eggplant-onion millet squares, oyster mushrooms, water cress and johnny-jump-ups

A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! [3]

Hibiscus poached pear, pumpkin seeds in apple syrup, and raspberry sorbet

NOTES: [1] The Hanseatic League controlled all shipping and commerce across the Baltic Sea and northern Europe to Russia. Riga and Tallinn (then known as Reval) were member cities. [2] Go to my earlier post My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies for more on bread. [3] Latvian and Estonian for bon appetít. As always, I receive no favors for mentioning these establishments. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann 2017. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

Gods Aren’t For Sale

I had an encounter with magic in southern Laos. I mean this literally. We flew to Pakse, in order to make our way down to an area called 4,000 Islands. Laos’s border to Cambodia is a stretch of the Mekong River with wild waterfalls and rushing waters. [1] The French ambitiously (and quixotically) tried to build a train through the jungle at Don Det-Don Khon. The rapids defeated them. D31_6937_DxO8 We hired a driver and sweet young man named Ley to guide us around. We made an outing to Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau, home of small, superb Laotian coffee plantations. D31_6495_DxO8D31_6496_DxO8On our drive back we stopped at a market hall. Taxis were filling with local workers who stopped to buy groceries. D31_6481_DxO8Rows of vendors sold grades of rice, D31_6488_DxO8eggs, fresh fruit, coffee (natch), bolts of cloth, dried fishes, D31_6478_DxO8D31_6479_DxO8vegetables and herbs, freshly cooked food and plastic bags of marinades and sauces.

D31_6491_DxO8D31_6489_DxO8The variety of fresh produce is tremendous: alone in these photos I can identify three different sizes and shapes of eggplant, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, oranges, peppers in every size and grade of hotness, cucumber, bitter melon, carrots, zuccini, onions, garlic, bok choy, green and Napa (Chinese) cabbages, ginger, limes, long beans, shallots, spring onions, chives, squash, rose apples.D31_6476_DxO8
D31_6474_DxO8Women from the hill tribes had wares for sale. An older woman had set up a stand away from most of the others. Curious, I walked over.D31_6487_DxO8She had images of the Buddha, and  items for religious and medical purposes. Talons, hooves, D31_6486_DxO8deer skulls, D31_6485_DxO8bundles of herbs and animal horns. D31_6483_DxO8

Bottles of herb tinctures. Bark. Dried leaves.D31_6484_DxO8

I was pulled like a magnet to her strange pairs of roots. I couldn’t tear my eyes from them. I felt fascinated, and somehow frightened, too. She’d tied male and female roots together. They’d been carved to accentuate their human forms.D31_6483_DxO8
D31_6483_DxO8The pairs called to me on some strange level…. “What are they for?” I asked. Ley explained to me that they are placed in a home to protect it and the family that lives there.

“Would you ask her how much they cost?” I asked. She gave me a sharp look and hesitated. “Ten dollars,” she said finally.

“Ten dollars?” I was beyond surprised. $10 is a paltry sum in most parts of the world. Here, in one of the poorest countries on the planet, the price she wanted was outrageous. [2]

Ley looked confused as well, and talked to her for a while. Her voice rose. The two discussed the transaction so long that I became uncomfortable. At last he turned to me. “She says, these are their gods, and it would be wrong to sell them to outsiders.”

In an instant, desire to be near the figures left me. “I’m so sorry. Please apologize to her and tell her I meant no disrespect. They are very, very powerful.” Ley translated and she gave me a grudging looking-over.

I’ve thought a lot about that strange encounter with foreign magic. Even my husband says he wondered about me that afternoon; he watched with growing concern as I was drawn to something I didn’t understand. All these years later I recall the power that emanated from those male and female roots, and I tremble.

NOTES: [1] For a little while longer, anyway. Hydroelectric dams are being built by northern neighbor China, with breathtakingly little regard or concern for how this impacts the ecosystems further downstream. [2] She purposely asked for a ridiculously large amount of money.

Go to my posts The Salt Pits and The Waterfalls of Laos: North for more on Laos. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

http://www.paksong.info
Don Khon narrow gauge railway

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