Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dinner Party: What's to eat?

The family get together to eat and drink is one of the great features of Polish life. Although there are various set days - name days or birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc, they come round often enough and can be filled with various ad hoc excuses to ensure a regular, but reasonably well spaced round of domestic parties. Since we are the only house dwellers in the family, we can also count on regular supplementary occasions, especially in the summer when the barbecue gets full use.

The standard format for meals (apart from barbecues) is a cold sit down buffet. In our family, the numbers usually vary between 8 and 14, which in a small flat can be quite crowded. (I don't know why we are all so glum when the picture below was taken - its not normal.)

The food some 10 years ago tended to be traditional party dishes, but, as we are sophisticated city folk, the ingredients have become more international and the recipes more inventive. OK, I'm joking about the sophistication, but what I mean to say is that I don't know how typical this change is. It used to be normal for guests to bring along a dish they had prepared to contribute to effort and cost, but that is much rarer now. This and the above picture was a party at Klaudia's and Mariusz's, my niece and her partner, and also the old family flat.

The cold buffet format is really great since it means that everything can be prepared at your own speed beforehand and it doesn't matter exactly what time people arrive - the people who prepare the meal could even be out with everyone else, although that isn't normal. The host/hostess can pretty much sit down with everyone else right from the start rather than fussing around in the kitchen all the time. There is sometimes a hot course - traditionally pierogi or pork cutlets, although it now varies: a Thai take-away from Warsaw's Maharaja has crept in a few times at Ilona's and Chris's place - the first time, we secretly delivered it to my sister-in-law so she could pretend (initially) that she had cooked it. The hot meal arrives about half way through the several hour sitting, so isn't shown below.

Vodka, drunk neat from the freezer of course, was originally standard, but is now balanced by wine drinking. (It was difficult to get wine when I was first in Warsaw.) Drivers do not drink, which is now assumed by everyone, although a few years ago there was still pressure for "just one" because "it's early". I just drinks lot of coffee when I'm driving, which may not be quite as much fun, but sitting watching while others are letting go is fine in itself. We are, in any case, fortunate in having room for people to stay in comfort, so we encourage everyone to come to our home, especially if we can establish a joint reason for the party. Our guests can then excuse themselves for not doing all the preparation: they bring along a few things instead. Everyone can also sit on standard chairs: sitting below table level on a settee is quite common in flats.

I used to cook quite a bit for these occasions, but I like hot meals and getting everything together. This went down well with everyone, but faded out for various reasons, ranging from Babcia's insistence on having her own vegetable salad, to the feeling that it was unfair that I should be doing everything. (I suspect the underlying/sub-conscious view that this was really women's work and that a woman should be doing it, but it was never put in quite such sexist terms. I kept insisting that I wanted to do it.)

However, I did get the chance on All Saint's Day last week. I label my cooking as 'What's in the Cupboard" style, which can include fridge or freezer. I've tried to think of a decent acronym to make it sound better, but without success: WC won't do. I was intrigued, however, that Warsaw restaurants sometimes produce similar things under the title 'Fusion'. Two things went down particularly well. Firstly, smoked cod surrounding curry spiced fried field and oyster mushrooms, together covered with gratin dauphonoise (Lidl tin) and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and grated hard Italian cheese - all baked in the oven. (None of these were bought for the occasion.) Second preference was oven-matured, fried minced pork shoulder with black-eyed beans and Thai Basil and Chilli sauce, supported by basmati rice with (reconstituted) dried tomatoes.

I probably got the Tao Tao Basil and Chilli (with garlic) Sauce from Tesco (Pruszków), but it had been on the shelf in the cupboard for some time. It's delicious, hence the advertising. I haven't been in Tesco since, but it was available in Real, Janki last week (about 6zl), although not in Auchan, Piaseczno.

1 comment:

Paddy Ney said...

Pan Steeva, great post on what is for me the central element to life in Poland: a family round a table. I've had some really wonderful moments getting to know the extended family of my partner as we listen to Gorale music, drink different vodkas and they reminisce on their lives.

It's something the British have lost, although there is the sunday roast and so on, in the maelstrom of convenience food and time-poor lives. I hope it's something the Poles as a nation keep.