August 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: PCVs in the Field - Ukraine: Seattle Times: Matt Hagengruber says "since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: August 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: PCVs in the Field - Ukraine: Seattle Times: Matt Hagengruber says "since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different"

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.239.147) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 7:17 pm: Edit Post

Matt Hagengruber says "since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different"

Matt Hagengruber says since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different

Matt Hagengruber says "since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different"

Taste of life in Ukraine: It goes down smooth as a traditional lard sandwich

By Matt Hagengruber
Special to The Seattle Times

Since coming to Ukraine in March as a Peace Corps volunteer, my culinary palate has been wiped clean and replaced with something entirely different.

I've eaten raw fish, boiled fish head, raw pig fat, squid jerky, pickled everything and an odd assortment of mystery meat, usually doused with ketchup. Pizza usually includes corn and shredded, pickled carrots, and hot dogs are covered with cabbage and mayonnaise. But I enjoy it, as do my Ukrainian hosts, who revel in getting the American to blindly eat whatever comes out of the cloudy, salty bowl of fish stew.

And then eat it the next morning, cold, for breakfast.

But possibly my biggest challenge, and my biggest insight into Ukrainian culture, came at a Sunday afternoon picnic along the Uzh River in western Ukraine. I live in the city of Uzhgorod, in a flat pocket between ridges of the Carpathian Mountains.

My host family and I left the city behind in their Lada sedan, which still runs despite being nearly 30 years old. We met up with friends in a field crowded with other picnickers. I had no idea what I was in for.

We built a quick fire and settled in as my host mom, Maria, peeled small potatoes with a knife. They were about the size of golf balls and are currently selling for next to nothing at the local market. In summer, fresh local vegetables are as cheap as the chocolate-colored dirt they come from.

Maria split the potatoes in half like a hamburger bun and sprinkled each flat side with a mix of peppers and Hungarian spices. Hungary is just across the border, less than an hour away.

After the spices came the wedge of salo, sandwiched between the two potato halves. The best way to describe salo is to think of a hunk of bacon the size of a small suitcase, minus the meat, with only the white, stringy fat left behind.

The raw pig fat is bought cheap in the bazaar, and a sharp knife slices through it like, well, lard. My family has a 10-pound slab hanging from a meat hook in its pantry, next to homemade sausage and jars of strawberry jam.

Salo is a Ukrainian tradition that dates back centuries. It's usually eaten raw, a few slippery slabs atop a piece of sour brown bread. It goes well with a shot of peppered vodka, one taste canceling the other. But this was different. This was a full-blown Ukrainian salo fest.

The salo-potato sandwiches were wrapped in foil and dumped on the smoldering fire, as were 15 plain potatoes, which sat right in the coals until they had fully blackened an hour later.

Yura, a longtime friend of Ivan, my host dad, pulled out a well-used cast-iron frying pan and filled it with the remaining salo and half a dozen sliced onions. Within a few minutes, the salo had liquefied and engulfed the onions, which crackled and sizzled in the pan. The tough bacon skin that remained turned brown and curled up like a pork rind.

Yura took a handful of branches from a Russian olive tree and whacked the blackened skin of the potatoes until the ash had fallen off, leaving behind only the gold-colored meat. He split the potatoes in half with his hand and dumped them and the onion and salo mix into a pot, which he tossed like a salad.

At first, the idea of eating salo pure fat as a main course caused my appetite to shrivel, but I'd steeled myself prior to coming to Ukraine to take what I was offered, even if it meant a quart of pure fat over a pot of potatoes.

As with many of the delicacies I've been offered here, I ate everything with an outward smile.

We drank spring water and homemade wine, ate foot-long green onions and tore at thick slabs of rye bread. The families told stories about concerts they attended and the travel hassles that marred a recent trip to Kiev, some 400 miles to the east.

Despite the somewhat shocking tastes, this was the true experience I had come here for. I wouldn't trade it for all the things I miss in America.

We finished the day by climbing a hill to an ancient castle that overlooks the Uzh River valley. Looking west, over the Carpathians and into Slovakia, we watched the sky turn a deep blue and lightning strike the far-off hillsides.

The crumbling castle stood still and silent with us, watching over the valley and the approaching storm as it has done for centuries.

Matt Hagengruber is from Helena, Mont.

The Travel Essay runs each Sunday in The Seattle Times and also online at seattletimes.com. To submit an essay for consideration, make sure it's typed and no longer than 700 words. Essays, which are unpaid, may be edited for content and length. E-mail to travel@seattletimes.com or send to Travel, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Because of the volume of submissions, individual replies are not always possible.





When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.


Read the stories and leave your comments.






Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Seattle Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ukraine; PCVs in the Field - Ukraine

PCOL12929
00

.


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: