teisipäev, juuni 21, 2011

something salty

Estonia, Estonia. You never cease to surprise me. Just when I thought I had turned over every rock, leafed through every page, looked up every tree, a new piece of information assembled itself before my very eyes.

This new find has nothing to do with deportations or bailouts. It has to do with food. From hanging out at the local ökopood ("eco store") in Viljandi, I have learned that there are exactly two kinds of foods in Estonia: magustoit ("sweet food") and midagi soolast ("something salty").

Forgive me if I seem naive, but I never really thought of food this way. Sure I understood that junk food basically fell into two categories: salty and sweet. On one side you have your potato chips and on the other side you have your chocolate chip cookies. But to take that principle and apply it to all foods? That's what is new to me.

Under this new Estonian principle, if a food has salt in it, it is described as midagi soolast. This is the most important information the Estonian eater needs to know. Whether it is pizza or Indian curry or pork chops and sauerkraut, it's all just food from the saltier side of the spectrum. And so the seller doesn't ask, "Do you want Indian curry or rhubarb pie?" or even, "Do you want lunch or a snack?" She asks, "Do you want something salty or something sweet?" It's all just midagi soolast or magustoit.

More baffling to me is if all Estonians actually think this way. Rather than desiring a particular kind of meal, be it Indian curry or pork chops and sauerkraut, the hungry Estonian's brain only registers desire in terms of salt and sugar. The Estonian doesn't think, "I could really go for some Armenian food." The Estonian thinks, "I could really use something salty. Maybe followed by something sweet."

I guess I think similarly, but in my mind, salty food is just regular food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner -- 90 percent of the time, all the food items are salty. There is no need to define it as salty as far more important information can be shared about it. And, to me, "sweet food" is simply dessert. In fact, the very crude Estonian-English dictionary in my brain translates magustoit as "dessert." The terms are equivalent.

Even more peculiar here is the Estonian habit of mixing salt and sugar in the same food. This is most likely to occur with some kind of porridge or pudding. You add equal amounts of salt and sugar to the mix, producing an odd yet stimulating taste. These recipes call for dishes that are "not too salty, not too sweet."

I'm really not sure into what category these mixed dishes fall. Are they midagi soolast or magustoit? Is it possible that they could actually be both?

19 kommentaari:

Flasher T ütles ...

It's a false-friend translation. The implied term is savory. Like with pancakes in English - any pancake will be either sweet or savory, depending on the filling, even if you use the same actual pancake for both.

In the same way, magustoit is not necessarily anything sweet - it's dessert.

I suppose the original distinction is "I want something to enjoy the taste" vs. "I want something to fill my belly".

Kristopher ütles ...

Flasher's right.

It should be added that magus toit and magustoit are different. Magustoit is always dessert but magus toit is sweet food.

Orthography is so exciting, don't you think?

Sweet-salty ("tangy") is a very Scandinavian thing....
...but although Americans don't have salty licorice (just plain weird) they have plenty of sweet-salty food -coleslaw, pickles, BBQ sauce. To say nothing of hi-fructose corn syrup in everything, period.

Kristopher ütles ...

My kids have been known to use the same actual pancake for several different fillings -- that is, they've used the same pancake over and over again to eat fillings.

Doris ütles ...

the most fun thing in Dutch cuisine: pancakes with bacon, cheese and syrup. yum!

Troels-Peter ütles ...

Could we be talking about the famed umami taste here?

Sharon ütles ...

Dude, how big are your pancakes?

Sharon ütles ...

I read somewhere that the Thai approach to food insisted that all foods be both salty and sweet. As well as a little bit sour and a little bit spicy.

Something about playing with the balance, but being balanced none-the-less.

Doris ütles ...

you know, there's this article: http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_09_06_a_ketchup.html
it's about why ketchup is pretty much the same and has remained so for almost a century but at the same time we've got loads of variations on mustard.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

This all should tell you how poor this country has once been. Where else would you have a notion "leivakõrvane" which translates, I think and I make it up now - "bread-beside"? If you had some leivakõrvane that was not salty, like jelly or honey, you got a dessert. In general, if you got anything other than black bread, you were lucky.

Trollsilm ütles ...

I thought Estonians only had one taste, sour, as hapukoor is a staple of our breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert table. Whenever food is consumed, hapukoor is there. And hapupiim is frequently asked for when not otherwise eating "hapukoor with some food next to it".

Hence, I assume that "magustoit" is hapukoor moosiga, and "midagi soolast" is hapukoor herringa.

Ester ütles ...

heh, well, my french teacher in tallinn found it annoying that we put "till" in EVERYTHING :P it's the only herb estonians seem to use

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Ester - for me coming from the Dill Cuisine, discovering parsley and cilantro was an watershed event. Equal only to the discovery that it mattered how the meat was cut or how the rice was cooked. Learning to cook rice so that it did not turn to porrigde, was advance cooking for me way back then.

Shaking off the dumbed down soviet culinary legacy with each bite, we still have a long way to go. It is a happy journey.

notsu ütles ...

Did you really need to discover parsley? I would have thought that this is as common as dill. And chives and spring onions. At least, this is the way it was in my childhood.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I do no recall eating green salad with oive oil or salad dressing and croutons. Leafy salad was always smushed together with sour cream and dill. Some tomato or cucumber on top. Kind of tasty, but I've never seen salad being served anywhere else. And we only had one kind of salad, no romaine, baby spinach or arugula, etc.

We chopped spring onions and mixed them with cottage cheese (kohupiim) and sour cream. Some salt and then eat it with boiled potatoes. Tasty, but again, never seen it anywhere else.

Gosh, sometimes I have to slap myself to remind me that my roots are so talupoeg. Bah.

Did I know that there were white wine and red? No. Could I tell the difference between merlot or saugignon blanc? No.

Did I know what filet mignon was? No. Oysters? No. Scallops? No.

Whaah.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

About wine ... not long ago I witnessed how a well dressed estonian businessman, with his late model Audi parked outside, ordered himself a glass of white wine - unchilled, room temperature!

I was like - wow.

This could have been me. 20 years ago.

notsu ütles ...

Interesting. Whenever we ate lettuce, it was with half-and-half cream, not sour cream - seasoned with sugar only. Just that: lettuce, cream and sugar.

Then, my mother adored garden cress and experimented with other greens like dandelion leaves. And nettle soup was a staple in springtime. This reminds me: i should plant a nettle in my garden. Seriously.

A summertime favourite was cold kefir sauce - with radishes, dill, parsley, fresh cucumber and boiled egg - eaten with fresh, young potatoes.

And then, my mother used to make (and still does time to time) quite decent pilaf (always with lamb) or stuffed bell peppers or other more southern food.

I guess this makes us a gourmet family, in Estonian context.

I still spend most of my money on food, in spite of recent increase of income - mostly, it makes me able to buy more expensive food.

Esther Montgomery ütles ...

In my family it used to be rather "something good" than "something sweet". When you finished your "salty" meal and didn`t see anything "good" on the table, like cakes or ice cream or pudding, and you were already really full of the "salty" meal, still you demanded: Now I would really like to have something good (midagi head) as well.
And in my family there used to be a salad mixed with lettuce, vinegar, salt, sugar and sour cream.

Bea ütles ...

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja gave a good explanation.
It's similar here. We really hadn't been too spoiled with food here before the soviet times ended at least. My sarcastic Lithuanian uncle used to joke asking: "saldaus, kartaus ar į snukį?" ([so what do you want:] something sweet, something bitter/salty or a hit to your mug?")

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

This thread has turned into its own version of NPR's "Splendid Table".

Anybody noticed that Americans don't know how to make delicious potato salads?

I've seen some delighted american faces after tasting Estonian style potato salad. After that regular american potato salad tastes offensive.

However, they have here someting that, if done superbly, is amazing. It is cole slaw. To an estonian palate, there is no leap necessary. It just tastes right. Again, when it is done right. I've had some awful cole slaw as well.

Should I mention lobster rolls? Better not. I doubt people can get their hands on lobsters in Estonia.

Anyway. I take my answer off the air. :-)