reede, aprill 13, 2012

barbarians at the gate

They call this cuisine.

It all came out over dinner. I agreed to make something quick, put the penne to boil in one pot, the broccoli and garlic and olive oil to simmer in another. When the meal was ready my children lined up like youths in a 19th century British orphanage. I ladled a serving on to each one's plate. Then the eldest made for the refrigerator

"What do you need?" I said. "I'll get it for you."

"Ketchup," she answered.

"Ketchup? For what?"

"For the pasta."

"Are you joking?"

"No." And she proceeded to grab the handle on the refrigerator door, so I stepped in front of it.

"No child of mine puts ketchup on her pasta."

"But I want to!" she cried, and then she pushed at me. I held the refrigerator door tight but she had her hands on it and wouldn't let go.

"Who does that anyway? Who puts ketchup on their pasta?" I asked while we struggled.

"Our babysitter does! She does it all the time."

I let out a sigh. "But the babysitter is an Estonian," I said. Both children looked up at me with inquisitive Finno-Ugric eyes. "Estonians are ..." I wanted to say barbarians, but I stopped myself … "Estonians don't know how to cook pasta so they boil it until it turns to glue. They don't know how to eat it, so they cut up with forks and knives. And they think that ketchup and tomato sauce are the same things because they are both red." I made a sad face and shook my head. "But, look, it's not the Estonians' fault," I said. "They just don't know any better."

"Are you done now?" the eldest one asked.

I nodded.

"Good, so now can get the ketchup, please?"

"Fine, you can eat your pasta with ketchup," I said. "But not in front of me because I want to be able to eat my meal without throwing up."

Neither child seemed fazed as I left the room to eat alone. A minute later, the eldest called out to me. "Daddy, there's something wrong with this ketchup! It's too spicy." I returned to inspect the scene. "Oh, well, look at that. That's just too bad," I said, holding up the bottle. "This is curry ketchup. Looks like we don't have any real ketchup left." The child had pounded a large circle of the reddish slop onto one side of her plate, I saw. Fortunately, most of the pasta had been spared.

I used to kid my Irish friends growing up about putting ketchup on their pasta, but the truth was that the local Italian communities had a civilizing effect on the other ethnic groups, so by that time they were at least putting some kind of bottled sauce on it with a name like Prego or Ragu. I am not even sure when the idea even crossed my mind that one could put ketchup on pasta. Maybe I thought it up one day, the way a child tries to conjure monsters or aliens. Imagine that. Imagine if someone would be so gross as to eat pasta with ketchup. Could you imagine?

I first saw it done with my own eyes in Denmark. The young man in the dormitory sat across from me in the communal kitchen. When I saw that he was eating spaghetti I thought him refined. But when he reached for the dreaded red condiment, and then pounded it all over the luscious steaming noodles, my heart plummeted like a pigeon egg off the Empire State Building. It was an act of desecration, like trying to fix a Mac Book with a chainsaw. It just wasn't done. But at least that barbarian wasn't my own kid!

I learned all these things as a child. I remember my mother teaching me how to twirl the pasta. It would take her hours if not all day to make sauce. Which is why I find the idea of just pounding some preservative-filled crap onto imported pasta to be so shameful. My internal sense of culinary superiority has gotten me in trouble elsewhere in this land. When asked by a tabloid about what I didn't like about Estonia, I said the obligatory consumption on all holidays of pork by products and beer. I was trying to be original! Everybody bitches about the weather. For this I was labeled a "health fascist" and accused of spitting in the eyes of the Estonian people by insulting their cuisine.

Cuisine? I thought. These poor lost Estonian souls actually think that their sausages and beer are cuisine? But I didn't say anything else. I laid low. I still want to be able to walk down the street and avoid eye contact with my neighbors in peace, like everybody else, you know. And I guess I should be less judgmental. Let the kids have their ketchup. Lead by example. Deeds, not words.  This is my lot in life. Had I married a German, I'd be up to my neck in sauerkraut and bratwurst. An English and I would be sneezing tea and farting crumpets. A Greek and I would be stomping grapes and slaughtering goats. And it could be worse, right? They could be eating their pasta with mayonnaise!

32 kommentaari:

Spawnie ütles ...

The question is, who bought the ketchup in the first place?

And the truth is, you're outnumbered. You have no choice but to surrender, anyway.

Rainer ütles ...

I must confess to have sinned against pasta in the past (pun or not, you decide) in an aforementoined manner. But not of late. By the way, isn't eating pasta with ketchup an "American thing"?
Giustino, please understand that the Estonians have not known pasta for all that long. Even the word pasta is seldom used, since it means paste in Estonian and can thus be confusing. The general term, especially "in the provinces" is still makaronid, probably because the maccaroni were the first kind of pasta Estonians were aquainted with. Oh, and spagetid, of course. You see, Estonians seldom say "ma söön spag(h)et(t)isid" in stead of "ma söön spagette". That must be disturbing to your non-barbarian ears ;) Idread to think what they would make out of fettuccine verde, my favourite pasta dish.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, macaroni is very good with ketchup, or better at least... Anyway, Nordic cuisine (yes, cuisine) is delicious. Think of all those lovely berries ripened by the ever present arctic sun, and reindeer and elk, and, well, something, surely there must be something! Mushrooms? Porrigde? And don't disparage excellent Estonian sausages - they beat the Finnish varieties eyes shut and right hand tied to the back.

LPR ütles ...

Wait till your girls start to dress like the other girls in Estonia do ... this will totally flip your lid.

Ehehehe ....

bunsen_lamp ütles ...

I would never put ketchup on my macaronis but thankfully Estonian cuisine is rather bland in taste, which must be a good thing since everything is at least edible. Now those crazy Italians, they have some truly vomit inducing - sorry, "acquired taste" - things they eat and love. Like pecorino cheese, or what's with that cheese with fly maggots in it. "Maitse ũle ei vaielda" is a nice expression in Estonian language, which roughly translates as 'opinion on taste is like asshole, everyone's got one'.

Sharon ütles ...

I put regular "out-of-the-bottle-you-eat-this-with-sausage-rolls-and-hot-dogs" tomato sauce on pasta for the first time (since I was, say, three years old) the other day. It's not quite ketchup, but in Australia it does the same job.

It was a last-ditch attempt to make a rather ghastly gluten free pasta taste vaguely edible, and it almost worked.

Turns out, though, that turning something unpalatable into something a three-year-old would consider to be a "meal" is only a mild improvement.

Marko ütles ...

Is it just me or is this a bit offensive? I know some Polish immigrants here in Britain and they bitch about the British in the same manner - isn't their food awful, they drink like animals... oh and the favourite one of mine - OMG black and gay people are considered to be human beings here, who does that?!?! etc.

Get a grip Guistino. Customs and tastes can be very different - even in the same family. I can't stand half the things my nan eats, but I would never put her down for it.

Besides, your kids are Estonian anyway, thus doing nothing wrong to be told off about. Problem doesn't lie with them, but with your own insecurities - some people just like their pasta with ketchup, get over it!

Temesta ütles ...

Wow, Marko, you put Giustino's reservations about putting ketchup on pasta in the same category as xenophobic Polish immigrants?
And at the same time you offend Polish people! (like Estonia doesn't have its share of xenophobics) :)

Giustino ütles ...

Yes, this post is offensive, to the point of self parody.

Besides, your kids are Estonian anyway, thus doing nothing wrong to be told off about.

They are both. How many Estonian kids raid the fridge and eat huge chunks of pecorino romano? I never even did that!

Problem doesn't lie with them, but with your own insecurities - some people just like their pasta with ketchup, get over it!

No, they are just ignorant. Why else would anyone eat pasta with ketchup? I can only suspect that they saw an advertisement somewhere where people were eating noodles with tomato sauce, and they mistakenly thought that ketchup was the same thing.

It's like they advertise blood sausage with pohlamoos somewhere in Naples and they start putting marinara sauce on it because they think that's what it is. A little garlic, some basil. Buon appetito! Why else would someone put marinara sauce on a blood sausage? Think about it.

LPR ütles ...

I agree, ignorance should not be covered up as having "different taste". If we did, where would we end up?

Anarchy, I am telling you. Anarchy!

Next this you know, people will be eating oysters with black bread and red wine ...

Marko ütles ...

Sry, Temetsa, did not want to upset you. I tought I carry on Giustinos lines, now thinking about it - it might come across as being a bit harsh. I'm sorry, no offence was ment.

But I do understand from where Giustino comes from. My partner, being English, gives me massive headaches on the very same subject. I'll give you an example. He did try to make me some Estonian gabbage rolls the other day, bless his poor soul. It ended up being stuffed with rice - with no seasoning and some dodgy sauce on top of it. I wouldn't call it a gabbage roll anymore, but at least he tried. Or a week ago he had a go at trying to make a 'shnitsel'. Well, it kind of looked like a 'shnitsel' but had all the fat attached to it and even had a bit of crackling, believe it or not. But all in all, nothing too major a bottle a of wine during a meal wouldn't straighten up (or rather helped to raise the memory of). I would say that we shouldn't always see those things as blasphemous but instead take it with a pinch of salt. Laugh about it. I suppose Giustino is trying to do just that through his post but having been away from Estonia for considerable time, I have forgotten how Estonian humor really works and likely read too much in to it.

Asehpe ütles ...

Well, I eat my pasta with mayonnaise. Sue me! ;-)

Whether certain combinations -- like the raw-harring-with-onions-in-a-bun that the Dutch love to eat -- are the result of mistakes, misunderstandings, misapprehensions or whatever... the fact that they endure and survive, despite the fact that the locals are told by more 'enlightened' people how to do things 'properly', suggests that these combinations survive because they're, well, tasty.

Giustino's kids actually liked their spaghetti with ketchup. That's why they wanted it. Whenever I see the Dutch eating their french fries with mayonnaise, I think: they obviously enjoy it. Why else would they do it? Why would anyone eat a pizza that has pineapple on it? Why would anyone eat beans in a tortilla, instead of cooking them in a big pan with squash, eggs, and all kinds of pork and eating them with rice?...

Spaghetti with ketchup is, well, tasty. Tomato sauce and other pasta sauces are also tasty (carbonara especially), but, hey, spaghetti with ketchup is tasty. That's why it survives, whatever its origin may be.

Rainer ütles ...

Actually, come to think of it - this post should be titled "At the Barbarian's Gates"

LPR ütles ...

Put enogugh corn syrup and MSG on it and pretty much anything can be tasty ...

Estonians have a saying: "Empty belly is the best cook."

If I had to chose whether to eat tree bark or sphagetty with ketchup, I'd go for the latter without blinking.

klx ütles ...

these are children we're talking about. expect them to eat oddly as children do and have the philistine palates of children. when i was a kid i ate little more than carrots and chicken nuggets. now i get to french restaurants when/if i can.

but yeah, it's gross. they'll learn if their dear old dad can teach them. :)

enetimm ütles ...

What a wonderful story, I couldn’t help smiling all the way through!
Especially in the light of a recent quiz by a Canadian radio station. They asked a caller to guess a product, giving out some hints. The first one was the year it was “invented”, I don’t remember the second and the third one, but the fourth hint told about Swedish who like to put it on their spaghetti. Knowing how sensitive Italians are about their pasta and tomato sauce (and knowing that Estonians weren’t any better than Swedes), I knew immediately, that the product they were looking for was ketchup. I didn’t win anything but the caller had to have several other hints before giving the correct answer.

One of my Canadian-born Estonian daughters won’t eat her pasta without ketchup. I’m not even sure where she learned it because I usually put some cheese on mine (just like my youngest). And as far as I know her Canadian friends are making jokes of her taste. It must be in her Estonian genes :D

But I don’t really mind how people eat their food. At the same time I do understand where you come from. You gave a good example of eating blood sausage with something other than lingonberry sauce. But why not… maybe it tastes even better :D I’m always open to new things.

jerry ütles ...

Marko, there's a huge difference in a "put-down" and just common sense. A "put-down" could be someone talking about how awful the Estonian cuisine can be to outsiders. Or, maybe it's just THEIR opinion! However, putting ketchup on pasta is barbaric anywhere in the world! It just isn't supposed to be done to good pasta! To us, that's just like putting ice cream on pasta. Oh sure, it's edible, maybe even Ok, but no one does that either!

Here in America, for instance, we only eat sweetened oatmeal with milk. There, you eat it salty. I have NO problem with that. But if you started putting ketchup on oatmeal, that's where I'd draw the line! And that's Giustino's point about pasta, especially he being Italian. :)

Marko ütles ...

All right, Jerry, come down ;). At least we're getting somewhere. 'It just isn't supposed to be done to good pasta!' - but who said the pasta was good in the first place? I get mine from continental delis here in Edinburgh but some of the stuff they sell in supermarkets all across Europe is just plain awful mass produced gluton blobs. And on the other hand - ketchup might have been a really nice one. I suppose further explonation is due from Guistino.

I would also say that sometimes I add some stock to my couscous, would you then imply that it would make me an enemy of the Moroccan people? Common sense was mentioned somewhere, why not follow it up? Pasta was originally designed just as a simple peasant food, no disrespect, like fried potatoes or whatever and I would leave it as that - a staple food. I happen to know some European Italians and they don't think two ways about it - they just don't care, as they feel confident enough in their own skin not to be too bothered. As I wouldn't blink an eyelid if you would eat your morning oats with mayonaise - I ain't bothered! ;)

Giustino ütles ...

Rainer, I think I should have called it, "Barbarians at the Fridge."

Look, I am trying to protect the last vestiges of my culture. These are the few things that have been handed down to me from generation to generation. Should I let them go, then I would become "Homo Americanus," some consumer without a past whose brain is filled with whatever the TV fills it with, whose only goal is to get ahead in life so that he can buy more stuff.

Living in Estonia, my children are constantly exposed to their cultural heritage. They know the words to ancient runo songs. The kitchen is one place where I can pass on some of my heritage.

I learned my tastes from my mother who was taught by her grandmother who was taught by her mother, sure. We're already back to mid-19th century Italy now. So, no, I am not going to let that slip away because the locals do not respect it. The kids will know my feelings. I have very few "red lines" but this is one of them.

To be fair, they love pecorino romano. They'll eat the whole cheese in one day, and I won't have any to put on the pasta. I haven't sold them on kalamata olives yet.

LPR ütles ...

What is it about people that they "cannot eat" some foods? I constantly run into people who have some sort of imaginary phobias like: I cannot eat oysters, or I do not like cheese, or olives, or tomatoes, or rice, or liver, or sylt, or peanut butter or tikka masala or curry or whatever ...

What is up with people? Are most people like that or are they in the minority? For the life of me I cannot think of a food I have refused to eat because "I don't like it". I have refused food when it is messed up, but othewise ... everything gets a fair chance with me. Be it a Russian mayonnaise soaked beet salad, some rotted fish from Iceland or the most offensive smelling kimchi from Korea.

I do not have a preferred cuisine, I like them all, provided that the food is expertly prepared in its respective category.

jerry ütles ...

Most people DO have a preferred cuisine. It could be their own ethnic food or someone else's, but they still prefer their "comfort food above all others. This toipc is more about ethnic food history than anything else. It's about keeping a culture alive, just as the Estonians struggle to keep theirs alive in the middle of the MacDonalds onslaught. This doesnt have anything to do with being "enlightened" or open minded as much as it does with the rules of ethnic heritage. No one who believes strongly in their heritage would argue with this.

LPR ütles ...

It is hard to decide how much ignorance is OK and whther or where to draw the line.

Food is also an indicator how open people are willing to be in their acceptance, interest, understanding or tolerance of other things in life, such as music, fashion, politics, religion, etc. You name it.

In those areas, most people are stuck in their small bubbles, arent they? Why else is it so hard to explain to some that sylt is good with sinep or that marinara sauce goes better with spagettis than ketchup? Or that in the end, we'll find out whose God won, if it existed to begin with.

People live by their experiences. That is why religion is such a hard topic for example.

It is frigthening to see how limited most people are and how far into the extemes they are willing to go to prove that theirs is the only one to have.

So let them have their ketchup on their macarones boiled into blubber, or, on the larger scale ... let them have their political party or religion lead them astray, on a grand scheme of things, it does not matter as long as they do not make you eat it or salute to it or pray to it.

That is why education is so important. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to use ketchup or join a random riot.

Anonüümne ütles ...

My younger brother, Alex (, LOVED to put ketchup and parmesean cheese on his pasta when he was a kid. For what it's worth, we were raised by an Iranian father and American mother.

Marko ütles ...

I suppose this is not as much anymore about 'ethnicity' but has more to do with the clash of civilazations. There is a clear distinction between the Americans and Europeans. For example I like to fry my sauerkrauts and add some caraway seeds to it and when I have my Dutch or German friends over, they just shrug their shoulders. They don't do it in Germany or Holland, yet, being from a hard-core kraut nations themselves, it instead of dividing us, brings us a lot closer. We can talk for hours about ins and outs of krauts and the way we consume them in our respective countries. And I picked up some great ideas about it myself. For example Germans can have it in white wine sauce, which is delicious!

But that all changes when Americans join in. There must be something in the American mainstream that forces people to take such a fundamentalist and stiff view on all things native to their immigrant anchestors. But I should remind you - in old countries culture is not conserved, it's alive and it changes. So does the fashion, cuisine, social constructs etc. I wouldn't say that we shouldn't accomodate for our long lost American cousins but there has to be a point when it is okay to say - back off. And I'm not being rude.

LPR ütles ...

Marko, the Americans you are referring to are most likely just Republicans. They are a special case and the situation is being worked on as we speak.

Other than that, I assure you, that this country is more open than any other in the world when it comes to food and acceptance of foreign influences.

I could give you a 5 country, 4 continent culinary trip in one block radius here. All packed with white americans.

Would you be able to do something like that in say ... Poland? Italy? Vietnam? I bet no.

Giustino ütles ...

But that all changes when Americans join in. There must be something in the American mainstream that forces people to take such a fundamentalist and stiff view on all things native to their immigrant anchestors. But I should remind you - in old countries culture is not conserved, it's alive and it changes. So does the fashion, cuisine, social constructs etc. I wouldn't say that we shouldn't accomodate for our long lost American cousins but there has to be a point when it is okay to say - back off. And I'm not being rude.

I have never eaten with any Italian family, nor at any Italian restaurant, where a pasta dish was offered with ketchup. And when I went and visited my cousins in Adelfia, their meal proceeded pretty much the way my mother remembers her family eating in the 1950s. It makes sense, you have your greens (salad), your protein (fish or chicken), your carbohydrates and fats (pasta, cheese), and sip it down with homemade red wine, finish it up with some fruits or some sweets, some coffee and a shot of limoncello. They also munch fennel stalks at the end of the meal for some reason. I have made the kids fennel soup, but haven't distributed any stalks yet. That was the first time I saw that. And, after that meal is done, they actually might still be hungry and go out and have some pizza or a steak or something. They have incredible appetites.

It's hard to have any kind of traditional Italian cuisine in Estonia, because people don't seem to care that much about food. It's just what they eat so they can go out and build barns or something. Could you imagine if I made everyone commit to eating every day from about 2 pm to 5 pm?

It also has to do with nature: different foods are abundant in Italy, in Estonia, there is a smaller selection. I wonder how people made it in the old days before you could just go and buy some salmon steaks at the supermarket.

Marko ütles ...

'I wonder how people made it in the old days before you could just go and buy some salmon steaks at the supermarket.'

This is one of the misconseptions of the consumer society, as if we only became civilised with the invention of supermarket. In olden days the towns and nearby villages made up one unit. There were peasants who were specialised on growing grain, peasants who kept live stock, fisherman communities etc. and they used to all come to our town squares to trade their produce. People still had wide varieties of foods available to them. Instead of fridges we had larders and cellars in our houses. Filled up with stuff for later consumption, like a modern tiny cornerstore. In that sense supermarket is nothing special, really. I suppose it must have been more difficult in secluded rural areas, there you might had to hunt and gather or whatnot (for example the seal hunters of Kihnu island who's main diet consisted of seals and the milk they produced).

LPR ütles ...

Milking seals in Kihnu ...


This should be mentioned in a tourist brochure somewhere.

Or maybe this is exactly where you got it from.

Kristopher ütles ...

I'm offended by the idea of ketchup on pasta. Ketchup on broccoli simmered with garlic seems even worse.

Maybe it wouldn't be bad on pasta carbonara (invented for Americans, anyway). Nowadays Italian kids eat pizza with fries and sliced hot dogs on it. I haven't seen an Italian kid eat pizza that was not "wurstel" in a long time. I doubt ketchup would be a bad addition on that, either... Maybe it is in fact used as the tomato sauce in this case. I made a pizza with Vegemite and smoked chicken the other day.

I'm also offended by cheese on fish, but what can you do...if you don't want the kids to put grated cheese on the salmon pasta, then you have to have a chunk of bottarga ready to grate gets pricey.

Anyway, you have a lot of culinary cards to play. Our kids love farinata (needs no condiments) - I'm sure your region has a ceci counterpart. In Sicily we found something called olive nere dolci, also called Calabrian olives -- get a plump one and you're hooked for life.

Riddari ütles ...

Ah ketchup. As a kid it was the ticket to making us eat lots of foods which we otherwise would refuse to eat.

As for pasta then Iceland was similar to Estonia, although maybe a decade or two ahead. Spagetti was the first pasta we encountered and I'll freely admit to putting ketchup on it then and probably the last time I had some.

I can't eat pasta without anything on it, my kids can however and do, as does my wife (all of us are 100% Icelandic). However these days its not ketchup but tomato sauce I put on it, Sugocasa's Tomato is the latest I found that I find excellent and makes everything taste better. I might have put ketchup on my spagetti though, old habits are hard to break!

But this brings me to the Ketchup Of Grown People. The Onion. Personally I hate the taste of onions (I can tolerate minute amounts of it in pasta sauces and suchlike) and as an added bonus I can't even digest it properly (don't be in the same room as me if you have just force fed me an onion).

Someone mentioned pineapple as a bad thing to put on food. I disagree, I love it and often have it on the side.

There we come to the problem of ratio, 90%+ of people like Onions in their food (like kids are 90%+ ketchup fans) and will put it into anything (again like the kids). The ratio for pineapple seems much lower, I'd guess 25% off hand without any data to back it up.

The ratio problem exists in the recipes, where onions are plentiful in almost all recipes while pineapple isn't.

So I have been cursed with the task of picking onion bits out of my food, or skip eating it. I've tried to make many dishes but just skip the onion bits and it tastes wonderful, so I can only guess that Onions are what grownups that have grown out of Ketchup use as the familiar taste they desire.

The pineapple dishes are so rare that pineapple haters have few occasions to deplore their use.

Jaanika ütles ...

As an Estonian living in the UK, I made pea soup and 'vastlakukkel' once and my Chinese friend could not understand why we have to eat black bread with soup and keep the buns to put cream in. Eating cream with bread rolls is weird, the bread rolls would be much better with Korean Kimchi (fermented cabbage with chilli). Actually, none of my friends understands why bread with cream is good, but that's how Estonians eat it once a year!

Rainer ütles ...

"Actually, none of my friends understands why bread with cream is good, but that's how Estonians eat it once a year!"

Vastlakukkel actually comes from Germany, so at least they would understand.