Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dinner in Białystok

Who knew that Polish food could be so incredibly delicious? It's not just pierogis and bigos, let me assure you. Mr. D and I had one of the best dinners ever the other night, in a hotel in Białystok.

We had driven all day, and had seen the primeval forests of northeastern Poland, with their mysterious silent herds of bison lolling about in deep undergrowth. We heard the occasional snort or snuffle, but mostly just the rustle of aspen leaves in the chilly air. We saw the Tsar's hunting lodge in Białowieża, and then drove almost to Białorus, along a narrow road carved out of the deep green woods, that became finally a single lane of black asphalt.

We crossed an unsignaled railway line (just the old wooden red and white "x" on a post as a warning), and then crossed over two narrow gauge railway tracks that hadn't been used for decades. Finally, a clearing appeared in the deep green, and there, through fences and gates and wires, was the border station. It looked like a really inviting forest lodge, and we so wanted to visit.

However, not having applied for our Białorussian visas, we sadly had to turn round and go onward, back into Poland...

But as I say, this was not all bad, because by the time we arrived back in Białystok, we were famished! We checked into the Hotel Cristal, and dressed for dinner.

And what a dinner it was. Mr D had carpaccio of wild boar and roasted eggplants with asparagus, while I tried the forest mushroom soup, followed by a smoked duck meat salad. We finished with a plum compote in Żubrówka bison-grass vodka for me and a pear and caramel ice cream confection for him. Divine.

Oh yeah, brag brag brag. Why do I have to read about this, you're asking?


We thought you might want to know what we DIDN'T have.

Here's one thing we didn't try....

"Smażony sandacz w puszyslym kremie z raków, z opiekanymi w koprze ziemniaczkami"

Sounds kinda yummy, doesn't it? All those sz's and y's and funny little accent things. Surely they're tasty, right?

Fine. But here's the translation:

"Fried perch-pike in flossy cancer cream with roasted in fennel potatoes"

Hmmm. Think I'll pass. Cancer cream? How is it flossy? I just don't know about that.

Turns out that this is an unfortunate and awkward translation describing a dish that's probably delicious.

Smażony sandacz. Fried perch pike. OK. We're with you so far.

W puszyslym kremie z raków? Hmm, this gets less appealing. "Pusczyslym" is "fluffy". Fluffy, flossy -- too close to call, really. Maybe the menu editor's finger slipped on the dictionary page a little?

But "kremie z raków"? Cancer cream? It's too much. But understandable, perhaps?

"Kremie", yes. Cream or sauce. "Raków"? Well, it's the Polish word for crayfish. But the second definition in the dictionary is "cancer", as in the astrological sign "Cancer". Is this the problem? The menu editor looks at both words and picks: "eeny, meeny, minie, mo... aw, let's go with 'cancer' rather than 'crayfish'. Sounds more exotic."

Indeed it does.

Or did I totally miss something even more subtle? Like cancerous perch-pike, glowing with radio-active post-Chernobyl tumours, fish that have swum long miles, escaping westward into Polish streams, only to be cruelly caught and tossed into pans in Białystok kitchens? For our dining pleasure.

Native Polish speakers, please weigh in!


Christie said...

In case you were wondering who has been accessing your blog from Mexico, it is I, Christie DeForest, Zach's old high school girlfriend who enjoyed hanging out with his mother more than with him... I have been reading all about your adventures, as I am also an ex-pat, almost 5 years in Mexico now. I get to chuckle along with you since so many of your experiences mirror my own. I have wanted to comment before, but have resisted. This post (the one about the menu translated from Polish to English), however, finally convinced me. I wanted to share one of my hilarious menu experiences. We were eating at a restaurant that was fairly touristy, and had their menu in English. Although I speak Spanish fluently, when waiters see me often times they don't even ask if I prefer a menu in English or Spanish. They just assume, and let me assure you, it irks me to no end. Anyway, they gave me a menu in English, and this time, I was so happy they did... because I got to laugh my way through dinner. The three translations I remember most were "Puerco a la crema" (pork in a cream sauce) which was translated "pig to the cream," "papas rellenas" (stuffed potatoes) translated as "Pope Stuffs" (Papa, with a capital P and no accent, means Pope, as in "His Holyness", and Relleno can be a noun or an adjective, meaning either stuffing or stuffed. Apparently they chose to use the verb form... and make it a plural noun. riiight.) My favorite, though, was on the list of Margaritas. They included all the flavors. In Spanish it read something like Fresa, Limon, Mango Platano Macho, Lima, etc. (Which should have been translated Strawberry, Lime, Mango, Plantain, Lemon, etc) But, they chose to translate Platano Macho as Male. Just Male, as in the gender. Strawberry, Lime, Mango, Male and Lemon Margaritas. So, what did I do? Well, I ordered me up an extra large male-flavored margarita... hell, you should try everything at least once, right?? Being a translator myself, I am often tempted to speak to the manager and "enlighten" him or her of their terrible translation... but then I wpuld be robbing other English-speakers of this hilarious experience. So I refrain. Ellie, I hope you are doing wonderfully back in Glen Ellyn! I will be up to visit my mom soon and I will be staying for almost 2 months. If you think Zach wouldn't be too horrified (I don't think we have spoken in... 6 years??) we should catch up and swap hilarious/interesting stories about life abroad. Keep writing, it is a joy to read!

Anonymous said...

Ellie, your mention of the bison reminded me of a book I recently read that you might like, about wartime Poland (a true story): The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman.