On the Beach

Sunday, 27 May 2012

National Identity and Food

I think about nationality and national identity a lot.

I suppose that could be for any number of reasons:

1) I'm a serial expat;
2) I find it interesting;
3) I have too much time; and
4) I have a tendency to navel gaze.

Whatever the cause, I'm always trying to figure out if any choices that I make, any behaviour I exbihit, make me, well, something. Or maybe I'm just me.

The other day was my "namesday" as we call it in my family, or my Saint's Day where all people with my name, celebrate a kind of "birthday". It's compulsory in Poland and also a custom in other eastern and southern European countries. I embrace my namesday every year. This could be for a number of reasons:

1. I feel Polish.
2. I feel Catholic.
3. I relish the opportunity to have another excuse for getting presents.
4. I just love the idea of yet another day being all about ME.
5. It's a family tradition.

I always celebrate my "namesday" with family and, this year my mum (who is an amazing cook) offered to cook me whatever i wanted. I chose kotlet schabowy with potatoes and red cabbage, followed by a baked apple dessert. For those wondering, kotlet schabowy is a Wienerschnitzel made with pork. And because the Viennese gave it a catchier name, people think it's Viennese. Well, it's not, OK? And the German speaking peoples don't have a monoply over cabbage, either- alright?

I'm willing to bet that's the first time anyone has exhibited aggression over a food the rest of the world would hide under a lettuce leaf on the edge of the plate.

Moving on.

So, my brother- with whom I  discuss issues of national identity (seeing as we're both of the same Polish parents, but because of our age difference grew up for different amounts of time in different countries, he's now living with a Catalan in Belgium and I'm married to a Brit, living in South Africa- you can imagine how this topic comes up every now and then.), said that as I chose Polish food for a special day, maybe that makes me Polish?

And I thought about that- maybe, if you cannot find another way, your food choice with a gun to your head determines who you are. Maybe I am, fundamentally, Polish.

And then I thought about that some more. Who were the rivals here for me? British food (or 22 years in a taste-bud vortex, as I like to think of it, from my perspective)? Um, well, sorry to support to be such a cliche but, no thanks. A country that prides itself on a Sunday dinner which may consist of gammon ('Why don't we just boil some salt in a meat shape?" "Yeeaah!"). And I know many world ranked restaurants are in London, but I'm talking about food I don't need to take out a mortgage for.

Norwegian food? Lovely people, lovely country but when you serve sweet brown cheese and fish that is left in cold water for 5-6 days before serving (lutefisk), I'll pass.

South African food? What comes to mind here? Mielepap (maize "pap"-pap a very onomatopoeic phrase here), milk tart (the magic cake with no taste!) and boerewors (I won't have a word said against boerewors, I just ate an excess of it over the summer). But the quality of food and produce in South Africa is stunning, you can eat so well here, so reasonably and pap is easily avoided...

I am sure some would say that Polish food is gross- fatty, meaty and stodgy, all which is probably fair but somehow, I suppose, it tastes of home and family which for me are good things.

On the basis that I am defending stodgy, fatty food- does that make me Polish? Probably a little bit, yes. It must reveal something.

But I can't live without Thai food, pizza, sushi or burgers and there is nothing Thai, Italian, Japanese or American about me.

Back to the drawing board.

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