Thursday, November 20, 2014
Thank Goodness for the Fall of Communism, ???
In 2013, I read an article in the Economist. It said that a nation's cuisine can provides a chronology of its sociocultural history. They declared as an example, Poland, for instance as being a good example. The 40 years of communism Poland endured by Poles changed their food consumption. Communism tried to do to the national cuisine what it did to so much else and reduced it to the lowest common denominator: uniform and bland stodge characterized by poor ingredients, low standards and low expectations. So, in this respect, thank goodness for the fall of communism.
In the 12 years I spent living there, I can tell you that in the heart of Poles, their favorite homemade dishes were not forgotten. It was proved when in the early years of post communism, western fast food and processed foods could not enter the market simply because Polish women would not buy it. They wanted to cook again, to taste again. In the years that followed communism one enthusiastic chef at one of Warsaw's five-star hotels talked about how he wanted to bring "proper" Polish food, not just to foreign guests but also to Poles. He said, "to find real Polish food you have to look at pre-war cookbooks," he said. In those books, he explained, you realize that Polish food was deeply regional, and what passed for a meat cutlet, for example, in one region was completely different elsewhere".
Thankfully and maybe to some surprisingly that even though Poland experienced the Western fast food invasion and big box stores, a generation of younger Poles has been breathing new life into Polish food, dusting down old and long-forgotten recipes, and happily blowing away the almost nationalistic conservatism that surrounded food by introducing new ingredients and cooking styles.
There is a food revolution now gripping Poland. One finds cooks, both professional and amateur, who have traveled, seen what the world has to offer on a plate and discovered what is both right and wrong with Polish food. Because of that, and mostly because of the long gone communism, Poland now has an army of farmers and small food producers bringing original and, very often, organic produce to the table.
Not so long ago cheese in Poland was either żółty or biały (literally yellow or white) and that was pretty much it. Now a trip to one of the growing number of farmers' markets in the country will confront a shopper with a huge choice of locally produced cheese. At the same time the average Pole is becoming more discerning in their taste, able to buy better quality produce and also eager to break away from the refectory-standard food that dominated Polish cuisine for decades. This has resulted in a plethora of new Polish cookbooks being published. Even Anne Applebaum, an acclaimed historian and the wife of Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, has written her own volume of Polish recipes.
Ironically, the good aspect of communism is that a lot of Polish farmland today can be categorized as organic having no chance during communism to be polluted by harsh fertilizer or soil erosion by years of cultivating with heavy machinery.
*a blend of my experiences in Poland along with views taken from the observations of the Economist author