Monday, February 1, 2010

Čizi Piži Redux

As those of us who travel all know, the best (that is funniest) stories involve embarrassing language snafus. Or horrible foreign toilets. Or both.

But I'm just going to talk about food this time.

Both The Spouse and I have had our disasters with misunderstanding a foreign menu and ending up with something we did not expect.

It happened to me on my First Ever Trip to France. We had been in Paris for several days, and I thought I had gotten the hang of the French dinner menus: you pick a price category or menu, and then you can usually select from several options in that price range. I wanted to branch out a little and try something new, so I ventured into Fish World and ordered something that sounded a bit more romantic, more poetic. What I thought was the French version of those menu items you find in a Chinese restaurant that give no clue as to the actual dish ingredients. You know like Happy Family or Three Delicacies Over Sun Moon Lake.

I ordered Aile de Raie, which I knew meant Wing of Ray.

What I did not expect was that it really meant WING OF RAY. As in skate. In a lemon caper sauce.

I was hungry, and this was not at all what I wanted, and The Spouse had ordered a really nice Merguez couscous, and he was hungry too and not into sharing.

I wept and, because we were in France, mimed a ray, hoping to garner pity, but to no avail.

His turn came years later in Bratislava at a restaurant called Voch. I don't think it is there anymore, but they used to serve this fantastic dessert called something like an Emperor Pancake or Kaiserschmarrn. Oh, God, it was good.

So we go one night, and we are sitting outside in the square there ordering our dinner, and The Spouse finds an item on the menu called Čizi Piži.

He quizzes the waiter in Slovak: "Is it good?"

Waiter, noncommittally: "Umm, yeah. I guess."

The Spouse sees the Slovak word for baked in the description: "So it's baked?"

Waiter: "In a cream sauce."

The dish arrives, and that was when we learned the Very Important Lesson in Slovak:

Pečeň does not mean baked.

It means LIVER.

Pečeny means baked.

Today, I met The Spouse for lunch. There is a restaurant in the building where his office is that features a daily Business Lunch. We had the same thing in Slovakia: the restaurant offers a fixed menu for a reasonable price. It's quick and, as long as you like the offering, it can be a good value. Order off the regular menu at lunch time and you will throw the kitchen into chaos as they are prepared to whip out the Business Lunch Menu.

So we have started getting the Business Lunch when we go there. The choices on the menu today are some sort of chicken dish with rice or a fish dish with mashed potatoes. I had a fish dish the last time I was there, so I opt for the chicken dish.

So does The Spouse.

It comes with a nice salad of salted tomatoes, cucumbers, and grated carrots and a bowl of meat solyanka . . . very delicious and typically Russian.

Then the main course comes.

Well, you can probably see where I'm going with this.

It's chicken, alright. In a cream sauce with sauteed onions over rice. But not chicken fingers or even chicken thighs.

It was CHICKEN GIZZARDS. куриные потрохи.

"I had NO idea it was going to be organ meat," The Spouse says as he and I pick around out gizzards and eat only the rice and onions.

"I thought that it would be a shape or cooking method," he sighs as we leave the restaurant. "Not a body part."


Luna said...

Happened to me my first dinner out in Moscow. Nice tough and chewy gizzards. Yum. Yum.

Enjoy it while you can. I bet menus won't be this adventurous in LUX.

Now get back to packing. :)

The Expatresse said...

Booked the movers today (CROWN . . . they are making me very happy). AND it looks like the plane tickets are arranged ON AIR FRANCE! Hurray!

valentina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
valentina said...

So glad there is a blast off date for the movers!
So now the Festival of Sorting, Tossing and Packing begins! In earnest!!

As for culinary escapades...
My lovely ex-husband, Samir would have been in heaven over your lunch... chicken livers were his favorite but not for me... I never would cook them so he had to make them for himself...Yeach! (My culinary failure in this regard was not the cause of our divorce however.)

My dad didn't like liver so I never had to eat it growing up nor sweet breads and tripe or kidneys or tongue or heart, all of those horrible things... When I was going to college one summer in Florence, on the way to school each morning I would pass the tripe wagon of raw tripe for sale for that famous beloved dish Tripa Fiorentina". This was an open cart with a small awning over it to keep the tripe from stewing in the hot Italian sun.

I would ALWAYS cross the street to get away from the foul smell and the sight which as with a car wreck one was compelled to look at....

But then considering the food one eats for love... I actually ate a beef heart and okra stew prepared my my Palestinian sweetheart although I hate okra and well beef heart, that is self explanatory.

And once I actually tasted the black beans and pigs feet that my then Chilean sweetheart told me he had prepared and it turned out had really been prepared by my neighbor so in fact I had no amatory obligation to even take that one horrid bite... Needless to say, that relationship didn't last long...

Yes food can be a venture into the twilight zone.
I used to have a colleague when I was back in Florence in grad school who prided himself on eating random things from the menu without knowing enough Italian to translate them... One night at dinner he got frogs' legs! But he ate them... and you know the rest... They tasted like chicken... xov

Tina in CT said...

EUWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!! I'd stick to blini or ask for an English menu. I'm not that adventuresome.

Tina in CT said...

The year after I graduated from college, I was off to Europe on my own. I did visit and stay with cousins outside of Amsterdam and a college friend in Paris. When I was off on my own in other countries, I really never got anything weird (lucky I guess) as with my spattering of French and no German, I was not trilingual.

The next time I went, I was with my new husband who spoke some German and we never had a problem in Italy, Germany or Austria.

Of course when I'm in Moscow, I have my daughter who speaks fluent Russian.

TRex said...



My next trick will be to post pics of all the rancid toilets I have been privy to in my travels.



Tina in CT said...

Foreign toilets: Hmmmmm....

While camping in Switzerland, I came across the strangest toilet I'd ever seen. It was a porclein square set into the floor and you had to stand straddling it.

Another experience was taking a shower in a campground high in the Swiss or Austrian Alps. You had to purchase tokens for the hot water but they did not tell us how short the time was that you actually got hot water. Nothing beats being in the middle of washing your long hair and the hot water stops. I can still remember that ice cold alpine water on my head and having to shower with it. For the next shower, I was prepared with lots of hot water tokens.

Anonymous said...

You have been in Moscow - what? 2 years? And have only discovered biz lunches now?

What kind of bubble do you live in?

The Expatresse said...

Um, when did I say that the concept was new to me? The Slovaks do it, too. So do the French. I even experienced the American concept of "lunch specials" when I worked "outside the home" managing a $2 million advertising budget (B.C. or Before Children). I only just recently started meeting The Spouse for lunch in Moscow. In SK we did it every day.