Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Do We Long For? Food Nostalgia and Puzata Hata

In her chapter on food tourism in the book Fast Food/Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System, food anthropologist Melissa Caldwell explores how the stress of life in modern Moscow has resulted in a collective homesickness for a simpler time, an imagined life that is stable and familiar. This, she suggests, has catalyzed the emergence of “nostalgia cuisine” and themed restaurants in Moscow. Through food experiences, Russians might find reprieve from alienating forces and events that have come to shape their lives. While Ukraine certainly differs from Russia, a similar trend is evident in Ukraine’s urban centers.

One example that has always struck me is Puzata Hata (пузата хата) a chain restaurant with locations across Ukraine. The restaurant features classic Ukrainian food, served cafeteria style, in Carpathian village-themed environs. There are wooden beams, faux cottage rooftops, murals of haystacks, plastic onions hung to dry and servers in embroidered sorotchke. (OK, there are also large TVs and techno music.) This restaurant is very popular among university students and, it seems, everyone else. In fact, when I first came to Ukraine, this was a place that friends and colleagues were eager to take me. I have often wondered what it is about Puzata Hata people like so well. The food is classic and predictable but certainly not as delicious as homemade, particularly for standard Ukrainian fare, such as varenyky and blini.  When asked why she likes the place, a friend’s reply was “Because the food is good there, the design is like in old Ukrainian houses and it is not expensive.” This response was typical among people I asked in L’viv, all stressing that it is cheap, fresh and “comfortable”. What is interesting is that, while these individuals may have extended family or dachas in the villages, they are, for the most part, city folks, having grown up in L’viv’s highrise apartment complexes. Apparently “cultural nostalgia” is fairly common and draws shared responses that support a cultural identity. Thus, it is entirely possible to be wistful for romanticized experiences that you have never had. Further, while “comfort food” is not a new concept, all of this makes me wonder whether it is the preservation of the food or the ideas that give us comfort? Indeed, why is the village aesthetic, and particularly traditional foodways, such an important cultural icon?  But this village culture is mediated by specialists--by researchers who ensure authentiticy.  Puzata Hata’s website says,
Puzata Hata cuisine is well known and loved by our guests and represents the result of serious research and work. Our specialists have surveyed all regions of Ukraine to collect the most popular recipes of traditional national dishes.    This was preceded by long hours of work with archived documents – we used over a hundred of original culinary creations. That is how our food catalogue was created containing over a thousand dishes (for example, there are fifty recipes of Ukrainian borscht alone).

We'd love to hear from blog readers about why your own fondness for Puzata Hata.  Does it represent comfort?  affordability?  cooking just like home in a big city setting?

For intriguing discussion of nostalgia and foodways in the Post-Soviet context, see Svetlana Boym’s Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (Harvard University Press, 1994) (also recently recommended by a Pickle Project reader) and Melissa Caldwell’s “Tasting the Worlds of Yesterday and Today: Culinary Tourism and Nostalgia Foods in Post-Soviet Russia”  in Fast Food/Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System edited by Richard Wilk (AltaMira Press, 2006) or many of Dr. Caldwell’s other writings on food in Post-Socialist countries.

written by Sarah, posted by Linda

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Market Report: July 2, Opishne, Poltava Region

I was in Opishne for the National Day of Potters, an event created by the National Museum of Ceramics, located there, but after we finished a restaurant lunch, I persuaded my intrepid translator to accompany me across the road to see what a line-up of fruit and vegetable sellers had to offer.   So I saw cherries braided into a strand the way chili peppers are in the Southwest United States;  St.  John's wort and other herbs for tea (and then had some later that day);  cherries,  the tiny strawberries gathered into little bouquets and almost dried, gooseberries, cucumbers and last season's walnuts and dried pears.

But most memorable were the great faces of the men and women who smilingly pressed walnuts into my hand, had me try a dried plum (good for my digestion they said),  and encouraged me to try and purchase all!