Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Going-Away Parties Begin: Two Fishy Nights (Serb Food Part III)

My first video should appear here, but Blogger Video is having trouble with it - maybe in a few hours. Anyway it's a bit dark but you can see our host circling not-so-cautiously around what looks like a huge wok. It's sitting on a tripod over a fiercely burning little wood fire he made in the corner of his concrete driveway. The other guests told me this is a typical Serb outdoor frypan for manly cooking. (Like the US, men cook outside, women in.)

Earlier he'd filled it to the brim with vegetable oil and then when the oil started boiling, tossed in four entire freshwater fish which had been battered with corn flour. Now you see him frantically poking and turning the fish with a spatula while the oil spills over the edges making the fire flare so crazily that we spectators on the balcony were laughing and cheering. Our poor host though was terribly worried - what if the fish burned too much?

When after just a few short minutes cooking time per fish, he scooped them onto an awaiting platter and held it up to the light, his worst fears were confirmed and his wife openly horrified. The fish looked like black fish-shaped pieces of charcoal.

I, however, was delighted. It's not for nothing I spent much of my youth eating blackened fish in many of America's restaurants. I'm enormously fond of crackly burned fish skin, and know the meat underneath can be unusually tender due to the quickness of cooking. And so it was -- utterly delicious. I even persuaded one of the other guests to taste the black skin - he claimed he liked it too. Everyone else threw theirs away on the bone plate scrap-heap... which I rummaged through for more skin until I caught my host's unhappy eye. OK, enough's enough.

So I settled back and asked the other guests who were Serbs who'd visited the US in the past, if there were any US foods they missed? "Chinese food," said one. "Mexican nachos," said another. Which just goes to show you what's memorable about American food isn't exactly American... or maybe it is. You can get both nachos and Chinese food in nearly every town in the US, even ones far smaller than Sombor. A nation of immigrants, many of us eat food from around the world routinely. The hardest thing for many Americans to get used to in foreign travel is that people in most other countries only eat their own food plus maybe pizza and burgers. We go somewhere, taste the local stuff, love it but get bored after a while, and ask "Where is the nearest Thai restaurant?" Unless we are in a global city like London or Sydney, we are doomed to disappointment.

Anyway, my husband and I are leaving for a month in the US on Thursday so last night's dinner was one of several celebrations as we say goodbye to Sombor friends for awhile.

On Monday night we revisited the very best Fish Restaurant in Sombor, Riblja Carda Andric, which sits on the canal outside of town. They only serve fish and it's all spectacularly well done in a stunning setting with stone terraces and little gardens sweeping down to the water, that makes me want to throw away my entire life to build a house by a canal that copies this place.

But then our guests Maria and Serge, who own Cafe De Sol, the equally lovely cafe-bar next door to Andric, told us how damp and cold the air is in the wintery off-season, making their lives there slightly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they intend to stay because of the beauty of the place. You can put up with quite a bit of discomfort for beauty.

Luckily our waiter, a tall guy who'd emigrated from Zadar Croatia, quickly brought both Maria and I warm blankets so we could cuddle at the table while our respective husbands told us, "What are you doing? It's not cold at all!" A lovely time was had by all.

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