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

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cooking for Serbian Friends (How to Feel Like an Alien)

I know my dinner party standard - Thai-spiced shrimp over steamed basmati - is going to be "weird food" for our guests just off the plane from Belgrade. It's their first day in America ever and I don't want to freak them (or their stomachs) out too much. On the other hand, cooking for company always makes me idiotically nervous, so I lean on my standard to steady myself emotionally.

Ok so, why not make the rest of the courses comfortingly familiar to Serbs. That way it's just one weird thing surrounded by normalicy. I confer with my step-son who went to chef school in Croatia. "A meat platter - cold cuts - would be great for appetizers. You could throw some cheese on there too," he says. Ewww. I am a 25-year vegetarian and meat kinda creeps me out. "How about fresh homemade salsa and chips instead?" I reply. "I think they'll like that," he says. "So it's familiar?" "Oh no. Well, maybe they've eaten tortilla chips, but not salsa."

As for the next course, I realize the only Serbian soup I know is the tomato soup everyone makes from dried packets, never cans. I'm damned if I'm serving soup from a packet, and anyway two tomato dishes in a row is too much. We settle on my famous ginger-broth soup with bean thread noodles and tofu. "That won't be too weird for them?" I ask. "It will be ok as long as you serve plenty of bread with everything. Serbs expect bread on the table." I am baffled. Why would you need yet another carb when there's one already included in the dish itself?

Then I remember the story of the first time my husband, as a teenager, was taken to a pizza restaurant. He sat and sat not touching the pizza in front of him. Finally someone asked him what was wrong. "I can't start eating," he explained. "There's no bread on the table."

Next we discuss the desert course. "How about cheesecake? Everyone likes cheesecake, right?" "Of course!" my step-son replies. "They'll love it. They've probably never tasted cheesecake before, but I'm sure it will be a hit."

Oh dear, I guess bread-aside the whole meal will be alien then. "What should I serve to drink?" "Beer is probably a good idea." I relax. Beer I know. Beer will be no problem.


Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

The morning after .... The food went over far better than expected - by both sides. My guests were terribly polite but I could see as each course arrived at the table they suspected it might not taste nice. But then it did. And then they asked for seconds! Biggest win: the shrimp were incredibly popular. The spicing is nice, but I suspect it was the fact it was SHRIMP! I could have done almost anything to those shrimp and they would have been a hit.

Nanditha said...

"Rosemary Bailey Brown" - you sound like a character out of an English novel. or one of those English movies with a person's name and an amazing story attached to it. well, anyway, as far as the amazing story part goes, you seem to have a few! I am so excited by the blogs i have found recently with such interesting posts about food and culture etc. i am looking forward to reading more about your culinary adventures and perhaps a recipe or two here and there?

Anonymous said...

lucky for rosemary she had guests from belgrade!!

...if it would have been guests from typical Serb nationalistic towns, it wouldn't have been so well received I'm willing to wager :)

Anonymous said...

Just passing by, read your blog &
completely thought of this scene...
I know you'd appreciate this...

My father is from Opovo, and my mother is American... While visiting relatives, I wasn't too hungry and insisted on just eating the salad... this is almost an exact reenactment!LOL


Anonymous said...

This made me laugh! My future mother-in-law refers to my cooking as "the new modern type of food", so I'm right there with you!

Marie Ottem said...

Youre very very funny! I discovered you blog today, and it is very amusing.

I dont know how to cook serbian food, and when my fiance's family is there I feel a bit out of place. The only jugo dishes I know how to cook is Goulash, Paprikash and pasulj with dried meat. Other than that Im clueless. Im only 19, so I guess Im excused, but my "sister in law" is also 19 and the greatest cook ive ever met, haha!