dimanche 31 mars 2013

Learning about Polish food

Boy, do they like their mayo! Author of photo: Den Nation.

So how can you find out more about what people eat when visiting a country?

The obvious answer, of course, is asking the locals, or better yet, eat out with a local or at their house. The second thing you should do is visit a local market. The third thing to do is to visit a supermarket in the country you are visiting. Eat out at restaurants and in cafeterias. Cafeterias and canteens are a good way to see how the local people eat, and to observe how they speak and interact with one another, as there are few businesspeople and tourists eating in cafeterias. Sure, the food isn't the best quality, but if you can eat in a cafeteria (of course some are closed to the general public), you will experience the local culture.

Before visiting Poland last week, Polish food was a mystery to me. I had all these ideas based on my experiences in the Czech Republic, but Poland is still an entirely different country despite its proximity to the Czech Republic.

So what did I learn?

Bread at an outdoor market. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Bread is a serious affair in Poland. A lot of their bread is really dense, like in the picture above. Neighbouring countries like Germany and the Czech Republic have similar bread. Does anyone actually know the name of this type of bread? If you press firmly on a slice of this bread and release the pressure, it will spring back into its original form.

Real hot chocolate in a Polish café. Author of photo: Den Nation.
I can never go back to the fake hot chocolate made from powder now that I have been acquainted with this treat. Other countries like France, Italy and Spain offer real hot chocolate, but Denmark, oh Denmark, where is your real hot chocolate?

My first meal in Poland. Author of photo: Den Nation.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Polish people like to eat red cabbage. I quite liked it because it tasted less sour than white cabbage. What I liked the most about this dish was the jam-filled apple and the potato dumplings. Devine!

Vodka selection in a Polish supermarket. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Yes, they like their vodka. I thought this was mainly a Russian obsession, but the Poles like drinking vodka as well. The night before we left Poland my husband's colleague announced that we could not leave Poland without drinking vodka with him. We went to the "Communist Café", which had an enormous bust of Lenin in the front window and Lenin paraphenalia, to drink shots of vodka. "What would you like, I'll treat you to any vodka you like," announced our proud Polish friend. I'm not a vodka lover, but I enjoyed this blast-from-the-past café.

Cabbage in a Polish supermarket. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Oh yes, they love cabbage. They use it to make a popular Polish dish called Gołąbki - rolled cabbage leaves wrapped around meat, onions and rice cooked in a tomato sauce.

Instant soup in a Polish supermarket. Author of photo: Den Nation.
I don't quite understand the obsession with instant soup. I think most of them are terrible, but the Poles seem to like them. 

Zurek soup in a restaurant. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Polish homemade soups are excellent, however. We loved the Zurek soup, or sour rye soup. It's made with soured rye flour, potatoes and sausage.

Their cheesecake is incredible. I think it's the best I have ever had. As you can tell, it is quite different from the North American cheesecake. I do love fruit toppings, but often the cheesecake fruit toppings in North America come from a can and are filled with preservatives. I loved that they served this cheesecake with real fruit. And while I love the North American cookie/butter base, I mostly enjoy the middle of the cheesecake.  This one was slightly-crumbly, not to sweet, and the best part was that the filling was essentially the cake itself.

Pierogis in a restaurant. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Do they ever love pierogis! They are nothing like the ones in North America, which are filled with processed cheese (don't worry, I like them anyway!). They are normally boiled, but the oven-baked ones are delicious. There are so many fillings to choose from, it's incredible!

Cured sausages at an outdoor market. Author of photo: Den Nation.

There is no shortage of cured meats, cured fish and pork products in Poland. These cured sausages were everywhere. Even the breakfast at our hotel had hotdogs for breakfast!

Boiled pierogis in a restaurant. Author of photo: Den Nation.
I hope you've enjoyed discovering Poland's cuisine.

Bon appétit!

lundi 25 mars 2013


Sometimes feelings of nostalgia hit me when I least expect it. Sometimes I can see it coming, but I am powerless to do anything about it; I become completely enveloped by my feelings of nostalgia. 

Thanks to my husband's work, we are in Poland for a week. There are so many things that remind of the Czech Republic that it's uncanny. I knew that the two countries shared a lot of the same culture, but I never expected to be hit so hard since I buried my Czech life a few years ago. 

My husband wanted to eat in a Czech restaurant a few days ago. I immediately hesitated because I wasn't sure I wanted to go on a trip down memory lane. I have to say that Czech cuisine is not the type of cuisine that many people immediately like, but I miss it a lot. I would say that the Poles eat more red cabbage than the Czechs. The Czech cuisine uses more German-style Sauerkraut cabbage (meaning it is more sour). They also eat a lot of bread dumplings while the Polish ones are more dense and potato-like. The Czechs also like goulash, but their goulash is a lot milder than the Hungarian one, which is more spicy. My husband was so eager that I gave in, thinking about how much I missed Czech food. 

Traditional Polish food. Author of photo: Den Nation.

We were greeted to music by Jaromir Nohavica, a Czech folk singer. I remember how I used to listen to Czech folk songs, especially his songs, all the time, and now I haven't listened to any of these songs in the past 5 years. It's funny how things change, isn't it? 

The waitress was really friendly and while the food was good, it wasn't 100% authentic. I'd say it was around 80% authentic so still pretty close. 

I was so surprised that I could still sing along with some of Jaromir's songs, even after all these years. I was listening to Jakube, Jakube and was suddenly overcome with nostalgic feelings. There I was 6 or 7 years ago riding my bike through the forest at the outskirts of Prague. I remember that forest: I spent so much time walking and exploring there. I still remember its strong pine smell. 

And then suddenly there it was. Right in the middle of forest, right in the middle of a small lake was what I called the pond pub. You knew you were arriving because the trees were less dense. Then you came to a drop and a clearing. I remember dragging my bike down to the lake and crossing the small path to join the pub in the middle of the pond/lake. Going there at sunset during the summer was the best: the cicadas were chirping, shadows were moving across the water, the mosquitoes were out and biting and there was this quietness, a peaceful still. They always softly played Jaromir's music and the food and drink were 100% authentic, far, far away from the tourist food in central Prague. It was so simple but yet an idyllic paradise. 

The memory was so vivid yet so far away at the same time. It was so bittersweet: how I longed to be there if only for a minute. I'll probably never go back there again, I hope I'll dream about the pub on the pond.

As much as these nostalgic feelings make me uneasy, I do welcome them. It's my time to reflect on things, on my life, my experiences, the people that I have known and know and to remember. Even if it's a bit sad, I am so glad for these memories. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right?

p.s. If anyone is interested in hearing the song Jakube, Jakube, just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5r7jfu1zwA

mardi 19 mars 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

One of the perks of living in Copenhagen is the possibility of weekend travel all over Europe. Of course you can take weekend trips from Bordeaux, but you are more restricted in your choice of destination. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get a direct flight from Bordeaux to anywhere in Europe east of Basel. There are so many places I can go to from Copenhagen for the weekend.

We came back from Berlin yesterday after enjoying a weekend there with my wedding witness. She is very proud to be Berliner (rightfully so!) and asked me which city I preferred, Copenhagen or Berlin.

I spent the weekend mulling over it, going back and forth over the pros and cons. I think I have my answer, but I continue to be pulled back and forth over which city I prefer.

So which city would I prefer to live in, Berlin or Copenhagen?

Berliner Dom and the Fernsehturm in Berlin. Author of photo: Den Nation.

What do I like about Berlin?

1. The prices. Hands down, Berlin is cheaper than Copenhagen. I can't imagine how expensive it must be for Berliners coming to visit Copenhagen. Of course the salaries are higher in Denmark, but the taxes are higher on everything so if I buy food in Copenhagen it better be good for the price I am paying. If I buy mediocre food in Berlin it would hurt less as there are less taxes to pay, thus prices are a lot lower.

2. The food. It's better in Berlin in my opinion. There is more variety and choice. You can have variety and choice in Denmark too if you pay the price. There are so many different types of restaurants to choose from (and more varied ethnic restaurants) in Berlin and more imported products available.

3. The energy. Berlin is so alive. There is always something going on at all times. Last weekend there was a giant pillow fight in the streets of Berlin. There is an electric buzz in Berlin, an unstoppable energy, a drive, a vibe. It is such a dynamic city which is continually going forward. Copenhagen is kind of sleepy compared to Berlin.

4. The history. Berlin is a walking museum. For a history buff like me, I spent hours standing and walking around Berlin reading information posts. And it's all free. I am not a "traditional" museum person, but I love interactive displays.

5. The German language. I would love to learn German. Not to many native English speakers wish to learn German, but I really regret not learning when I had the chance a few years ago. I do like learning Danish and get a kick out of learning a language spoken by only 5 million people, but German is so useful in Europe. I like the sound of the language and it is easier to pronounce than Danish, although Danish grammar is much easier than German. German is a language that I can easily practice while living in France while Danish is not.

Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish royal family. Author of photo: Den Nation.

So what could I possibly say to top that?

1. The type of person I am is better suited to Copenhagen. There are a lot of alternative people in Berlin. I have never smoked, have never been drunk, I hate clubbing and dislike dancing, have never died my hair, I don't have colourful clothing, and I don't have tattoos. I wear simple clothing; my wardrobe consists of basic tops and bottoms that are easy to pair together. I do like to wear skirts every now and then, but they are simple as well. There is nothing alternative about me.

I am more introvert than extrovert and want nothing more than a good evening at home snuggling with my husband or in the company of a small group of friends in a café or a restaurant. I am not saying that it's bad to smoke or like clubbing, etc., just that it's not me. So yes, sleepy Copenhagen it is for me. I appreciate the quietness and Danish hygge.

2. Danish hygge. What is Danish hygge? There is no direct translation in English, but the best way to describe it would be "a cozy feeling". Candles or soft lighting, furniture that is simple but looks inviting, blankets in cafés, and an architecture that allows for a lot of natural lighting. I love going to cafés to experience Danish hygge.

3. Danish cafés. There really is a division between cafés and bars and I like that. I love going to cafés to experience Danish hygge. I think that blankets in cafés are so cute. I just want to stay for hours and hours.

4. The cycling. There are cyclists in Berlin, but nothing can top Copenhagen (except Amsterdam maybe). I love being able to cycle everywhere and love the wonderful cycle paths in Copenhagen.

5. A classical city. Compared to modern Berlin, Copenhagen has a classical feeling to it. I do like modern architecture, but I appreciate classical architecture even more. I guess I should say that when I am talking about classical architecture I mean anything that isn't modern. So I am talking about old European architecture. As I consider myself a "classical" type of person, I feel more at home in Copenhagen.

6. Copenhagen has a small city feel to it. I feel more protected in Copenhagen, like I'm being cocooned. The city centre is easily navigable by foot and it's easy and fast to get from point A to B. I sometimes felt overwhelmed in Berlin. Yes, I am definitely a small city type of person.

So who is the winner?

I think Copenhagen. After I had written my little blurb about Berlin I wasn't sure at all, but now that I have written about Copenhagen I have a better idea once again.

Does this mean that I would never want to live in Berlin? No way! If my husband has the opportunity to work in Berlin (we are in Denmark thanks to his work), I wouldn't hesitate. I love learning about European culture, history and languages and I admit to knowing very little about Germany, the German language and Germans. Here's to hoping...

mardi 12 mars 2013

Things that surprise me about Denmark - Prams

Denmark prides itself on its minimalist style. If you go to a Danish home, you will remark that it is uncluttered, the colours are neutral, the forms are quite angular, the decoration is cosy. Think wide open spaces.

I am a pack rat. I save everything. I have boxes and boxes of old assignments, knick-knacks, pens, toys, whatever, etc., etc.

Pack rats are not welcome in the typical Danish household. 

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the Danish pram or baby carriage. 

They are huge, heavy and bulky. I just can't picture them in the bare Danish home. The wheels are quite big, they are difficult to manoeuver and they take up a lot of space.

Prams outside in Copenhagen. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Actually, people just leave them outside in their building's courtyard all night. If someone did that in France it would get stolen sooner or later.

So why do Danes like them so much?

I have not seen too many pram models that deviate from this vintage style. It seems like time has stood still here Denmark on this front. And it has. Danes love the traditional pram. I quite like the look of it as well. Almost all Danes slept in a pram like this when they were a baby, so when a Dane has a baby it's almost a given that they will sleep in a pram just like their parents before them.

They are very roomy and comfortable. It's true, I have to admit, it looks so comfy that I'd like to sleep in one too! They are so big that parents can use their pram until the child is 2 years old. They also retain heat very well. For a child, it's the next closest thing to their bed as the child can actually lay down flat. I have never seen a parent carry their baby in a sling or a carrier.

The thing that really throws me for a loop is the way Danish parents just leave their children outside alone in their pram. In the above photo, there is a baby sleeping in the pram with the green cloth. The baby's parents were enjoying brunch in the café while their baby slept soundly outside. 

This goes against everything I know. You can't leave a baby alone outside! 

But Denmark is safe. Child abductors, what's that? If there was a problem with child abduction, I'm sure the babies wouldn't be alone outside anymore. I've even seen babies sleep in big fields or parks, alone. And they sleep with a monitor so the parent can hear them crying in the café or wherever they are.

Babies waiting for their parents in front of the pharmacy. Author of photo: Den Nation.

My husband lived in Denmark during his adolescence. He'll never forget the day when, shortly after having arrived in Denmark, his mother rushed into their flat with her cheeks flushed and beads of sweat on her forehead. "There's an abandoned baby sleeping downstairs in a pram!" she cried, "let's call the police!" Imagine if she had called the police... you probably could have heard them laughing from a mile away. As she was frantically pacing her flat, the neighbour was on her balcony next door. She saw my mother-in-law pointing out the pram to my husband and told her flat-out that it was indeed her baby and that the baby was just getting a bit of fresh air, nothing to be worried about.

I love the coffee cup holder! Author of photo: Den Nation.

I had dinner tonight with two Frenchmen, one Danish man, a Belgian lady and a Swedish man. The Belgian lady explained that at first she thought it was crazy the way things are here with the prams, but that once she had children she understood the utility of the Danish pram. My Swiss friend here says the same thing, at first she was horrified, but now she totally swears by it! Anyway, the Swedish man explained that in Sweden there are some primary schools where the children are outside most of the day. We compared the French/Belgian and the Danish/Swedish school systems and one major difference emerged. In Denmark/Sweden children are free to roam around and do as they please (within reason). They are encouraged to discover things on their own. The pupils call their teachers by their first names. The French/Belgian (French Belgian) system is totally different. Everything is structured and formal, nobody can deviate from the programme. So these Swedish children spend their days outdoors participating in activities under the guidance of their teacher. And yes, they even nap outdoors!

What do you think about the Danish pram? Does it suprise you as well? 

jeudi 7 mars 2013

Canada and Bilingualism - Part 1

For a lot of people Canada evokes thoughts of bilingualism, tolerance and politeness. Many people think that everyone in Canada speaks both official languages, French and English.

I do think Canadians are tolerant and polite; bilingual, euh... not so much.

My Alberta birth certificate. Photo by Den Nation.

I was born in Alberta but grew up in Ottawa. My father was working temporarily in Calgary at the time of my birth. I only spent the first 2 months of my life in Alberta so Calgary is just another Canadian city for me. I feel like I was born in Ottawa, but my birth certificate reminds me that I was not.

I am Canadian. My country is officially bilingual. Trudeau, Canada's prime minister during the 70s, really pushed bilingualism in Canada. The issue wasn't really about getting everyone to speak both languages, but Trudeau recognized that not all Canadian citizens are bilingual and that everyone had the right to access services in their own language when dealing with officialdom, aka the Canadian government. In doing so, he pushed more Canadians to be bilingual (as it is really difficult to obtain a position as a civil servant in Ottawa without being bilingual).

So how is it that I can't get my birth certificate in French and English? Alberta as a province is not officially bilingual, that's why. Birth certificates are issued by the provinces and territories, not the federal government in Ottawa.

If you look at my picture above, it does appear to be in both languages. What you are looking at is the template, which is in both languages. The information specific to the person in question only appears in English. Why, if their template is in both languages, can't they also insert my personal details in both languages?

I wrote to the Alberta government about this. Their response? "The province of Alberta is not required to provide access or reports in both of Canada's official languages."

How can this be? I just can't believe that I can't access official documents like my birth certificate in both languages. How come the federal government has not forced the provincial and territorial governments to do so? We are talking about my birth certificate, an official document.

I was so angry when I got this response from the Alberta government. I have to admit, I am so disappointed by "my province", and that I come from such a close-minded and right-winged province (so now you all know about my political beliefs).

I used to think when I was a little girl that it was cool to have been born in Alberta. I used to go around saying to everyone, "I was born in Calgary, I'm a cowgirl!" Hahahahaha. I can't believe I was so proud.

I can't believe that hate groups against bilingualism exist. Just check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4370WLcgeYU and a couple of their other videos to get an idea of their stance.

Of course, these people are a hate group and most Canadians are not as extreme as them. The speaker in the video for the above link seems to think they represent the average Canadian, but they do not. (I hope I won't start receiving emails from these people now.)

So while I am proud that my country set up bilingual services, I just wish that the provinces would follow as well. Don't just start something and only do it halfway.

vendredi 1 mars 2013


Just a quick post to show you what fastelavnsboller look like.

Fastelavn display. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I found the pastry not too dry, the cream filling airy and mousse-like, and not too sweet on a whole. I could really taste the creaminess of the filling. 

Close-up shot of fastelavnsboller. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I really enjoyed eating this, but my French friends were not overly impressed. They were curious about the tradition and surprised when they first saw this dessert (it does look impressive!), but I know what they were feeling because they didn't say anything. If a French person likes something, they will talk about it. They love spending hours talking about food. And if they don't say anything, well...

Side shot of fastelavnsboller. Author of photo: Den Nation.