The culture of sitting around a table full of food and talking into wee hours is long and strong in the Balkans. We interact around plates and bottles. If we have guests over, we feel obliged by our gene pool to empty our fridge and bring everything to the table. If you ever wondered where expression “have some more” came from, look no further.
We eat until we have to loosen our belts. And then we eat some more. Always remember it is important to keep the balance and immediately fill out that extra space in the stomach you just discovered when you secretly reached underneath the table and unbuttoned your pants. You might as well take that hope-no-one-noticed look off your face. Aunt X did notice, and you know she is going to tell everybody her theory about how you're either getting fat or you’re pregnant. Deep inside, she is hoping you are just getting fat because her daughter has to have a baby before you do. Everything is a competition.
Also, there is something very inspirational about big gatherings. It is almost midnight, you just had a fourth glass of wine, you've been chewing on a toothpick for an hour and all of a sudden you turn into philosopher. Nothing is off the conversation map. Global warming, lousy tourist season, elections, celebrity plastic surgery.
Variety of the food on the table is fundamental. It starts with inevitable and hated soup. Hated only because the smell of fresh pot roast that’s coming from the kitchen always gets in a way, and why would you want to waste your time on water with noodles when you know what’s coming next? Soup is welcomed with enthusiasm only in the winter.
Soup brings us to vegetables. Speaking in percentages, vegetable takes up approximately 20 percent of entire table content. Fifteen percent goes on potatoes in all forms and the rest is in the soup and salad.
This is precisely why vegetarians have problems at these gatherings. Or perhaps we should call them celebrations of meat.
Here is what vegetarians can expect. They will be bombarded with questions regarding their choice not to eat meat even though they already explained it about hundred times. No matter what they say, list of severe health conditions caused by anemia will always be never ending and lack of childbearing hips unforgiveable.
Oh, and vegans? You have a better chance of explaining why you joined drug-using polygamist religious cult than explaining why you eliminated all animal products from your diet. Because animals are here to be used, eaten and if God wanted them safe from being devoured he would’ve given them ability to think and speak so they can protest and fight. Yes, you heard it right, animals can’t communicate, especially when they have apple stuffed in their mouth.
The amount of conversation decreases during the main course. You can mostly hear a lot of mmmm’s and aaaaa’s and “Can you pass the pepper?” Nothing is ever too spicy but you always have to make sure that your host knows her or his dish doesn’t lack flavor, you’re just really wild and you like it hot. It doesn’t matter that in reality your refined tongue disagrees with her/his recipe and your mom is totally a better cook.
Now comes the crucial moment of the eating extravaganza, a dessert. It is quite common that everybody brings something to the gatherings, and for women, that something is usually a cake. That is when competition begins. Whose crust burned? Who puts too much butter in the glaze? Who replaced walnuts with hazelnuts and completely ruined the filling? Which cheap bastard cut the pieces extra small to make it look like there’s more cake than it really is? Of course, judging only happens in their heads. On the outside, they just nod affirmatively with their heads and say “Wow, I really like this, you have to give me the recipe”.
On the other side of the table, men are discussing quality of the wine they’re drinking.
Don’t be scared by the complicated choreography of these events, you get used to it eventually. At one point all this becomes really entertaining, especially when you learn to play along. If you’re anything like me, you always have a camera with you to make sure that the most embarrassing moments are carefully recorded, and later, if needed, exploited for greater good.
The article was originally written in English.
Photo Credit: LINDA HOUGHTON / MARIAH GREEN
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