National Identity Goes through the Stomach:
Is It Traditional Food You're Looking for?
Photo : Sarmale, a traditional Romanian dish
„Mommy, mommy, it smells great! Is it ready? When is it ready? Hurry up, mom! C’mon!” These were exactly the words said by my little cousin who was anxiously waiting for one of the main dishes in Romanian culture: sarmale, an appealing combination between meat and rice, wrapped in either pickled cabbage leaves or vine leaves.
Classes of Culture and Civilisation, Georgraphy and Sociology are being crowded more and more with the so-called „globalization” subject in order to make people, and especially young students, aware of the necessity of OUR traditions, OUR music, OUR flag, and maybe one of the less brought up subjects: what about food, gastronomy and the awesome smell of our traditional dishes? What about originality, making a mark in the world and promoting something much more innovative than a simple taste, design or price?
„Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch”, Orson Welles used to say. But what if we combine those two important elements, maintaining a strong belief in our own country and creating fascinating food which will assist our own national identity? Because of the powerful methods that nationalities such as Italians, Germans or English were inclined to use, savoury dishes were spread all over the world and they became phenomena. The main controversial subject is if we, the Romanian people, are still able to develop our gastronomy in order to captivate our people’s attention and not to be influenced, to a large extent, by manoeuvres tried by the popular countries.
If children are eager to have just a little bite of traditional food, as my cousin was, there could still be hope. However, there is a difference in mentality when it comes to children and teenagers who are accustomed to the Romanian gastronomy and the ones who study abroad and have to eat international food.
Ana, aged 16, was hiding her face when recognising that international food such as pizza, pasta, sushi, is first place in her favourites list: „Because at home I usually eat traditional food, it is kind of dull to eat it everyday. I want to try differente flavours and extraordinary combinations of ingredients, something that is new on the market”, she confessed. Although Romanian food is not one of the healthiest in the world, Ana confirmed that its price is surprisingly decreasing because of the lack of demand in restaurants or pubs: ’’The aspect matters most. No one will eat food that looks greasy or undelicious. That is why Romanian food can be set aside - it does not have the greatest design in the world. On the other hand, international food is expensive because of the multitude of the ingredients that it requiers, but that doesn’t stop its demans’’, Ana continued. More’s the pity that she confessed that our gastronomy is not a type to be impressed with: „It is so typical. It isn’t something new to represent us, Romanians, we don’t imply creativity nowadays. It’s really sad that we cannot get ourselves noticed in this field!”
Even though Romanians are not satisfied with what national gastronomy could bring to the international table, it seems that objective and fair-play committees appreciate our chefs’ skills: a significat contest in Indonesia had as winner a Romanian woman who impressed the audience with luscious dishes such as oxtail soup or rica-rica chicken. Isn’t it a shame that the winner didn’t have the chance to „strike” the jury with one of the Romanian delicacies? This shows only that our chefs’ abilities are well-developed, but what about extending our traditional culture?
Asked what were the causes that led to such a disorganised structure in our gastronomy, Remus, a Romanian student studying abroad, assured me that this doesn’t happen only in our country, but in the entire world: „In different aspects, any traditional food was replaced by international food because the average person likes to change its habits. From a different point of view, the majority of people will agree that Romanian food is still better. The globalization though will kill most of the traditional aspects of any country affected by it”. The 22 year old student also gave us some suggestions: „ So as to promote traditional food you need many different approaches and marketing tactics. In a very complex manner it depends on the targeted demographic area and who is trying to promote it. Simply, I would personally use well known symbols to promote it outside of the borders such as Dracula, Ceausescu or anything that would raise awareness. Inside the territorial borders I would use the quality of the ingredients and the comeback to the past and the idea of the simple food that our ancestors used to have.”
So, people still have the power to fight against the layer that globalization starts little by little to lay down on Romania. If we didn’t have the means to boast, we would probably sidestep and not voice our concern.
Solutions to problem? Lots. Answers to questions? Numerous. Eagerness and patriotic spirit? We have it all! What is constantly missing is the putting into practice and the financial aid that consists nowadays a really big issue. But, traditional food should be more than just a sum of money, should be our desire to promote our country in an ideal manner and to demonstrate that the small tricks of globalization haven’t seized us entirely.
Traditional Romanian food is not a „wet blanket”, but one of the elements that created a nation, a country! Let’s put our foot down and see what we can still improve!