Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Meat Markets

The supermarkets and markets are sheer bliss here after Colombo. If you like Italian food, you’ll be fine. However there is plenty that is unfamiliar still. Not the strange vegetables this time, but the meat. I feel like a rather myopic pathologist as I peer closely at the meat on offer, trying to ascertain what it is, as I have forgotten yet again the Albanian for pork or lamb. Chicken and beef are easy to identify. Pork and lamb less so, all the meat is quite ‘mature’ so, dark, but then there is veal, turkey, mutton, rabbit, and the meat is more often than not in chunks or slabs, or hacked off in an unrecognisable way so I can’t tell if it’s a leg of lamb or a skinned turkey leg. My Delia Smith diagrams of meat cuts are useless here.

However some things are very obvious and take a little getting used to. Haven’t plucked up the courage to ask for 400g of chicken necks yet, or a sheep’s head, yes please with eyeballs. And all manner of offally bits.

My daughter seems characteristically un-phased by our meat shopping, however uncertain it makes me feel sometimes. On one occasion there was a whole skinned rabbit lying in its plastic tray. “Oh look Mummy, Dinosaur-Chicken”, she observed, as if that’s what we always got for Monday supper….

I guess in the UK we have completely lost touch with the whole food chain, where food comes from, and how it ends up on our tables.

So for me the Elbasan Road is quite traumatic. As you are driving south out of Tirana, you pass the slaughterhouses. Actually that’s rather a grand name. In fact it is just men by the road slaughtering cows and sheep, next to their sheds (‘slaughter houses’) So far we have managed to spot incredibly interesting sights on the opposite side of the road, but I guess the time must come when our children not only discover that meat doesn’t grow on trees in little polystyrene trays, but also to see how they are dispatched, complete with animals queuing up and blood running down the sides of the roads….

Still, I do count myself lucky I’m not a British woman I met, who married an Albanian, a military captain, who has travelled and is very ‘European’ in many ways. But the food angle of their marriage has been an education for her. He expects proper MEAT on the table every night. The fact that they can’t afford it is not his concern, she has to find a way. She had diarrhoea for the entire 1st year of her marriage living in Albania, as she tried to acclimatise to visiting the In-Laws and eating in their village and drinking village milk etc.

But the final straw for me I think would have been the pig. Her In-Laws breed a pig for them every year. The first year of her marriage they presented her with this pig. Well, to be fair, it was hanging from a tree, so I suppose she could be grateful it was already dead. Her husband says to his new wife. “There you are, can you just chop it up and put it in the freezer” She said “No I can’t, my ‘Complete Cookery Course’ doesn’t tell me how to do that…” (So, Delia’s fault again) He was astonished that she had no idea how to do this. His reply was

“Well you’ll need an axe”

To her credit, she didn’t jump on the next plane home, but faithfully chops up her pig and puts it in the freezer once a year. And I have to say it is delicious… and he gets meat on the table every night.

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