Tue 12 Apr 2005
Borscht. What is it? It’s beet soup. It’s Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and generally eastern European in origin. As far as I know I’m missing most of the required bloodlines so please forgive me if I screw up the rest of the description. I do have most of the aforementioned regions covered through marriage, though.
Why am I going to subject you to a long treatise on the primary sustenance of Slavic peasants? Simple. We had perogies for supper tonight. I’d made—and frozen—them a couple of months ago when I wasn’t spending all my time duct-taped to the computer, composing novellas about single images from my photo library. Yes, I made the dough myself. Yes, I made the filling myself. No, Henny Penny, I did not grind the grain myself nor did anyone help me and yet still I shared the fruits of my labour. No, I have never seen perogies for sale in Japan. Nor dill, but that comes later.
Since they’ve got this info hardwired into their systems, prairie folk can skip the long-winded description and go straight to the main part of this entry. That’s right. Move along, folks. There’s nothing to see.
The Long-winded Description of Borscht
Ok, now that I’ve gotten rid of the relatives, we can crank up the borscht intensity (borscht intensity?) to eleven. If you were following instructions and came back from another link on this page, I apologize again for the runaround. Borscht is basically beets and whatever else you have lying around in your root cellar, pantry, fridge, or whatever else it is that you store food in. Root vegetables figure prominently. Lia says that in her family it was pretty much beets—roots and greens—and dill, with a couple of other things thrown into the water. Cabbage, potatoes, cheap cuts of the meat of a large mammal, carrots, turnips, onions, the occasional wayward stalk of flaccid celery. I can’t imagine kohlrabi would be taboo. And in the appropriate season, tomatoes and zuchinni go into everything. Though that gets dangerously close to ratatouille territory. You get the idea. Don’t have any stock? Fine, use water.
Company Relatives coming? Add more water. And maybe some more beets.
I’m picking up a really strong “don’t forget the dill” vibe from the other room but that might be because we haven’t had access to the fresh stuff in 18 months, and only found a supplier for dried about a month ago. Oh, the herb withdrawal stories I could tell. Hmmmmm… those last few sentences make me sound like I’m doing something slightly criminal. I can just see myself at the local upscale supermarket (Takami Spina, which is between my school and the art museum hill, for those who are keeping score):
Sorry officer, I was just checking the basil leaves for bruising. I didn’t mean to tear through the six layers of plastic like a crazed junkie. I didn’t inhale. I acknowledge that I am powerless over fresh herbs and anything else that tickles the tastebuds—that my life has become unmanageable… It’s just that… that… 400 yen for ten small leaves and a bundle of thick, woody stems… Is it the real thing? I could get it flown in from Bolivia for less. Aren’t you arresting the wrong person? Don’t you think you should investigate the guys who run this place? It’s a front. Soylent green is peeeeeeooooopppppllllle! It’s people, I tell you.
But the subject of access to culinary herbs in Japan a topic for another day.
Borscht is not picky. As I mentioned earlier, it’s just beets plus stuff. In soup form. It’s a cheap, hearty, unassuming staple of the eastern European diet. No need to strain or puree it. You serve it directly from a big pot. Without croutons, unless you count huge misshapen homemade soda biscuits as croutons. Without garnish, unless you count a big dollop of sour cream as garnish. And without any of that fancy schmancy, ah, how you say? haute cuisine snobbery. Though if memory serves, I’ve seen a pureed borscht-like substance come out of a Kitchen Stadium food processor.
Borscht makes your pee turn pink. As intense as the yellow you get when you take moderate doses of vitamin B, but in a longer wavelength. Boys, if you want to be the Picasso of the snowbank, alternate daily. No guarantees that combination therapy will give you orange. I’ve never tried it but I’m sure someone has. Or will, after reading this. By the way, ladies, I don’t have anything against you. It’s just that the anatomical differences are so impractical here. Plus there’s the issue of common sense. Really, how often have you seen a girl’s name in the snow bank next to a ladies’ outhouse? No matter how long the line. Anyway, today’s hidden thesis topic: Spectroscopic analysis of the automonodigitographological micturation patterns of the oafus canadensis major, male, or “Is it art if you sign the snowbank ‘R. Mutt,’ in French, in multiple colours, using your own urine, and nobody gives you a grant?”
I can hear you thinking, What a strange man, that Ed is. I admit it. Feel free to stop reading. Those of you who are still here, yeah you, stranger. You’re not from these parts, are you? You’re probably unfamiliar with the expression “cheap like borscht” because you’ve been hanging around in all the wrong ethnic cafés. Well, we can fix that for you. The expression means inexpensive but substantial. You can google it if you want. Now eat. Do you want bacon bits on that?
The Main Part of This Entry
If you skipped the description, you might want to go back. Sorry about that, but I added a few things that I’m sure someone will want to point out are, if not outright lies, then culinary heresy.
In June last year, we went to Kobe for a conference. After the conference we went to do some shopping. So there we were, in an import food store in Kobe, Japan. The same Kobe of Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 fame. The same Kobe of Kobe beef fame. One of Japan’s larger and more ethnically diverse cities. Especially if you count yakuza (Japan’s answer to organized crime) as an ethnic group—Kobe is home to Japan’s largest per-capita yakuza population. The import food store was in a large, busy shopping district. As opposed to the shops that hide in disused corners of the seedier parts of town. Perhaps the shop’s location had some bearing on the prices there. High rent, perhaps? Large “protection” fees from the local mob?
Whatever the cause, there is simply no excuse for this:
A can of borscht for 1470 yen? I repeat: 1470 yen? for borscht?! in a can??!! Using today’s conversion rates, that’s $16.54 (Canadian) or $13.55 (US). For 850 grams. The Japanese is a transliteration of “borscht,” followed by “serves 4.” Making the unscientific assumption that 1 gram equals 1 millilitre, and rounding up, a single serving works out to 213ml. Four bucks for less than a cup per person? Oi yoi yoi. I’ve gotta say though, that the real crime isn’t the price. It’s that anyone would consider a mere 213ml of borscht to be anywhere near a single serving. Still, at that price it better come with foie gras, truffles, caviar, and its own chef.