10 Nov My Food Education (part two)
My food education will never end. That is the real beauty of food for me. There are so many options, ingredients, way of cooking, cultures, histories, climates, seasons, spices and flavours to discover.
My childhood was complicated. The first 8 years of my life I spent with my mother who was a single, working mother. I don’t really remember much about it. I have some lovely memories about food from the crèche. Fruit soup was my favourite. Yes, it does sound strange… Today the idea of eating creamy, sweet, watery soup with pasta and overcooked fruit doesn’t sound very appetising.
I fell in love with beetroots in crèche. The girl seated next to me said that beetroots were delicious so I tasted it. She was right! So far as I remember, I was a fussy eater. But… I lost my mother when I was 8, and moved to live with my father, stepmother and, of course, my grandmother.
My grandmother and stepmother spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking everything from scratch. Food was so different and so strange for me at that time. But I had no choice. I was told that “Food is not for liking – Food is for eating.” There was no other option – eat it or leave it and go hungry. So I decided to try it and get to know it. The kitchen become my favourite place in the house; hours of preparing food, drinking tea, licking the spoon, and talking.
Years later I decided to spend the summer in Dublin, Ireland (2003).
Food was one of the hardest thing for me to get use to. Everything was so different to what I knew. I didn’t know how to shop. I had very little money and food in Ireland in comparison to Poland was so expensive! It was scary and strange! Instant mash potatoes, sausages in a jar (?!), spagetti hoops, chips with vinegar (!!!), beans for breakfast. The list is long and the ingredients so exotic. Never before had I seen a fresh mango or avocado.
I remember how embarrassed I was when someone sent me to buy avocados. I didn’t know what an avocado looked like, and I was too embarrassed to ask. Shellfish were another thing I didn’t know anything about. I had mussels for the first time in my early twenties on holidays in Croatia. I never cooked or had even seen anyone cook prawns before. I tasted “prawns from a jar” once. Vegetables tasted different. Potatoes were falling apart while cooking. In Poland we use waxy potatoes. Roosters potatoes looked so exotic! I bought a can of peas to put in the salad and the peas were mushy – why? I thought they were old and inedible. I got another can- the same problem?! Beef was such a dark red that I was scared that it had extra food colouring. In Poland meat is pale and we eat pork mostly.
All of it was strange, new and scary… But I wanted to learn!
The following year I decided to move to Ireland permanently. I choose Waterford (by accident). I could pronounce it, itwas close to the coast, not too big, not too small and I had never heard about Waterford before…. sounded good enough for me!
In Waterford the real lesson started!
I had many jobs, in many places. I got to know people, the culture, build friendships, and learn the way of eating.
Chips with vinegar….. why?! Why would you put vinegar on chips?! I still cannot understand it. I cannot stand the smell! (I know, we Polish are strange too – pickled herrings for breakfast sounds like a nightmare for you). Milk in the tea? Why? In Poland we put lemon, syrup or vodka in tea – not milk! Full Irish breakfast? Really? Why? How can you eat baked beans for breakfast? But marshmallows in hot chocolate was a discovery. Seafood and shellfish, too, were another discovery. Amazing! All the exotic fruit and vegetables..
My challenge was to get to know ingredients, find out where to shop and learn how to cook it.
I was lucky enough to meet fantastic people, build friendships and work in lots of different places. I did work in Irish bars and restaurants, French, Italian too. I’ve learned so much. I have my amazing Irish family and friends, who cooked for me, brought me out for dinner, cooked Full Irish Breakfast after a night out.
I did my reasearch. I would go to the fishmonger, buy mussels and ask ‘how should I cook it?’ Then I would Google it, buy magazines and read, ask chefs I worked with and just try. I love buying “strange” ingredients, learning about it and trying it out. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
So much has changed in Ireland over the last 13 years. It has changed for better in my opinion, or maybe I just got to know it better. The incredible produce, the passionate people, the fifty shades of green, the best beef and lamb in the world, the beautiful wild ingredients… And so many talented people. They inspire me everyday.
Thank you Ireland.