Tag Archives: food

The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

24 Aug

HungerAngelAfter I read The Land of Green Plums a few years ago, Herta Müller joined a short list of authors whose work I want to read all of.  I am not the sort of reader who methodically works through an oeuvre; I crave different voices. But this list includes Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, and Mavis Gallant. (It used to include Angela Carter; I adore her short fiction, but actually found trying to read her novels like trying to eat an entire chocolate mousse cake.) Müller’s fiction is poetic and harrowing and sheds light on the country my family comes from.  For me, she is a must.

For my third installment of  Women In Translation Month, I tackled The Hunger Angel. This novel tells the story of Leo Auberg, a young German man in Romania deported to a labor camp in Russia in January 1945. I was surprised to learn that this happened: all Germans living in Romania and from the ages of 17-45 were forced to “rebuild” the Soviet Union. Indeed, as Müller explains in her Afterword, this was something shameful that Germans in Romania only discussed among themselves, if they discussed it at all. (Müller emigrated to West Germany after being persecuted by Ceausescu’s secret police.)

The Hunger Angel meditates on objects. Life in a gulag is tedious, so in lieu of a tight narrative arc, the first two-thirds of the book move laterally from things like cement and coal to yellow sand and firs. There’s a weirdly loving chapter about a kind of shovel known as “the heart-shovel,” which, by virtue of its design, allows Leo to forget himself as he works in ways that other tools or tasks don’t.

And, of course, as the title implies, there’s a food problem. With just one piece of bread a day and two bowls of cabbage soup, and no mid-day meal, the hunger angel emerges an antagonist who skews how prisoners perceive their world and how they behave. But memories of food from childhood buoy Leo and his prison-mates. One day, every summer, his mother would take him to the Café Martini where he could gorge himself on sweets:

We could choose among marizpan truffles, chocolate cake, savarins, cream cake, nutcake roll, Ischler tartlet, cream puffs, hazelnut crisps, rum cake, napoleons, nougat, and doboschtorte. And ice cream–strawberry ice cream in a silver dish or vanilla ice cream in a glass dish or chocolate ice cream in a porcelain bowl, always with whipped cream. And finally, if we were still able, sour-cherry cake with jelly.

As if being in a gulag is not challenging enough, Leo is in the closet. When men and women dance on Saturday nights (who knew they had dances, albeit sad dances, in gulags?), he remains off to the side. Men and women couple in the barracks; he does not. Though he observes: “Half-starved humans are really neither masculine nor feminine but genderless, like objects.” Over the course of the novel, this meditation on objects also becomes a larger meditation on loneliness and longing and trying to stay alive.

Leo has a poet’s eye, and it is that vision, that attention to language, which makes reading this essential book bearable.

“Home Is Where the Pickled Cabbage Is: Searching Seattle for Authentic Romanian Food” in The Stranger

26 Jul
FullSizeRender

The sarmale–stuffed cabbage–at Sunset Bistro, graced with a burn-off-your-tongue chili pepper and a polenta-and-sour-cream antidote.

My third piece for The Stranger takes me to Belltown’s Sarajevo Lounge, Bitter Lake’s European Foods, and Renton’s Sunset Bistro in search of Romanian food. It’s just a four-hour walk to Renton along Lake Washington, so one of these Saturdays I’m going to lace up my sneakers and return to Sunset Bistro ready to feast. You can read the article here.

Fall Classes at Hugo House

27 Jul

Hugo House’s fall course catalog is now available. I’m teaching three classes, listed below. Scholarships are available and applications are due August 24. Hope to see you around Hugo House soon!

I’m also happy to offer writing coaching. If you’re interested, email me at anca (dot) l (dot) szilagyi (at) gmail (dot) com, and tell me what you’re working on and what kind of coaching you are looking for, and we’ll go from there.

Your Gustatory Guide to #AWP14 in Seattle

23 Feb

There’s a lot of advice floating around for dealing with AWP  (I love Kelli Russell Agodon’s). And while AWP may be overwhelming, eating in Seattle doesn’t have to be. Four years into moving here from Brooklyn, I still marvel at the happy hours truly being happy, and while sometimes the food seems more expensive than food in New York (strange, I know), there’s plenty to enjoy on a tight budget. My suggestions are somewhat geographically biased, seeing as I never learned to drive. Without further ado, some suggestions for your eating and drinking pleasure.

Update: I’ve been chided for omitting a few very delicious establishments, two of which are close to my heart (Ezell’s, Rancho Bravo) and one of which gives me heart burn (Dick’s). Consider the guide amended!

The Pike/Pine Area

Best coffee, light, and glossy French magazines: Cafe Presse

Most decent slice of pizza: Big Mario’s

Best place to look hip and eat any meal of the day: Odd Fellows (bonus: proximity to literary mothership Richard Hugo House and book sanctuary Elliott Bay Books; nb. entrees not so cheap, but deviled eggs & $5 cocktails at happy hour are pretty wonderful)

Best (only?) 24-hour diner: Lost Lake (bonus: proximity to Hugo House & Elliott Bay Books; nb. the service is slow; not recommended if you’re in a hurry)

Tastiest tacos & tamales: Rancho Bravo (bonus: way cheaper than Odd Fellows or Lost Lake AND a smidgen closer to Hugo House)

Best Italian food in an old-timey setting: Machiavelli (bonus: this place is super close to the Convention Center; extra bonus: chicken liver lasagne!)

Capitol Hill

Best drinking chocolate/ drinking goop: the ciocco breve, 72% dark, at Dilettante (ask for it extra goopy!)

Coziest cafe with a great view of the historic Harvard Exit movie theater: Joe Bar

Tastiest, prettiest lattes: Vivace

Best “don’t judge me” happy hour: Coastal Kitchen (a longtime local seafood joint with a rotating menu)

Best-smelling, “life-changing” burger: Dick’s (get the Deluxe!)

First Hill

Best happy hour spot to feel like a ’70s porn star: Vito’s

Classiest hotel bar: The Sorrento’s Fireside Lounge

Closest thing I’ve found to the delis of my youth: George’s (only open M-F, 9-5 & Sat 10-3)

Belltown

Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Sushi Happy Hour: Wann

Chillest French bistro: Le Pichet

Downtown

Best happy hour for throwing your elbows out and getting $1 oysters: The Brooklyn (nb. get there promptly at 4 pm if your elbows aren’t pointy)

Central District

Tastiest spot for pho, frog legs, karaoke, and monkey bread, all in one place: Ba Bar

Best bordello-themed bar: The Neighbor Lady

Most extensive selection of microbrews plus ice cream and gummi bears: Chuck’s Hop Shop

Most life-changing fried chicken: Ezell’s (Johnny Horton says, “I recommend the spicy three piece.”)

Madrona

Have a car? Fancy a long walk up a steep hill? Best place to enjoy a cozy brunch (and have a Portlandia moment, waiting in line for brunch): The Hi Spot

******

Best places to get someone else to pay: I recently tried and loved Rione XIII; people also seem to love Tom Douglas‘s restaurants.




Stay in the loop! Sign up here for a short & sweet monthly newsletter of upcoming events, publications, and tiny bits on art, food, cities, and literature. Like this blog, but less often and right in your inbox.

Tiny Fish, Kyoto

14 Apr

Last week, I swooned over Tokyo’s never-endingness. This week I want to tell you about tiny things.

On a rainy night in Kyoto, we got lost looking for a restaurant recommended by my guidebook. (Silly me and my seven-year-old book!) We came to a lovely street, less bustling and generic than the downtown boulevard we’d been following and bisected by a canal, the yellow light of intimate restaurants illuminating the water. We poked around a few restaurants there, though the ground-floor ones seemed to cater to executives on expense accounts, and one that required taking an elevator gave off an unsettling-is-this-a-restaurant-or-not vibe, so we turned off this very-pretty-but-inaccessible street, onto an alley.We were tired, hungry, and wet.

This is the first place we found:

Image

The restaurant was down a set of stairs and a sign above the stairway said “We have Yuba Food here!” J explained the yuba is tofu skin. A bearded man in a corduroy blazer rounded the corner, saw us deliberating outside, and smiled wide, encouraging us to go on in, so we took him up on it, descending the staircase and following a narrow cellar hallway to the front door. J peaked in the window. “It looks cozy,” he said.

It was, indeed, a tiny place, with one counter and one wooden table, which could seat about eight and at which sat two men just finishing their meal. The man in the picture (above), wearing a lab coat and a pink bowtie, greeted us and seated us at the table, telling the men already there to recommend dishes to us. We learned they were from Osaka, but regulars here. They asked if we like oysters (we do), but then went on to recommend a seasonal specialty, baby bamboo tempura.

Before the food came out, the woman of the picture above, in a red headscarf and looking eerily like a Japanese version of my paternal grandmother, brought out three little ceramic dishes – an amuse-bouche of tiny raw fish in a ponzu sauce, topped with grated radish and hot sauce. The fish were not so tiny that you could not see their tiny eyes. Their silvery skin was translucent, beneath which ran a dark line from head to tail. Reader, I’m sorry that we were squeamish. The only thing to do was eat the tiny fish. J had a lot of practice with this, having lived in Japan as long as he did. We all took a big gulp of cold beer and downed the tiny raw fish with their tiny eyes and tiny intestinal lines. It couldn’t be done in one bite, of course. There were lots of tiny fish in our tiny ceramic bowls. Actually, the dish was quite delicious (texture aside — an acquired taste, I’m sure!). I got through about half. J got through about half. But M? M was resolved to eat all his many tiny fish. And eat he did! Which led to a discussion on the origin of the phrase “mad props”. 

We ate crab wrapped in yuba and a tomato-cheese-in-a-skillet-thing, but by the far the most delectable dish was the spring vegetable tempura, which included asparagus, a “spring flower”, a “tree root” (which I think was actually an exceptionally refined piece of broccoli), and the tender baby bamboo, crown jewel of the spring vegetables. Which just goes to show, always ask a local for a recommendation.

Food aside, this was a neat little place. The stucco walls and the basement location made it feel like a cave whose walls had been whitewashed. A mask made of a coconut shell sat on a side table by the door and one wall was adorned with a motherboard. The music jumped from African to traditional Japanese (the koto, I think), to jazz. I felt like we were just hanging out at someone’s house.

I wish I could tell you exactly where this place was, but maybe the best way to experience it is to stumble upon it?Image

%d bloggers like this: