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One man’s meat is another man’s poisonpeople are different and have different likes and preferences
The Secret Diary of Mrs A.

Mrs A, an English teacher and a mother of two teenagers - Julka and Maciek - is a regular feature of our pages. In this issue she uses a lot of food idioms in her diary. If you need any help understanding them, just place the mouse over the purple ball following an underlined phrase.



17th October, Friday evening

 

An emergency call from my friend Alina. Patryk’s older brother is coming all the way from Wroc³aw for a visit on Sunday and could I please help with the menu for the evening meal. Knowing Alina, I instantly recognized the hidden message – helping with the menu will boil down tobe the main point of something me cooking for her and her guests, but what could I do? I agreed. Over supper I asked my family, ‘What do you think I can cook really well?’ ‘You can cook anything you want, what a pity you want only twice a year – at Christmas and Easter’, ventured Spouse. More of a compliment than a reproach? I wondered.  ‘Herring!’ ‘Chocolate cake!’ shouted Maciek and Julka simultaneously. After some discussion we arrived at the perfect compromise. The menu for Alina’s dinner would be:

 

Starters: herring in sour cream, herring in sweet sauce, herring in curry sauce, Russian salad, Greek salad and Macedonian salad.

Main course: rolled beef with dumplings or roast potatoes, Coleslaw and cucumber salad.

Dessert: apple pie or chocolate layered cake.

 

For a moment I had some doubts. What if he is a vegetarian (as I am) and doesn’t eat meat or fish? Why do I want to feed him ‘foreign’ food? But is it foreign? Is apple pie as American as could be? Why is Russian salad called Russian if it is quintessentially Polish? Or is it? What’s the difference between ‘Coleslaw’ and ‘Coles³aw’? Is there any at all? But it was just a moment’s hesitation. It would  be a pot lucka meal at someone’s home in which you eat whatever is served or whatever is available dinner for him. And anyway, if the worst came to the worst and Patryk’s brother turned out to be a vegetarian and a non eater, he could always stick to the booze. I phoned Alina and dictated to her a shopping list for the next day. ‘Are you nutscrazy ? It’ll cost me half my monthly salary! There’s no need to make a meal of itdo more or give more attention than is needed ’, she cried. I read it metaphorically. Just her way of saying thank you. ‘Patryk eats like a birdeat very little so let’s hope his brother will eat like a horse’eat a lot, was all I could say.

 

18th October, Saturday morning

 

Over breakfast all I could hear was grumbling. ‘Are we going to have cooked meals today?’ ‘When will you be back?’ ‘Can you bring something nice home? A slice of cake or something?’ ‘Remember the proverb, too many cooks...’when too many people are trying to do the same job at the same time, the job isn’t done well  I’ll be slaving in Alina’s kitchen all day long and they can only think about themselves. ‘Phone for tele-pizza. Or maybe Daddy will try a hand at gourmet cuisine. I’ll be cooking for you tomorrow, anyway.’ And I left.

 

18th October, Saturday night

 

I returned dog-tired and totally fed up. Alina had forgotten about the cinnamon for the cake and the beef she bought had already been cut up, so we had to make Hungarian goulash instead. The cream was too thin and wouldn’t set. She ruined her manicure while peeling the vegetables for the salad and cut her finger slicing the cucumbers. Two of the eggs were rotten, 

the cocoa powder got wet when the carton of milk burst open and she had to run to the shops three more times. But we definitely brought home the baconachieve what you wanted to achieve. I hope she’ll have enough sense to put some music on when she starts heating things up in her microwave tomorrow.

 

19th October, Sunday

 

I spent half the day preparing ‘ a proper Sunday meal’ for my family. Guilty conscience, I guess. Not for a single second did I interrupt my work to watch TV. At one o’clock Spouse shouted from the living room, ‘What’s cooking?’what’s happening? An inappropriate use of the Active Voice, was all I could think of. But then ... We had Ukrainian borsch, ‘pierogi ruskie’ (Russian dumplings), and a salad with French dressing. Typical Polish food, though not everybody’s cup of teasomething that will not interest or be liked by everybody. When I served them cheesecake with blackcurrant topping even Spouse forgave me yesterday’s desertion and I had a feeling I had proved I was worth my saltto be a good worker, to earn one’s pay. At midnight Alina phoned me on my mobile and whispered some praise. ‘Her’ supper was a great success and Robert (Patryk’s brother) is going to stay until Wednesday. Who’s going to save her baconget one out of a dangerous or difficult situation now? I only hope she’s got enough of the leftovers to last her a day or two. 

 

20th October, Monday, early morning

 

New ideas for the coming week. The Head called an impromptu staff meeting first thing in the morning to dispatch to us a couple of missives. The coming week in our school is going to be devoted to Poland’s accession to the European Union, so we’re asked (he actually said ‘asked’ as if he didn’t realize his ‘asking’ means ‘telling’ us to do things or ‘making’ us obey his orders) to prepare a number of lessons on the topic of ‘Polish input into a European family’. When it comes to the question of Polish accession, the Head thinks he knows his onionsknow a lot about a particular subject.  I must say I was rather lucky with the assigned theme. Other teachers fared far worse. My topic is ‘food’; they have ‘family values’, ‘religion’, ‘know-how’ and ‘arts’. I wonder why nobody got ‘drunkenness’, ‘intolerance’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘corrupted politics’. Apparently, poor relatives are not to be criticized, be definition.

 

20th October, Monday, late morning (my first lesson with class IIIc)

 

My class weren’t keen as mustardto be very enthusiastic about the theme. Food? What’s interesting about eating? Why can’t we have Polish rock or Polish hip-hop or Polish techno or Polish heavy metal? Next thing they’re going to tell me will be that we even have Polish country and western. Suddenly, Kamil shouted, ‘food is the spice of lifethat which gives pleasure.’ That one definitely knows on which side his bread is butteredto know who to be nice to in order to get advantage for oneself. Luckily, Daria, the slimmest girl in class, stormed out, ‘whoever thinks that food is only about eating is an idiot, a real lemonthe person deluded or tricked’. This introduced some peace and quiet and I was able to explain my plan. Half the class will draw up a list of their favourite dishes – dishes that are considered traditionally Polish and that have a reputation of being good quality food. ‘Czysta wyborowa’, shouted Przemek. ‘And before you do it, please look up the meaning of the word “dish”’, I added. The other half will make a rival list – of the most severely criticized Polish dishes, such that may not be universally liked in the Union. And we’ll try to see how they compare. To my amazement more students volunteered to be in the ‘negative approach group’, but somehow, after a little coxing and persuasion the two groups were more or less equal in size.

 

Later that morning  (my second lesson with class IIIc)

 

On the ‘positive’ list we had ‘top twelve traditional Polish dishes, the best in the world, so good that nothing in the EU can compare’:


  1. Flaki (tripe)
  2. Golonka (pork knuckle)
  3. Go³¹bki (stuffed cabbage)
  4. Fried carp (Christmas Eve variety)
  5. Polish bread
  6. Zupa grzybowa (mushroom soup)
  7. Grochówka (pea soup)
  8. Makowiec (poppy-seed cake)
  9. Ch³odnik (cold beetroot soup)
  10. Schabowy z kapust¹ (pork chop with cabbage)
  11. Bigos (so-called ‘hunters’ dish’ based on cabbage and different varieties of meat)
  12. Placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes)

When the other group (the negative list group) heard the suggestions, a real riot started. ‘Don’t delude yourselves that Polish food is going to sell like hot cakessell very well!’ I was barely able to control their outbursts. First they had formal objections. Polish bread although very good indeed cannot count as ‘a dish’ and should be crossed out. Poppy seed cake is banned in some places because of its opium content. Ch³odnik is actually Lithuanian and is even called ‘ch³odnik litewski’ so it doesn’t count either. And as for the rest ... According to numerous opinions voiced by many a foreign visitor to Poland: ‘It’s disgusting to eat carp since it is a scavenger and feeds on excrement’, ‘It’s unhealthy to eat pea soup or cabbage because it gives you gas’, ‘It’s not safe to eat wild mushrooms because many of them are poisonous so you run a risk of dying a horrible death if you try mushroom soup’, ‘Pork chops are full of fat so the dish is a killer in terms of healthy lifestyle.’ ‘Foreigners!’, I thought, ‘they can dish it out but can’t take ityou easily criticise or say bad things about other people but don’t like it when other people do the same to you.’ My gut reactiona reaction that you’re sure is right although you can’t give reasons why was to exclaim: ‘Ale bigos!’, or to put it equally culinarily, ‘what a pretty kettle of fisha situation that will cause problems!’ Instead, I asked the group for their list – ‘the most hated Polish dishes’. They tried to be short and sweetnot taking a lot of time and less boring or unpleasant than you expected -  only five items. The list was as follows:


  1. Flaki (tripe)
  2. Go³¹bki
  3. Golonka
  4. Bigos
  5. Grzybki w occie (pickled mushrooms)

Philosophically speaking, one man’s meat is another man’s poisonpeople are different and have different likes and preferences. To put it plainly, there’s no accounting for tastepeople may have different taste so it’s difficult to understand why somebody likes or chooses something which you may not like. Maybe the only hope for our place in European gourmet cooking is ‘placki ziemniaczane’ since nobody objected to them. But on a more positive note, we still have oscypek ...


Follow-up Activities

  1. You can try the quiz based on some of the idioms.
  2. For the full list of idioms used in the diary, click here.

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