Sunday, April 4, 2010

Channeling Moldova

It’s been about a month now since I accepted my invitation to serve as a Health Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova, and recently, I’ve really felt that I’m starting to channel Moldova. This has been brought about by the past month’s activities, which have involved: 1) reading everything I could about Moldovan history, culture, politics, etc., 2) starting to study the language (Romanian), 3) reading lots of current Moldova PCV blogs, 4) reading up on public health and health education in Moldova, and 5) becoming comfortable answering the question “Where is Moldova?” Out of gracious magnanimity for the asker, I usually begin the reply to point five by pointing out many of my friends in Europe don’t know where Moldova is.

Along the point of delving into Moldovan culture, a group of Chicago friends took me out for an evening of cultural immersion a few weeks ago, at a relevantly chosen Romanian restaurant. Before you roll your eyes, recall that Moldova is effectively Romania’s long-lost little sibling. Also in our defense, Alexandru replied to my last blog with a lengthy opinion, which effectively boiled down to: 1) I didn’t sufficiently emphasize the ROMANIAN character of Moldova, 2) Moldovans are Romanians, 3) Moldovans want to be Romanian citizens, even if it’s just for EU citizenship, (of course, he is Romanian…) Besides, there were no Moldovan restaurants to be found. So…there.

So we ended up at The Little Bucharest based on its solid Yelp rating, and the fact that the only bad reviews complained about waitresses with poor English and long waits. We took that as a sign of authenticity, and what a delicious decision it was. Seriously. Next time you want authentic, look for “bad English” as a signature complaint.

First, anybody stopping through Chicago should make this place a top restaurant priority, regardless of your interest in Romania. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was festive, and above all, you felt like you were in on Chicago-land’s best kept secret.

The food was so excellent, in fact, that I broke my vegetarian fast to indulge in the Sausage Stuffed Chicken Breast. (Go big or go home, right? If you’re gonna break a veggie trend, might as well stuff one dead animal inside another.) I recognized long ago that vegetarianism was something I might have to be flexible on in Moldova, so I filed this indulgence under my “cultural exceptions” clause. (Until landing in country, however, I’m back to vegetarianism though and happily enjoying in tofu…a dish I’ve generally found lacking in the Central/Eastern European region…) That dish, by the way, has been voted one of Chicago’s top 100, and the rating seems pretty deserved.

We were treated to a dinner at a leisurely pace. Nobody handing us a check or pushing dessert. In fact, after dinner we spent quite a while enjoying good Romanian wine and live music. Then the owner came around with a “shot tube.” We never really figured it out, but basically it was communal schnapps of some kind served from, well, a long tube. Kind of like a beer bong, except with, well, we never really were told what kind of alcohol we were drinking. We did, however, discover it was strong. Like, rubbing alcohol strong. I’m not really sure it this is an authentic Romanian custom or not; you’ll have to wait till I’m in country for an update on that. I can tell you, however, that Romania has some very good wine, and I’m more excited for ever for the likely chance to learn how to make wine at home in Moldova! During the music, a lot of other guests got up and started dancing; again, I can’t speak to the dance’s authenticity, but I can tell you this was no American custom we were witnessing.

The point of this who story, is that before even getting there, I’m really falling for this country. I speculated with some friends last weekend that this might have been inevitable wherever I ended up – after all, knowing you’re going to be someplace for two years plus some change kind of means you might as well love it, or you’ll be miserable, right? But I think there’s a little bit more going on here; it doesn’t really seem to give Moldova much credit. And then I think of all the cool things about Moldova: a beautiful language, wine making, backyard chickens, local agriculture, interesting location, fascinating history, fun song and dance, the chance to work on Russian in addition to the beautiful primary Romance language, beautiful countryside, snowy winters…and that’s just what strikes me before even getting there!

So, noroc! (Cheers!), and one last bit of the Euro-cheese I love so much, straight from Eurovision!


candango said...

Noroc. Given your positive attitude, I think you will really enjoy Chisinau and Moldova once you get there. Have fun. Candango.

Roxana said...

Great entry :) Let me know when we can start writing in Romanian to each other! :)
Hugs from the rainy Budapest,

Cait said...

Hi! I'm going to Moldova in June, too! You should find me on Facebook: Cate Crandell

Let's talk!

Cait said...

In fact, I'm in Chicago until tomorrow morning! If you're free, you should look me up so maybe we can meet up, and maybe check out the restaurant?