Not so long ago, having gone to dinner at a restaurant, I found dumplings with hare and hazelnuts on a Jerusalem artichoke pillow on the menu, and it was not the composition of the dish that struck me at all, but the fact that it was announced as a variation on the theme of peasant cuisine. As part of the same program, the waiter recommended eating chocolates with buckwheat and freeze-dried garlic, but that's another story. In another institution, the other day, more understandable dishes of European cuisine were offered: veal brains, roast in a loaf of bread, soup with chicken offal, chowder with scorched beef. Food with a “folkloric” spirit - both cunning fusion and classics of national cuisines adjusted for modernity - is finally undergoing restoration: it is increasingly taken over by serious chefs and amateur cooks. True, in the process of eating (and paying) such a dinner, a natural question may arise: which of this is really the food of the poor, and which is modern gastronomic fantasies.
When immersed in the trend, it immediately became clear that not everyone sees it: they say, there has always been peasant cuisine. This is true, but, firstly, now it is prepared in gourmet restaurants, and secondly, dishes that are now commonly called peasant dishes are not always such. The observations have been confirmed by Technomic, a food research and consulting agency, which discovers gastronomic trends by talking to restaurateurs, chefs and diners around the world. One of the main culinary trends of 2016, Technomic named the “peasant” vector in gastronomy, or peasant cuisine: “Peasant dishes - traditional or updated, in different forms and combinations - are booming. All kinds of meatballs and sausages, Russian and English pies, Spanish empanadas, French toasts, cheese bread, charcoal vegetables."
It may seem that any national cuisine is the same "poor" cuisine, because hearty and fatty ones are used to being considered peasant. But much of what is now going on under the name of European peasant cuisine in gastronomic reviews - meat stuffed with meat, rich giblets and the like - is more about the feast of Gargantua and Pantagruel than about a poor man's dinner. Such dishes have always been the traditional food of more or less wealthy townspeople, nobles or monks (in many monasteries, asceticism was extremely conditional). This becomes clear, say, from the book by Massimo Montanari "Hunger and Abundance", where the cultural and economic life of Europe is revealed through the history of nutrition of different eras and peoples - from the ancient Romans and Vikings to the French bourgeoisie. In general, all historians agree on one opinion: in the good times, peasant cuisine was relatively decent, but the good times did not happen often.
Until the advent of potatoes, European peasant food consisted mainly of bread: because of it, bread riots happened every now and then, and he himself was far from what they sell to us in gastronomic shops under the guise of a peasant whole-grain baguette. The bread of the villagers consisted not only of flour, but also of stalks, chaff, and sometimes grass and even sawdust. The rest of the daily ration was replenished with butter, cheese, diluted wine and beer, sometimes eggs and a small amount of vegetables, less often with meat preparations, and on holidays with meat stew. European peasants did not know spices and, if they did not live in coastal villages, they did not see fish either.
In Italy, the art of creating decent dishes from almost nothing has reached perfection and is called cucina povera ("poor cuisine"). From there came the expression "good food in hard times."The culinary side of the struggle for survival, in particular, during the Second World War, speaks of the dishes that are still popular in Italy: in the north - pappa al pomodoro (mashed potatoes and tomatoes), ribollita (assorted vegetable soup made from beans, roots and leaves), pasta alle briciole (pasta with bread crumbs, "poor man's parmesan"); in the south - frittata di maccheroni alla napoletana (Neapolitan pasta casserole), riso e patate (rice and potatoes). One of the brightest examples of such a cuisine is trippa alla romana, a tripe stewed in tomato sauce. At one time, meat went to the table of wealthy citizens, and by-products were almost the only source of animal protein for many ordinary people.
Today, the villagers in many regions of Europe are doing a little better, but the modern variations of the chefs on the country theme are a completely different, sophisticated taste and difficult presentation. Calling a peasant new creative cuisine inspired by traditional dishes of all times and estates, we are slightly misleading, not to mention the fact that in modern conditions not every working city dweller can afford to buy ingredients for a "poor man's dinner" from culinary guides. By the way, in many countries - mainly in former colonies - for obvious reasons, almost all national cuisine is "poor" by default. For example, the "secret" of ropa vieja, a popular Canarian and Cuban dish with Sephardic roots, is stewed to fibers, and is extremely simple: very old poor quality meat requires boiling or baking for several hours (here's the whole thing for slow cooking).
The real Russian version of "poor cuisine", namely the Soviet one, is a real test of the deficit. From a gastronomic point of view, this is a phenomenon without roots, but of course there was a real peasant cuisine in Russia. Maxim Syrnikov is engaged in enlightenment in this area, among other things, he describes real peasant cuisine: in Russian, as in Western European, there was a lot of bread and fat was very much appreciated. In his books about food, Syrnikov gives recipes for cucumber soup and botvinia, mushroom noodles and Siberian buns - shaneg. Today, you can often meet adherents of cooking in the spirit of Elena Molokhovets, but this, of course, is not the food of the peasants, but rather the Russian equivalent of the cuisine bourgeoise that appeared in France in the 19th century. We asked Anna Maslovskaya, a restaurant critic and chief editor of the “Food” section of “Afisha Daily”, about the influence of peasant cuisine on chefs in Russia and the world.
I cannot say that the tendency to rethink the peasant cuisine in Russia is developing actively. In most cities, the restaurant menu is more likely to find chebureks, dumplings, dumplings, olivier, herring under a fur coat, pickle. This, of course, does not fit into the peasant cuisine phenomenon. The real one, if you can taste it, is in the restaurants of Boris Zarkov, where the chef Vladimir Mukhin tries to get the most out of the Russian national cuisine: she glorifies it, he modernizes it. It is Mukhin who borrows details from peasant food: from here on the menu, for example, posekunchiki - small pies with meat filling. At the same time, he rethinks the tradition and makes "peasant" dishes not only edible, but also very tasty, but this, of course, is already far from peasant cuisine in the literal sense.
There are two vectors in the modern take on traditional cuisine. Talented "free artists" among the chefs can make the serving very decorative - you get, relatively speaking, Jerusalem artichoke jelly with horseradish powder. Another story is when food is invented no less interesting and cunning, with humor and great intelligence, when it contains the experience of many gastronomic travels, but the presentation is simple and even deliberately brutal. Each of the chefs at creative food festivals is unique and does things differently, but these two parallel trends can be noted."Simple" food pretends that there is nothing like that in it, but having tried such a dish, you understand that it cannot be compared with the usual village stew or barley porridge. Intelligence and good taste shines through this food, served simply and casually. I like this version of modern kitchen more - it's like a minimalistic, intellectual fashion in clothes, where there is nothing for show, but it's all about the cut, materials, and things look very smart. Although this may be even more show-off.
The subtle "show off" of haute cuisine transforms rural gastronomy into something fresh, more accessible to perception and, most importantly, very tasty. Indeed, in the original recipe, a dish of poor cuisine is far from always desirable or even possible to eat. Modern restaurants and food festivals provide an opportunity to discover new foods - from cereals to game, to take note of interesting vegetable combinations or cooking methods. Even if such delights sometimes look comical, the overall trend is pleasant.
Against the background of Jerusalem artichoke jelly and horseradish powder, chicken liver with marjoram and pea puree is a curious innovation for novice gourmets, and a long-awaited opportunity for culinary fans to have a meal at a restaurant “at home”. True, the direction of cuisine in the footsteps of peasants and hunters is developing along with the dubious boom in everything farm and organic. Despite the arguments of science and common sense, many consumers have already formed a radically negative opinion about GMOs and, according to Technomic polls, will increasingly demand dishes from non-GMO farm products or labeling of genetically modified ingredients on the menu in restaurants.
Someone may be outraged by the not peasant cost of the new national fusion at all, but, fortunately, ideas and labor in modern society should be paid for. In general, obviously, such a game of old farmers is a kind of fun for the imagination. Marie Antoinette disguised herself as a shepherdess and played pastoral at Versailles, portraying a simple country girl. And now any farmer's market, food festival, or own kitchen can be a peasant's world for the day for chefs and gourmets looking for something new.
Photos: WikiArt (1, 2, 3)