An NYC Snack Attack Journey
When my mother used to show up at my door for a visit, the first words out of her mouth would inevitably be “How do I look?” Her vanity annoyed me; her insistence on wearing her large Jackie O sunglasses indoors, her sashaying in front of mirrors or the way she’d comment only on her own appearance when looking at pictures we took of her and our children.
Now living in Cobble Hill Nursing Home my vainglorious, once glamorous mother cannot attend to her looks and seems not to care anymore. There are crumbs and stains on her t-shirts. Her stunning white hair is flattened against her head. Sometimes the aides draw dark clownish eyebrows on her. She has a large unsightly mole on her right cheek, which has lately started to bleed and be painful. I arranged to have it removed, not because it looks awful or even because it was cancerous but because in these waning years of her life, she should be comfortable.
So it was that I spent an entire day with her at a dermatology clinic in Midwood, Brooklyn. Before I made my journey, the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Kings Highway were simply coordinates on a Google map that meant a long subway ride with multiple transfers. Yet, to my surprise, the Q and then the B got me there in a jiffy. My second, happier, surprise was to find myself in the middle of Slavic Brooklyn, stumbling upon Russian Domino Supermarket and an authentic Georgian bakery, Taste of Georgia, two blocks from the clinic. I texted the bakery photo to my sister, Carol, knowledgeable in all things Slavic. She texted back, “Khachapuri!!”
The national dish of Georgia, khachapuri starts with a long boat-shaped piece of bread that is soft in the middle and crusty along the edges. When the bread is hot, sulguni cheese, butter and a raw egg are mixed into the middle, and one can swirl the crusty outer edges of bread into the pasta carbonara-like mixture. Just thinking about it I got a taste memory from the two times I’ve had it at Oda House, a wonderful East Village Georgian restaurant, but I also wondered how on earth I could get one to go without getting eggy, cheesy goop all over!
After waiting two hours for the doctor to take two minutes to scrape the mole off my mother’s face, we were told we’d have to wait another hour or more for the plastic surgeon to suture it. It was a good time for me to get Russian delicacies. My mother’s aide had brought along a nursing home lunch in a cardboard box, but knowing the Cobble Hill Menu Mashup—won ton soup, plantains and spaghetti in one meal—I was eager to bring my mother something new to pique her taste buds. While her vanity may be gone, her appetite is one of the last remaining joys she has--and the only true pleasure we can offer her to counter nursing home life.
On the way to Taste of Georgia I veered into Domino Supermarket: what a trove! $1.99 cans of sprats, big vats of frozen pierogi, a deli case full of fish cakes, blini, and—perfect!—a half a black sesame studded pastry filled with salmon and mushrooms for my mother and I to share. And at Taste of Georgia, it turns out that khachapuri to go—a salty, cheesy eggy pizza ($7.00-)- is entirely different than khachapuri to stay. While I was deciding what else to order, a frazzled red haired woman bustled to the front of a line that now tailed out of the shop. The brusque young cashier hoisted ten shopping bags of the boat-shaped loaves onto the counter for her and they began haggling in Russian. “Restaurant?” I asked the red-haired woman. “Oda House,” she said, and I was immediately impressed to know that the one place I had dined on sourced its bread here. Shelves at the front of the store had a pile of fried sprats (Oh how the Chef would love them) and all sorts of spreads containing beets, potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant. I ordered ½ pound of eggplant walnut rolls, silky eggplant rolled around a walnut paste flavored with the miracle Georgian spice mix: khmeli suneli: fenugreek, coriander, savory, and black peppercorn, hot red pepper and sometimes dill, bay leaves, mint, or even dried marigold petals. The Chef went mad for it, when we had it on home, spread on toast rounds.
Back at the mole removal factory where my mother waited, querulous and impatient, to be stitched up, I spread out my wares on the carpet, to the bemusement of the elderly people sitting or wandering around, all, like my mother, with large lumpen bandages on their faces, or to the heavily Botoxed young Russian staff. This was not the ideal environment in which to sample exotic delicacies. My mother lifted a chunk of salmon pastry up and said, “Oooh. What’s this?” and her pleasure, though muted, made the long day worth it. Mother, mole removal, Midwood—none of it had promised adventure, just tedious daughter-duty. However, in New York City there are always culinary adventures to be had, and in the most unlikely places.
May you find and enjoy culinary adventures in the New Year! Happy Holidays from @NYCSnackattack !
Taste of Georgia
1637 E. 18th St. (off Kings Highway)