Saturday, 16 May 2009

Eating Eurovision: Lithuania

For this year's Eurovision, Andrew Webb organised 'Eating Eurovision'. The idea was that 25 food bloggers would get together, pick a country at random out of a hat, and then go off and eat the cuisine of that country. But it's not that simple; we didn't just want 25 themed dinner parties, we wanted to get to the nitty gritty.

You should have seen my face when I chose Lithuania. I felt slightly panicked; I don't know anything about Lithuania. But as I pondered my choice on the way home, I started to feel a bit excited. After all, it's an opportunity to learn about a new country, do some exploring, and hopefully meet some fun people. So the next day, I put a plea for help out on Twitter. I got several leads, including a link to a dodgy-looking caff in the East End but the one that helped the most was the link for Lituanica, a small chain of Lithuanian groceries. When I called them, the nice lady recommended Juoda Balta, which although was in Barking, was indeed Lithuanian. Having had no luck with the Lithuanian Embassy as to any further adventures, I duly booked a table, taking note that they seemed less than interested when I told them I was researching Lithuanian food.

We set off into the night. We arrived at Gallion's Reach DLR station; the torrential rain had just finished, but the wind howled around us. We circumnavigated an extremely big roundabout only to find the road we needed to walk down had an ominous 'No Pedestrians' sign. There was nothing around us; no shops, no cab ranks - only wind and wasteland. "I think we're in Hell", remarked my companion. I agreed. Finally we flagged down a black cab. The cabbie was dubious as to whether or not we had the right directions, but set off at our insistence. He swung down a road marked 'Buses Only', straight into an industrial estate. I gulped. "Girls, I ent letting you out here, I'm not too sure of this". And then, like a beacon in the mist, I spotted Juoda Balta in amongst the Cineplex.

When we walked in, we had to stifle fits of hysterical laughter. It was amazing. A band on stage sang Lithuanian ballads, the black laquered tables were accompanied by faux cow hide chairs, and all the women had waist-length platinum blonde hair, 5" heels and were supping Champagne. All the men were muscled and had the same short, back n' sides haircut. I suppose this is where they get stereotypes from, eh? We were greeted by a big, burly man who I assume was the owner, and we were seated.

It went pretty much downhill from here - warm beer, requests for water ignored. We decided to order some bar snacks and just one dish to share. I'd seen the portions coming out, and although I'm not a girl of a slight appetite, we had just finished a Danish dinner an hour previously. 'Smoked pigs ears, cheese slices, roast bread' - rinkinukas prie alaus (kepta duona,sūrio juostelės ir rukytos kiaulės ausys) in Lithuanian - sounded pretty interesting.


Oh, it was interesting alright. Cold deep fried bread soldiers were so crunchy it hurt my head, yet chewy. The cheese was lightly smoked and tasted like Dairy Lea. The pigs ears were a crime against pork; it had the texture of really old jellyfish. Along the centre of each slice ran a tasty sliver of cartilege, and this was surrounded by pork skin and pork jelly. We tried our best, but we left most of it.

Feeling slightly despondent, we waited for our 'cepelinai', a traditional Lithuanian potato dish, to arrive. Some time passed before this glory landed on our table:

We were gobsmacked. They were gigantic - and this was one portion! They looked like a pair of steamed suet sponges, garnished with sour cream and bacon. We tentatively cut into the zeppelins:

They were bready, stodgy, slightly sticky and filled with a non-descript unseasoned meat. Oh, for some herbs in the sour cream! Or maybe even just some vegetables for a texture contrast. I think I did quite well to eat half of one.

My companion looked a little upset. The euphoric rush of having arrived was a distant memory. All hopes of having a jolly good knees-up were dashed upon sitting down as table after table looked at us with slight disdain. We tried desperately to finish at least one dish, but to no avail. In the end, we gave up trying to get the waitress' attention, and went to the bar to pay. The lady owner of the joint glanced over. "You didn't like it, did you?" I insisted it was just very filling, but she gave a short laugh and told us that although it was their most popular dish, it was food men eat. Having seen the size of the men in there, I wasn't surprised.

Standing outside in the carpark, smoking a cigarette and being rejected by several taxi firms to pick us up, a young Lithuanian man approached us and asked for a lighter. We told him we were English - he asked if we'd just been to Frankie & Benny's. No, we said - we've just been to Juoda Balta, same place as you. "Really?!" he exclaimed, "fucking hell!"

Well, indeed.

29 comments:

Kavey said...

Nice one!

Girl Interrupted Eating said...

I suppose all experiences can't be good ones. Very funny blog post though.

Jules said...

Your post has made me chortle!

pigpigscorner said...

LOl what an experience heh..

Su-Lin said...

I love places like these where you just don't feel like you're in London anymore! Shame about the food though.

thislittleladywenttolondon said...

Excellent post - won't be rushing along to sample the Lithuanian delights but makes for funny reading!

foodrambler said...

My god, those things are huge! It sounds like a bit of an ordeal. I hope you've recovered...

Kerri said...

I bet this won't get picked up the Lithuanian tourist board any time soon! Sounds like you had fun though.

Jess said...

"Fucking hell" indeed, well done! It'll be one of those things to laugh about in years to come, a proper adventure. Those potato things look like the kind of thing I imagine to come out of a Scottish chippy that deep fries anything you give them, three times.

Pete said...

Good on you for making the trip, looks like they made a right pig's ear of the food. Those potato things look like the meat croquettes you get in some dim sum places, though I imagine they are not quite as tasty.

canelvr said...

Was going to say glad the Lituanica link worked out, but then again... Still, you did it! Let it be a warning to us all.

Anonymous said...

comical and interesting read keep them coming schmoofaloof

Anne said...

Oh my it sounds very erm, interesting food!!

Helen said...

I'm not going to go into details about the effects of that Lithuanian food on my stomach...

Chris said...

Brilliant. Those zeppelin things look nightmarish. I don't think you're supposed to enjoy them, by the sound of the clientele. It's probably some kind of mobster right of passage.

goodshoeday said...

Oh dear poor you (and friend). You have to troop to the back end of east london on an industrial estate/retail park (I know exactly where it is) and you get rubbish food and no welcome. Its kind of put me off trying the Lithuanian supermarket near me. Hope you have recovered now, it'll make a great pub story tho for years.

Browners said...

In case you want to know what you looked like when you chose Lithuania have a look here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/browners/3534974779/

Sounds like a complete shocker. Brilliant stuff. I'm disappointed the weird smoked pigs ears weren't up to it.

Le laquet said...

Honestly laughed out loud - used to work with a Lithuanian teacher who kept vacuum packed pigs ears in the fridge at school ~ no for the faint hearted.

TellingTales said...

This is a great tale. How disappointing! I wonder if it's food adjusted in a way they think will appeal to the English, or if that's how it always tastes. The potato things remind me of kibbeh. There is no way I could have eaten any of it! No green veggies?

Just Cook It said...

Really funny. In a sort of schadenfreude-but-massively-feeling-sorry-for-you type way.

Still, it's a box ticked

Food Urchin said...

Brilliant post and a very very brave effort, gawd bless the cabbie for his concern.

Lizzie said...

Glad to have entertained you all! I think I have just about recovered. I can laugh at it, so that's happy news.

TellingTales - I don't think this was modified for the British market whatsoever. We were the only people who could speak English proficently in the restaurant and the place was full.

Mark said...

Sounds awesome :) I don't expect you were cheering Lithuania on last night while eating some of those mosterous potato thingys?! I still can't get the Norway song out of my head, it's fairly worrying...

A Girl Has to Eat said...

Hilarious post! I'm sure there were worst countries though...

Dan Coward said...

Brilliant write-up. Next time i see a potato zeppelin on a menu i'm definitely going to give it a try

Mark Ngui said...

So when you are next eating there?

Love it. LOL

Lithuanian said...

Deeply sorry for Lithuanian service, that's so embarrassing to hear...that someone who manages to set up a business in a foreign country knows so little about manners and hospitality. What is wrong with these people??? Maybe the embassy reflects on the whole situation: they don't care if english or any foreigners would like to know more about our country, food, etc. But I do care. Sorry again guys! And I believe that in a good quality restaurant you would definitely find quite few delicious meals from our authentic Lithuanian meniu. Kind regards, Kristina.

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Anonymous said...

Being Lithuanian, who doesn't mix with own people due to the stereotypes, I was very interested to read about your experience.
unfortunately, there are no good Lithuanian restaurants in UK.
Bread was supposed to be covered in melted cheese, not put beside it. Cepelinai is a traditional dish, u either love it or hate it. (most foreigners hate it too). The meat inside is simple mince, but usually these places mix all kinds of crap. Customer service is major issue to all Lithuanian business- shops, service providers and restaurants.
I am currently developing a business idea to open restaurant in more reachable location with good food and service, which will also invite "virgins" to try our food.

Please do not get bad impression that all Lithuanians are like people in that place. There are quite a few who would beat any stereotype.

P.S. You could try our white bread and cakes (many friends of mine tried it and fell in love with it!)