Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Cake

this is a fish, not chocolate cake

I know, this is a picture of a fish, but before I get to him I want to tell a short story about chocolate cake and Macedonian hospitality.

In this country, treating your guest with the utmost care is priority number one and I was reminded of this fact over the weekend. I was a guest in someones home, actually for two days, and was treated like royalty. Macedonians will continually offer you food and what ever you may desire to drink, coffee being it's own event and separate from other forms of refreshment. The first night of my stay I was hit with an extreme desire for chocolate cake at about 11:45 at night and after interrogating my host I was devastated to find out that there were no cake facilities open at tha
t hour. As the evening past the thought of cake left my mind and was no where to been seen the next morning. Continuing with Macedonian customs, I was required to stay until I ate with my hosts since they woke early to prepare a meal for their visitors. After lunching on пастрмајлија, for the first time, the hostess brought out none other but large pieces of chocolate cake, made just for me because of a craving that I had at midnight! I am pretty sure that most homes in America would not go this far, would not offer whatever whim their guest may entertain, even when the guest was not completely serious. I am still learning to watch what I say around Macedonians because ultimately I'll get what I ask for, though I am told this is what makes Macedonian females happy, to please their guests, it still makes me feel some what guilty the length that a hostess will go to for their guests.

Fish Heads

Last week was a cooking adventure for me. Not only was I cooking something new, but I also had to purchase my unusual, to me, food item in Macedonian. The trick is to make sure you get what you want and get good quality. I cooked fish, whole fish - guts, heads, scales and tails. I had already been directed to a quality place to purchase said fish, but when Thursday came around I was worried that I would not achieve my goal due to language barriers. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Of course the lady behind the counter asked what she could help me with and I began to stumble through telling her I need fish, that I could cook in a pan. I think she started to move to the live ones and I shook my head no and pointed to the counter, to the pile that had already passed on to the other side. I knew I needed to be friendly, so I began to engage in small talk, I was an American, volunteering here and living nearby for the next two years. That seemed to impress her and she smiled as we exchanged names. She pointed to the fish she thought would be the best and I told her to give me a kilo. As she was weighing them out she asked if I wanted her to cook them. I told her no proudly that I was going to cook them. She eyed me with slight concern but I ignored her. Then she asked if I knew how to clean them, and I faltered for a second before I said yes. I mean I wanted to do all parts on my own, even if I've never cleaned a fish before. She eyed me again, skeptical that I could perform such a task, and she asked if she could show me how to do it, just in case, so I obliged. I am so thankful that I agreed to such a thing because as I watched I realized she was a professional and I was not. After the first one I asked her if she could clean all the others for me and she smiled as she got to work.

The rest of the adventure went without a hitch. I cooked all four fish in my pan after coating them with flour and salting and peppering the inside cavity and stuff it with lemons. They cooked perfectly and quickly and tasted wonderful. Here in Macedonia if you want fish you'll be eating a whole fish with a little face that will watch you the whole time and a skeleton of bones to maneuver around. When I tell people that in America fish is served without bones they look at me like I am crazy, which they should, right? Fish has bones, who on earth would do the work to take the bones out ahead of time?

the aftermath


  1. Mary, I so enjoy your blog. Pretty sure this is my favorite post so far--have to love a photo of a whole fish entitled, "Chocolate Cake." :) Many blessings to you! xoxo

  2. Well written!
    I can't decide what impressed me the more; your cooking skills or your conversational skills at the store.

  3. Hello Mary,
    I am Charmaine from your parents Monday bible study group. First let me say you are a wonderful writer. You know how to grab your readers the first time. I love this story! No special topic but I am learning a lot from your articles. I can relate to the fish story because in Jamaica where I was born, we cook the whole fish as well. BTW, I dont like to clean them.