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#1
Posted August 3rd 2005, 7:12pm
For some years, there was an excellent and very authentic Romanian restaurant on Addison at about 6100 or so...Vox Maris. I'll never forget my first visit there: completely devoid of decor but everything felt as if it had been picked up and moved into this storefront. The waitress's first question: "Do you speak Romanian?" The menu was exclusively in Romanian and the food was really quite good. A couple years ago, it disappeared.

(Little Bucharest, for those who are inclined to sing its praises, was many things in several incarnations. But a good ROMANIAN restaurant, not really. More, pan-Eastern European. In any event, it is gone now as well.)

I am looking for a truly authentic, if there is such a thing (and without getting into a discussion of the nature of authenticity), Romanian place. I've heard rumors over the years of a couple places, but not any firm names or addresses. I am looking for a place that the Lovely Dining Companion and I can join a former student of mine from Romania and have a little tuica tasting along with our meal. (Tuica is fruit brandy, usually but far from always, from plums.) His wife just returned with some from Maramures; I have some home-made given to me from my last stay in Maramures, plus a bottle given to me by the Romanian Senate in thanks for....oh, never mind.

Does anyone know a good Romanian restaurant?

Multumesc foarte mult!

tiganeasca aka Gypsy Boy
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#2
Posted August 3rd 2005, 7:28pm
I'm sure someone else will chime in with the address, but Little Bucherest is still in existance. They combined forces with another restaurant and are in full operation last I drove by. I think it's somewhere on Milwaukee or Elston (but I could be wrong).
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#3
Posted August 3rd 2005, 7:58pm
Little Bucharest combined forces with Continental Cafe on Elston. I think if you search Chowhound you will find details about a pre-merger meal there (with photos).

I worked for a couple of years with a Romanian woman (we're talking 2001-2003 here) who had only the year before immigrated with her husband and two teenage children from Romania (although she was ethnically Hungarian). Paprikash was where they went for special occasions with adult friends. I understand Paprikash has now changed hands.

I gave her some tips on where to buy Romanian/Hungarian goods. If you're interested, I could email her and ask for the latest recommendation. PM me.

Thanks.
Ann
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#4
Posted August 3rd 2005, 8:19pm
Thanks to stevez and annieb.

The full(er) story, lest this take us off on a Little Bucharest tangent that I would prefer not to travel: Branko, the owner of Little Bucharest, also owned a place called Continental Cafe at 3661 N. Elston. That place still exists and advertises itself as a "European style restaurant." However, Romanian restaurants do not serve sauerbraten and paprikash. Yes, he can serve whatever he wants, but he can't also call call his place a Romanian restaurant. The Continental Cafe website, somewhat schizophrenically, tries to play to a Romanian audience with Romanian language postings and by hosting live Romanian musicians. But the food is more pan-Eastern European (hmm, is there an echo here?) It even has a link to a nonexistent "Little Bucharest" page. But Little Bucharest on Ashland, the incarnation I was referring to, closed in January 2004.

To add to my initial post, let me share my "leads": Via la Scala (which sure sounds Italian to me) at 4368 N Milwaukee Ave; Bucovina (very promising name in the old Vox Maris location) and the curiously-named Nelis Saloon at 3256 N. Elston Ave.

annieb, thanks but I am not surprised that ethnic Hungarians (even those who are Romanian citizens) would prefer Hungarian food and thus go to Paprikash. I appreciate the offer for shopping advice, but the immediate need is for a restaurant.
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#5
Posted August 3rd 2005, 8:20pm
[Edit: This post contains several errors. See my later post in this thread.]

I haven’t been but . . .

Euro Inn / Little Bucharest [Continental Cafe is the name]
3661 N Elston Av
Chicago
773-929-8640

Here’s a very out of date website you might want to take a look at (scroll down to Illinois). I’m pretty sure Via La Scala is gone [it's not] (was it ever really Romanian? [it is]) as is Bucovina [it's not] (that’s the same address as Vox Maris, right?). But Nelly’s Saloon is still around and apparently serving Romanian food. I know this because of Coolerbythelake’s recent post.
Last edited by Rene G on August 5th 2005, 7:53pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#6
Posted August 4th 2005, 8:44am
Little Bucharest is currently closed for some sort of renovation. They have removed and replaced the exterior over the last couple of months.

You will want to call before attempting a visit.
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#7
Posted August 4th 2005, 9:23am
Gypsy Boy,

I meant I would ask her for recommendations about Romanian restaurants, if you like.
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#8
Posted August 4th 2005, 9:34am
Ah, my mistake. Sorry about that.

I appreciate the offer and am happy to take advantage of it...just don't go out of your way. Thanks!
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#9
Posted August 5th 2005, 7:58pm
There were so many errors in my previous short post on Romanian restaurants I’d like to make amends with this longer report.

I was intrigued by Nelly’s Saloon so last evening I decided to stop by. In case it wasn’t open I took along the addresses of some other Romanian places. Without planning to, I ended up visiting four restaurants.

Nelly’s was very different than I expected, more an upscale restaurant than blue-collar bar.

Nelly’s Sign
Image
Instead of sitting at a table (with white tablecloths) I sat at the bar with an older Romanian gentleman who was having a bowl of soup. The beer and wine selection was sadly limited (though the bartender’s English was limited so I may not have learned the full extent of the offerings).

Menu from Nelly’s Saloon
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I had a fresh cabbage salad and pork stew (not on menu). The salad was simple and very good, with very fresh cabbage and a perfectly balanced oil and vinegar dressing. The stew, in a simple tomato gravy, was good but not terribly exciting. Mashed potatoes were real and good. A huge basket of excellent bread, with a springy chewy texture, came along. A very satisfying meal.

It turns out that Nelly’s has been in business for about twenty years but has only been serving food for three. Live musicians perform every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you care about music this weekend be sure to call ahead because one of the musicians is on vacation.

After Nelly’s I decided to walk up Elston to see what was happening at Continental Café.

Continental Café’s Sign and New Facade
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The report of remodeling was indeed correct but the project is nearly finished and they will reopen on Sunday, August 7. There will be a new menu but it will still contain some Romanian dishes. It looks like a nice space. Hopefully the food will be good.

At this point I was at Addison so I figured I should go west to see if Bucovina was open. It was. Since I was there I decided to get something to take home (I was still full from Nelly’s). I decided on mittei with a side order of mamaliguta plus a tomato and cucumber salad. While I was waiting I had a glass of Romanian lemon soda (Perla Harghitei brand). This was quite good, with an unidentifiable perhaps herbal flavor, that I liked a lot. I’ll be looking for this in stores. Bucovina has been open about three years. I have a copy of their menu, more extensive than Nelly’s, which I hope to get around to scanning and posting. They serve no alcohol but allow BYO.

Food from Bucovina
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Here’s my bedtime snack: a pound of sausage, two pounds of polenta, a pound of salad, and a pound of bread. Sausage was well-spiced but had some bone chips that detracted. I enjoyed the polenta but it would have been even better fresh. The feta-like cheese was very pungent and tasty. Salad was quite good and very welcome with all that meat and polenta. Bread wasn’t very good unfortunately.

Before heading home I thought I might as well swing by La Scala for the sake of completeness.

Via La Scala’s Sign
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It sure doesn’t look like a Romanian restaurant and the doors were locked (it was nearing midnight) so I was going to call it a night. As I was leaving I noticed a side door leading to a noisy, smoky barroom filled with people eating, drinking, and playing pool. This was exactly as I had pictured Nelly’s. After a bit of initial confusion when I thought the owner was telling me to leave (he thought I was delivering food to the apartment next door) we had a nice chat and I learned that there are two menus: a rather schizophrenic Italian-like menu used in the restaurant and a menu printed only in Romanian used in the bar. The Romanian menu has many of the standards served at Nelly’s and Bucovina but has a few others such as veal brains and sweetbreads (the owner, Gabriel, seemed especially proud of these). He assured me that his food was the best, the most reasonably priced, and he would cook any Romanian dish given a little notice. Gotta love it. I’ll be back for sure.

I’ll probably go back to all. I bet Nelly’s would make a good schnitzel (I could hear them being pounded in the kitchen) and it would be fun to go on a music night. The new Continental Café is an unknown. Bucovina has a more extensive menu that looks worth exploring and I’d definitely take along a bottle or two of wine. La Scala is the kind of place I don’t always feel comfortable in but I think Gabriel would take good care of me and my friends (as well as other strangers).

Nelly’s Saloon
3256 N Elston Av
Chicago
773-588-4494
open to 10pm, 11pm on Fri & Sun, to 1am on Sat

Continental Café
3661 N Elston Av
Chicago
773-604-8500
reopens 7 Aug 05

Restaurant Bucovina
6107 W Addison St
Chicago
773-685-7323
Mon 4-11, Tue-Fri 2-11, Sat 12-11, Sun 12-10

Via La Scala
4368 N Milwaukee Av
Chicago
773-725-4655
open 7 days noon-midnight
if restaurant is closed, enter bar through door near Illy sign
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#10
Posted August 5th 2005, 8:03pm
Wow.

Is all I can say.

Fantastic short-notice detective work, complete and thorough.

Thanks for expanding the number of known Romanian restaurants well beyond what anyone would have imagined were still operating.

By the way, have you noticed that Romija Social Club or whatever it is, I think on Peterson just west of Ashland, near the Heart of Chicago motel? I don't know if Romija means Romanian but it might.
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#11
Posted August 5th 2005, 8:16pm
HI,

I was on Elston this afternoon when I saw Nelly's Saloon. I'm glad you have already vetted it and found it worth visiting.

The very first polenta I ever had was in Bucharest, Romania in December, 1980. I arrived shortly after John Lennon had been shot dead. Of course the Romanians had another name for polenta, but it was polenta nonetheless. I sense if I want a Romanian-only dinner at Continental, then the staff would help guide the way.

Mike G wrote:Thanks for expanding the number of known Romanian restaurants well beyond what anyone would have imagined were still operating.


True!

Thanks again!

Regards,
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"You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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#12
Posted August 5th 2005, 8:37pm
Likewise wow! I cannot thank you enough. I don't know how much you know (or care) about Romanian food but next time I/we go, you are my guest.

I haven't been in Romania for a couple years now, but very much miss the food. Were it not so difficult (for a passel of reasons), I would have checked out Bucovina as soon as I'd learned of it. You didn't say, but I imagine that the decor is not likely to have improved significantly since the days of Vox Maris (incidentally a very popular name for restaurants and clubs throughout Romania). I look forward to their menu, whenever it's convenient for you to scan.

BTW, the mamaliga looks to me like mamaliga cu brinza--mamaliga topped with a crumbled semi-soft, salty cheese (the most generous portion I think I've ever seen, per your pic)--a real classic. And the mic (aka mititei, pronounced "meech") look plump and juicy. Hope they are as garlicky and good as they appear. My mouth is already watering.

Nelly's, too, sounds worth a visit (or two). Menus entirely in Romanian aren't too terribly challenging, I don't think, and maybe we need a Bucharestathon or something to offer an intro to those terminally curious about a lesser-known and sadly under-appreciated cuisine.

I must confess that between the website and the reports of the menu (above-noted sauerbraten and paprikash), I am less than completely eager to consider Continental Cafe a Romanian place, especially given what appears to be serious and bona-fide competition.

My hat is off to you, sir! I shall save a glass of tuica (that's TSWEE-ka) for you.

Multumesc,

Gypsy Boy
Last edited by Gypsy Boy on August 15th 2005, 7:07am, edited 1 time in total.
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#13
Posted August 5th 2005, 8:55pm
Ooops. Forgot to respond to Mike G's comment re the "Romija [whatever] Club." I am not familiar with it but Romija is not Romanian in any aspect I know. Which is to say, it is not a Romanian word or place-name or proper noun to the best of my knowledge. It has a Slavic ring (perhaps I should say a south, as in yugo, slavic ring) to my ear and, as we all know, Romanian is a Romance language with no connection to any of the Slavic languages of its neighbors (Hungary, of course, excepted) or former overlords.

I'd be curious what the Romija clubbers do when they convene, but my bet is that it has little to do with Romania and things Romanian.
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#14
Posted August 5th 2005, 9:01pm
On the other hand, the brinza is clearly a close relation of the bryndza which came with the moskol at Szalas, though they sound like they're in different stages of the aging process (the stuff at Szalas spread, it didn't crumble).
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#15
Posted August 5th 2005, 10:33pm
Peter,

Ellen asked Dorina, her Romanian facialist, about Romanian restaurants and her favorite, aside from her own home cooking, was Nelly's. I've had the pleasure of trying some of Dorina's cooking over the years, including homemade wine, and a recommendation from her is solid. Ellen got the impression, as you did from your visit, Nelly's has a number of off-menu specials.

I can't speak to the current Continental Cafe, but long ago on another board we had a terrific meal there.

Wonderful post, great pictures. You bedtime snack of sausage and polenta look the perfect sleeping aid to me. :)

Enjoy,
Gary
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#16
Posted August 5th 2005, 10:35pm
How fortunate that Rene G stopped at Bucovina. On my way out Addison to Harlem Ave. this afternoon I noticed it and thought I would stop on the way back to check out the menu. But then traffic was bad, I didn't remember in time to prepare myself to stop, I was tired, etc.

The sign is very tired looking, but sometimes that doesn't mean anything.
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#17
Posted August 6th 2005, 6:31pm
From the very helpfully-posted menu, Nelly's looks like the real deal, although recalling my 1998 tour of Romania I would say to be truly authentic it would have to list about 100 items, 90 of which would not be available.

The first thing I will order is Ciorba de Vita, which was my favorite Romanian dish. My experience with Ciorba de Burta was not as happy. A note to the uninitiated. The soups are served with bread and hot peppers. The customary way of eating soup is to eat a spoonful of soup, followed by a bite of bread, followed by a bite of pepper (dipped in salt).

I will also try the mititel.

I visited Little Bucharest right after my visit to Romania and found the menu more Hungarian than Romanian, which is not necessarily inauthentic as there are many ethnic Humgarians in Romania and as in any country, Romania has many regional cuisines as opposed to a single national cuisine. Banko, who I seem to recall is an ethnic Serb, is certainly a character and was the main reason I went back.
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#18
Posted August 16th 2005, 8:51am
Hi,

I found yet another Romanian restaurant:

Restaurant Perla
Romanian Cuisine
5522 W. Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60641

This is in a Polish dominant neighborhood. They have menus in Polish and Romanian, to find one in English someone had to run into the back. They had no take-out menu (and my camera was in the car a block away).

Not a very vast menu, mostly grilled meats, polenta with feta cheese sounded good and such.

Regards,
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Cathy2

"You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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#19
Posted August 17th 2005, 8:09am
Okay folks. Time to "respect" the cuisine enough to call things by their proper names. Yes, mamaliga resembles polenta. Yes, mamaliga is made the same way. But polenta is Italian. Romanians call it mamaliga. We wouldn't refer to polenta served in an Italian restaurant as mamaliga and at the risk of seeming precious or pedantic, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask that, in a discussion of Romanian restaurants and food, we call something by its proper name.

As long as I'm on the subject, the cheese is NOT feta. The cheese is made from sheep's milk and yes, it is white. Yes, it is slightly grainy and yes, it is made in blocks. Mild, moist, and crumbly (as it ages; it is creamier and spreadable when young, as Mike G rightly observed). But it is made sweet or can (but need not be) preserved in salt. When that is done it certainly resembles feta. But it is not feta and the taste is different. The dish is mamaliga cu brinza and the name of the cheese is brinza (or, depending upon your orthographical generation in Romania and your willingness to accede to government edicts regarding same, branza; I can't reproduce the proper letter with diacritical mark).

End of lecture.
Last edited by Gypsy Boy on August 17th 2005, 8:55am, edited 1 time in total.
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#20
Posted August 17th 2005, 8:24am
Hi,

When I was in Romania, they also referred to the mamaliga as polenta. I am sure it was an effort to use terms I would be familiar with. I am sure this is the same case here in Chicago. I agree they would be smarter in the long run to use the proper Romanian terms, then a helpful explanation where polenta might be used as the description.

I had a similar issue about an eggplant dish referred to as Babaghanouch by Marrakech ExpressO rather than by its true name Zaalouk. Zaalouk is prepared quite differently, so the taste and texture is different and likely disappointing customers who know and expect babaghanouch. It's better to keep to the true name and educate the customers on a related dish though different preparation.
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"You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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#21
Posted August 20th 2005, 7:45am
Gypsy Boy wrote:We wouldn't refer to polenta served in an Italian restaurant as mamaliga


Mamaliga, polenta, hasty pudding ... it's all just cornmeal mush.

It's usually less confusing to refer to a dish in the language in which it's listed on the menu concerned. However, if that term isn't common enough that most people know it, it can be clearer to offer a better-known term from another language or translate into English.
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#22
Posted August 20th 2005, 8:03am
LAZ wrote:
Gypsy Boy wrote:We wouldn't refer to polenta served in an Italian restaurant as mamaliga


Mamaliga, polenta, hasty pudding ... it's all just cornmeal mush.

It's usually less confusing to refer to a dish in the language in which it's listed on the menu concerned. However, if that term isn't common enough that most people know it, it can be clearer to offer a better-known term from another language or translate into English.


I agree, and at this point, 'polenta' is without doubt the most common name for cornmeal mush used in American English (at least amongst us Yankees), so much so that the word 'polenta' -- though still felt by all to be a borrowed word -- can now be considered an English word, just as 'spaghetti' is. Note too that "cornmeal mush" doesn't sound especially elegant and for social and (socially motivated) aesthetic reasons the term 'polenta' is preferred by restaurateurs and their audience (a 'prestige' motivated borrowing parallel to the borrowing into Middle English of the several French names for meat varieties).

For a menu in a Romanian restaurant that expects at least the occasional non-Romanian to come in, I think it would be reasonable to say something along these lines:
... served with mamaliga (polenta)... or
... mamaliga (Romanian corn dish similar to polenta)...

Antonius
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#23
Posted August 20th 2005, 9:58am
Antonius wrote:At this point, 'polenta' is without doubt the most common name for cornmeal mush used in American English (at least amongst us Yankees)

My New England Yankee friends are apt to call it "Indian pudding," and serve it with maple syrup, but....

Antonius wrote:Note too that "cornmeal mush" doesn't sound especially elegant and for social and (socially motivated) aesthetic reasons the term 'polenta' is preferred by restaurateurs and their audience (a 'prestige' motivated borrowing parallel to the borrowing into Middle English of the several French names for meat varieties).

Or hiding something humble or unappealing under highfalutin language, such as "calamari" for "squid" and "escargot" for "snails."
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#24
Posted August 20th 2005, 10:30am
LAZ wrote:
Antonius wrote:At this point, 'polenta' is without doubt the most common name for cornmeal mush used in American English (at least amongst us Yankees)

My New England Yankee friends are apt to call it "Indian pudding," and serve it with maple syrup, but....


Obviously, I meant 'Yankee' in the sense of Northerner, not in the sense of New Englander, to stand in opposition to Southerners, but I must say I don't know what Southerners call cornmeal mush. Do they even eat it traditionally? Grits, being from hominy, is functionally and formally a similar dish but also quite distinct, insofar as polenta etc. is from untreated corn and hominy is corn treated with lye.

The original Yankees (depending on which etymology of 'Yankee' one favours; the more plausible ones point away from New England), the folks in New Netherland, called cornmush, a.k.a. polenta, sapaan (various spellings of a word borrowed from Munsee or Unami), ate it at just about every meal, often with milk, sometimes with butter, sometimes with both. And sometimes it was savoury and sometimes sweet.

Calamari and escargot are good 20th century analogues to 'pork' and 'veal' etc. and fit nicely with 'polenta' in the pattern of 'prestige borrowing' referred to above.

Antonius
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
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#25
Posted August 20th 2005, 2:20pm
LAZ wrote:Or hiding something humble or unappealing under highfalutin language, such as "calamari" for "squid" and "escargot" for "snails."


And let's not forget the "Shrimp scampi" (or is "Scampi shrimps?") :? :D
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#26
Posted August 20th 2005, 3:28pm
In my experience, Southerners call cornmeal mush just mush.

If you ever catch yourself on the road in an erea that's totally chain-ganged, you can stop in at Bob Evans, where you can have fried mush.

With sausage and syrop, and an egg or two on the side.
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#27
Posted August 21st 2005, 9:37pm
As long as I'm on the subject, the cheese is NOT feta. The cheese is made from sheep's milk and yes, it is white. Yes, it is slightly grainy and yes, it is made in blocks. Mild, moist, and crumbly (as it ages; it is creamier and spreadable when young, as Mike G rightly observed). But it is made sweet or can (but need not be) preserved in salt. When that is done it certainly resembles feta. But it is not feta and the taste is different. The dish is mamaliga cu brinza and the name of the cheese is brinza (or, depending upon your orthographical generation in Romania and your willingness to accede to government edicts regarding same, branza; I can't reproduce the proper letter with diacritical mark).

End of lecture.


I think Michael's Fresh Foods in Naperville sells Brinza, labeled (ironically?) "Romanian feta" that I sampled. Surely it is actually Brinza. Now I know.
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#28
Posted August 21st 2005, 9:52pm
One of the better meals I've had in Chicago was at Everest about 5 years back. Simple stuff: a veal chop resting on stone ground heirloom hominy, or words to that affectation. The server confirmed it was grits.

Reminds me of a sign I saw at the Infinity display at the auto show several years back: "Please Refrain from Accessing the Automobile." At least the corporate rep had the good sense to take down the sign after hearing our group ridiculing it.
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#29
Posted August 22nd 2005, 11:01am
But polenta is Italian. Romanians call it mamaliga.


My grandmom who hailed from around the Austria-Hungarian border, always referred to cornmeal mush as "mamaliga." As far as I know she spoke no Romanian, and up until this thread I always assumed "mamaliga" was the Yiddish term for polenta!
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#30
Posted August 22nd 2005, 7:17pm
jbw wrote:I always assumed "mamaliga" was the Yiddish term for polenta!

It is -- borrowed from Romanian. That's what my bubbe called it, too.

Yiddish is a great language for borrowing, officially and unofficially. Which reminds me of a joke:

Two boychiks were talking when they realized neither could remember the Yiddish word for "disappointed."

"I'll call my mother," said one.

Ashamed of his declining mame-loshen vocabulary, however, he didn't have the nerve to ask her the word directly. So he said, "Mameh, suppose you invited me for dinner and spent all day cooking, making my favorite lokshen kugel and gedempte fleisch and kishke and eppl kuchen."

"Nu?" said his mother.

"And then, suppose, I called you at the last minute and said I couldn't come. What would you say?"

To which she replied, "Oy, ich bin azai disappointed!"
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