25 February 2011

Moldovan Eating

We’ve eaten very well in Chisinau, surprisingly so. People enjoy spending their money on good food, which is definitely a change of pace from basically anywhere we’ve been since Belgium. It’s not just about ‘exotic’ food and how many sleek sushi restaurants and American-type steakhouses offer people a chance to get dressed up and sip cocktails in public. In Chisinau, the food was actually executed well (with one huge exception – but more on that later).
When you’ve had your best meal in months at a restaurant, which also has free WIFI, it’s hard not to become a regular. Merlin and I ate and worked at Cactus Café/Saloon/Restaurant (depending on if you read the sign, the menu or the specials board) four times. They refer to themselves as an American restaurant, but it was actually just creative, delicious food with great ingredients, friendly service, big portions and – oh wait, that does sound American. At first, we were embarrassed to keep showing up, but who gives a crap when there’s ripe avocado.
The food there was eclipsed only by Grill House, a restaurant with more imagination than its name would have you think. The food was expertly grilled by these men, standing out on a patio and although their menus said “We turn vegetarians into carnivores,” they served us the best salads of our trip to date.
Even the cafeteria food was great. I pointed to what looked like cooked mushrooms on our first trip to this buffet and bit into something chewy and meat-y that tasted like tongue, but looked like it might be testicle. On our second visit, Merlin got some heaped on his plate. Doesn't it look like mushroom? We’re still not sure what it is, but it- along with everything else we tried – was really good.
Most people walked around with pastries from Fornetti Franchise, a bakery chain that had stands all around the city. This happy customer seemed to endorse the product and the two girls he was with endorsed our taking a photo of him.
While we never bought anything from Fornetti, we did sample some of the oblong pastries everyone seems to carry around at a great, grimy cafeteria. One was cabbage and the other had what looked and tasted exactly like canned pumpkin pie filling. Both were delicious.
And then there was Conus Pizza. Every block in Chisinau had at least one. The first day, we decided that at some point we’d have to get ourselves a pizza cone. You know, research for the blog. The second day, we noticed that they also sold something called an “umbrellina," essentially pizza with a handle, and we revised our plan. From the third day until the eighth, we noticed that we had never seen a single person buy anything but pastries from Conus Pizza. On our final day in Chisinau, we found out why.
After a long wait during which at least three customers purchased and ate items that were not pizza in any shape, we heard the ding of a toaster oven. Out of the window came this. I held the umbrellina by its handle and watched as the gooey mess of cheese, melted onto the plastic bag it was served in and flopped down, covering my entire first. Before it all oozed down my sleeve, we snapped this side by side comparison picture. Then, we ate it. Hey, it’s the poorest country in Europe, it’s not like we’re going to let food go to waste.

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