Little known facts of national cuisine

Italy is known for its spaghetti and pizza, Spain for its gaspacho and hams and France for its frog legs while everyone associates Switzerland with its unique cheese and America with fast food. Meanwhile, Belarus is strongly associated with its draniki (potato pancakes). However, are these truly local culinary delights?
By Dmitry Umpirovich

The director of Minsk’s Kamyanitsa Restaurant is an expert in Belarusian cuisine. Sergey Chegrinets shares his views: 

Draniki are associated with Belarus, as those from post-Soviet states know, but Holland and Germany have their own versions, which they see as their national dish. The explanation is simple: potatoes migrated across Europe from the west — from Portugal and Britain. It would be naive to think that we were the first to cook such pancakes although we began earlier than the Russians east of us.

If Belarusian cuisine is not based on potatoes, what else is there?

Natural ingredients are at the heart of every recipe. Chatting with foreigners has convinced me that these are more important than rare or expensive delicacies. When Moscovites taste our potatoes, they enjoy the natural taste (not genetically-modified). Our mochanka is unique among our neighbours, comprising two parts: meat broth, cream and smoked meats are simmered to create a rich casserole, with draniki placed on top. Both are eaten together, creating a tasty combination. Mochanka is found countrywide, following various recipes and using different ingredients: some use blood sausage while others make pancakes from whey.

Of course, restaurants need to serve dishes which customers find palatable regardless of where they hail from: Mogilev or Grodno. You should feel as if you’re tasting something from your childhood. All those dining out have their own critical opinion of the food.  

Lithuania has its famous 999 balsam while many consider samogon to be a Belarusian beverage. Is it beneficial that fewer than ten companies are allowed to legally produce the drink? Are we ready to promote samogon more widely?

Sadly, we lost ownership of this beverage to Ukraine. It’s legally produced there and is found in almost every shop. Our southern neighbour promotes its alcohol so widely that we cannot compete. I wouldn’t choose samogon over other national beverages — such as medovukha (with honey), khrenovukha (with horse radish) and liqueurs made with juniper or cranberries. These drinks are natural and are more unique to us.

How many Belarusian dishes are found abroad?

Lots!  It seems we were looking elsewhere when they were stolen. Lithuania has taken our zeppelins, Poland has our bigos and Ukraine offers borshch. Only mochanka has remained among our well-known authentic dishes.

Do western states have their own view of Belarusian cuisine?

Sadly, too little time has passed for this to have gathered force. Few realise that every Chinese person who set up a restaurant in the USA received a $50,000 grant from the government of their country. Now, a quarter of the public catering market belongs to China.

What can we do to promote our national cuisine? 

We need to encourage such restaurants to open by offering financial incentives. Why can’t we offer small tax concessions? Such places would buy ingredients locally, ensuring work for our farmers and for local companies, while saving on importing food from abroad.
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