Although I’ve lived in the US for over ten years, only recently have I been more open about what makes my country of birth different from the country I currently share with my husband. As an 18 year old, I quickly picked up on the fact that talking about slaughtering chickens, using an outhouse, or the absence of running water made people look at me differently. When you are trying to make friends and fit in, it’s the last thing you want. So I put my background behind me and began the assimilation process. I was a precocious young woman, so I learned quickly what sorts of topics to discuss, how to carry myself, and what would make me more likeable.
I don’t regret choosing to assimilate into American culture. Some of that was necessary to really grasp and appreciate the culture I have chosen to live in. Yet, since getting married, I have began sharing my stories and the world of my childhood with my husband, and he has encouraged me to write them down and share them with others. Thus, you have encountered several stories about Moldova here on the blog. Today, I am sharing another gem 😉
Superfood or Snake Oil?
A few weeks ago Clayton got a cold. While he was napping I called my family.
“Bring him home. He just needs to drink some izvar, eat a little slanina, and sit on the lejanca. He’ll feel better in no time!” my dad winked as he cited the three most popular home remedies for colds in Moldova.
I laughed. That would be a sight.
But then later, I got to thinking about the differences between how we deal with a cold at home vs. here in the States, and I decided to do some research to try an determine if there is anything to some of those crazy Moldovan cold remedies, or if they’re all just snake oil.
Once a year, each family in our village slaughters their pig – usually around Christmas time. My mama would make sausage, bacon, liver pate, bone broths, and slanina, among other things. Slanina is slabs of pork fat (with or without the skin), which is cured or brined, sometimes smoked, and then aged in dark cold cellars for up to a year. It is not rendered, like lard. Once slanina is properly aged, it is sliced like cheese and eaten, typically with a piece of bread.
We eat it at parties, dinners, or for snacks. Nothing tastes better to a Moldovan who has been working all day in the fields than a nice big piece of salty slanina and some fresh baked bread.
I will never forget my first ear infection. I was in a lot of pain, rocking back and forth, and sweating feverishly. My mama didn’t give me advil. Instead, she fed me slanina on bread with a bit raw garlic on top. She also poured some raw garlic oil tincture into my ear. I’ve never had an ear infection since; the amount of fat and garlic must’ve terrified the virus out of me! But seriously, is there any legitimacy to eating slabs of pork fat and garlic?
Well, I think yes, Moldovans are on to something.
Slanina is chock-full of vitamin A, D, and B, which are incredible boosters for your immune system. Add some antiviral and antibacterial raw garlic and you got yourself a superfood. But that’s not all. Slanina has both saturated and monounsaturated fats, which help absorb fat-soluble nutrients, including vitamin A, D, E, and K. Fat is a source of energy, like sugar. Unlike sugar, however, fat is a major building material for our cells, comprising 30 to 80 percent of our cell membranes. And unlike sugar, fat doesn’t trigger the release of insulin, which promotes weight gain. Source
Many traditional cultures eat a high-fat diet. Dr Kate, in Deep Nutrition, explains “early North American Natives preferred the fattest animals, and valued their fattiest parts most of all. When hunting was especially good, they’d leave the leans muscle meat behind for the wolves”. Let’s not forget the Eskimos who eat raw whale blubber!
Afraid you might get food poisoning from eating it? Don’t worry. If the fat is exposed to light or aged too long, it becomes oxidized, which will give it a bitter taste and a funky smell, so you’ll know not to eat it. If slanina does go rancid, we use it to polish our shoes! Maybe this is what Americans should do with all the rancid vegetable olis being sold in the grocery stores as health food! I digress. You can read why I avoid vegetable oils here.
Here is a slab of slanina rolled in black peppercorns that my family shared with us during our dinner this summer. My American husband was lovingly forced to try this traditional food during a family picnic to prove he was one of us. Here’s the piece he was served, with a neighbor’s homemade feta cheese on top. Everyone cheered after he finished it. And I confess, I was ready to marry him again 😉
Next time a Moldovan offers you some slanina, try it. They are sharing a valued cultural tradition, not to mention a superfood, with you, and also testing to see if you would be willing to go out of your comfort zone. You will be repaid with lots respect and your body will reap good benefits.
Word of warning: This is a slab of fat. Since you may not be not used to eating this much fat at once, you may feel nauseous. Best thing to have on hand is some mineral water and activated charcoal and/or digestive enzymes, which I always recommend when traveling and eating foods from different cultures.
This is a beverage made with red wine. To make Izvar, you heat the wine a pot with a few teaspoons of sugar and lots of black pepper, imbuing it with a rich spicy flavor. This is similar to “mulled wine” or German “Gluhwein”.