Tradition you can Taste

When my grandfather talked about wringing the neck of a chicken, we listened with moderate horror and more-than-moderate fascination. I was particularly confounded and titillated by his gesture of grabbing it by the head and spinning the bird around. Did the head really come off, or was this adults playing one of their inscrutable jokes?

Travel has brought me into contact with the more intimate reality of not being a vegetarian. Like when I showed up to a party in Nepal to find the hind legs of a goat sticking out of an old oil drum set in the fire. It’s easy to think meat comes either tasty on a plate, or tidy on a styrofoam tray, but our ancestors better knew what was involved, and their traditions incorporated that reality. In this time of modern displacement, I feel a desire to reconnect with the past, and the realities of this increasing digitized world.

The original title of this blog was “A Year Without Holidays,” owing to the way travel and modern life had distanced me from them, even as it showed me how many are out there. Christmas trees and wreaths, well known carols and the familiar feel of wrapping paper are my normal December traditions, but what about something a little more…direct? Or even earthy. Going wassailing would likely get the cops called, and I’ve never cooked a Christmas goose. I’ve heard it’s a smelly affair that leaves astonishing amounts of grease in the oven, so what else is out there?

Romanian recipe for chicken paprikash

Logically my eyes turn to my newly discovered treasure trove of heritage and tradition: Romania. And it does not disappoint. All this month, as winter really sets in and our ancestors sought to balance the cold with community, hospitality, and food security, Romanians from the Black Sea coast to the Hungarian border are enacting the centuries-old tradition of slaughtering a pig.

The neighbors will likely be involved and the whole family gathers around. Every part is used, and some celebrate the occasion by eating bits of the freshly cooked skin right then and there. Pork cracklings to make anything bought in a store seem flimsy and flat, and the conditions are better for the animal than any harsh industrial facility.

Today I’m hoping to find a little tree, but part of me wishes I could join a Romanian pig slaughter. Would I be able to participate? Absolutely. Not sure about wielding the knife, but traditions like this make room for everyone, just as travel’s myriad paths open whatever doors we are ready to walk through, as we amplify our internal and external sense of the world and each other.

The pigs prepared this month will be long gone by the time our small group tour arrives in August, but the rich heritage they feed will still be going strong. Plus, I happen to know that the countryside inn where we stay in Bucovina will still have some of the season’s spoils if I ask them to save some for us. I ate some last year and it was part of a memorable and delicious meal.

Bon voyage, bon appetit, and happy holidays my friends!