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© Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya
Khachapuri Earlier this week I went to visit a friend and catch his mama making khachapuri . It takes some practice for the newcomers to remember the word, but taste of a delicious cheese filled flat-bread delight stays with one for good. I watched Tamuna lovingly caress the dough while she was flattening it. Generous layer of fresh cheese went in, covered with another layer of dough. Tamuna put her plump, red hands on the dough. “So, with God’s help,” she said, opening the oven. While time was passing slowly and the tasteful was the aroma of khachapuri was getting stronger, Tamuna told about her childhood in a family of a farmer. “Khachapuri was our Sunday meal delight,” she said, “grandmother was a big cook, and wai me, what a delightful dough she made! With the cheese, it was the taste that is always in mouth, but never have I tried anything like that again.” “When you find a good Georgian guy to marry,” smiled he old lady, “then will I teach you the khachapuri secret!” …so much for my desire to learn to cook! I have definitely never had khachapuri as delightful, as Tamuna’s though I consider myself to be a knowledgeable expert: all the times that I am away from Tbilisi, the image of khachapuri and churchkhella call me back. Upon return, I keep all of my meals simple for several days, until the delightful “Georgian Pizza” is back into my blood, and I just have to eat it every other day or so to keep the level up. Pizza from Florence Walking on the narrow stone-laid streets of Florence, we run into a pizzeria. We had passed many restaurants and cafes on our way, stayed in front of the boards with menus, reading. Nothing called us. But this little pizzeria, just three wooden tables, called with its warm smell of cheese, melting in the hit of wooden fire. Called in and did not let us not to obey. The cook looked too severe to me at the beginning. Surrounded by locals, we, two foreigners, were sticking out. I watched the cook from under my eyelashes, so not to attract attention. It was simply impossible not to watch him. Even being the born-to-be-actor, he did not play. He would through the dough up into the air not to excite his audience, but to even and round a pizza base. He would sing along with the radio, not in tune, with no words: “O-a-a!...” He would sign gravely when it was time to crawl for another log further into the cupboard than it was in area of his comfort. He would answer loudly in grumbling Italian, waiving his arms, to his bold short coworker who delivered pizza on the tables.
Behind Enzi – later, following him under the raining sky to “smoke” a cigarette, I learned the name – were three huge glass-covered boards, filled with photos. And on each one – he and pizza, the unchanging components of these three or four hundreds pieces of glanced paper. The changing component was people. Girls and women, boys and men, old people, kids, girls again… who are they? Could they be famous people of Italy, all of them? Enzi has been working for this pizzeria for six years. Makes just three types of pizza from more than 30 possible: Margarita, Marinazzi and Napoli. He wouldn’t tell me how many pizzas a day he makes: “That’s a bad sign to tell this!” But during those 40 minutes we spent in the pizzeria, he produced about 30 sun-rounded hottest pizzas, so to count approximately…. is impossible. 200? 350? But he is behind the quality of every single one of them: personally buys products, and guarantees, that the cheese is fresh, and the fish is fresh-caught. “And if you add mushrooms, or ham, you have no idea where they are from and how fresh. And not fresh products are like a death to pizza. They will spoil the aroma”. Skinny tall Enzi rubs the end of his long nose with a flour-coated hand. A pepper seed somehow got stuck under the edge of his shortest-cut, cleanest nails. Probably, due to it he sneezes theatrically loudly, clapping the hands on his narrow hips, wrapped in a white apron. Having been pizza-man for more than 25 years, he knows everything about the aroma of pizza. And is still enjoying his profession, and eats pizza every evening. Some permanent clients arrive – a young couple with a black dog, waiving its fluffy tail nonstop. ‘Chiao! Chiao!” – touching with their cheeks, everybody kisses the air twice. Enzi is so sincerely happy to see them, that it looks to me, he’s about to kiss the doggy… which is also madly happy – definitely gets a piece of pizza from the owners. Enzi turns to me, hugs, and gives me the very air kisses I just witnessed. “Buon viaggio! Ritorna presto!!!” – come again, soon, tells he to me. And runs away into the heat of his open work-spot, where, making pizza after pizza, he’s talking to his friends-clients. Well, by now I am not surprised at the photographs. I am thrilled with Enzi and his photomemories on the wall. And now, every pizza I eat, reminds me of Enzi’s love-saturated colorful sunny pizzas. I wish I stayed there: at least, in a photo on the wall. Upon return from Italy, I told this story of the pizza-man from Florence to all who was willing to listen to me. Slowly, the brightness of the experience faded and lived in the emotionless Times New Roma shrift on a Word document. Pies Natasha is from Samara and she loves pies with cabbage. Alas, the Queen of the kitchen in all possible types of food, she is not “dough-friendly” and always requests pies with cabbage from her close friend. My family used to make pies, too. Meet, mushrooms, potatoes, cabbage: there was everything in them. Today, when life presents me with such a variety of national delights, I miss simplicity and tradition. It makes me longing for a nice kitchen, and a pot of dough… this time, for crepes, called blini in both Georgian and Russian. After all, it is one of the few dishes I am really good at making.