Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bits and Morsels welcomes cuisine from the European Union

How to make a Belgian waffle, courtesy of the Embassy's chef.

by Carol Joynt

It would be expected for most people to think of the European Union as an institution of men and women in suits who meet in Brussels and argue about politics and economic policy and, lately, the Roma gypsies. That would be fair. But in Washington last week we got to experience another face of the EU’s member states – their foods. In a diverse celebration of all things culinary, the French Embassy threw open the doors of its La Maison Francaise to welcome the chefs from more than 20 European Union embassies, each showcasing its respective culture, traditions and cuisine.

The invitation said, “enjoy live music while taking a tour around Europe, feasting on national dishes and drinks from the open bars. A great way to discover European traditions!” And that’s exactly what everyone did, without having to hassle with an air trip.

Enjoying Euro Night at La Maison Francaise.
The party was a one-night getaway to the lands of cheddar cheese (Ireland), stuffed grape leaves (Greece), fresh waffles (Belgium), shrimp salad (Sweden), Colombo de Poulet (Martinique), Baltic rye bread with honey (Latvia), vegetable strudel (Hungary), chocolate cake (Austria), egg, beet and lentil salads (Romania), and wicked vodka shots known as a “Reindeer Tear” from Finland. There were also plenty of regional beers and wines.

The feast was called “Euro Night” and, no surprise, it sold out. The funds raised go to supporting other cultural events among the embassies that participated.

Though the power of Washington’s diplomatic community is tempered somewhat by the modern age and modern communications, an invitation to an embassy dinner is still coveted. Though too often the embassies feel compelled to serve Americans their own food, or a variation on “continental,” the best times are when the host embassy serves its country’s own food.

Euro Night was a shortcut to just that and a chance for foodies to graze among the many. I tried to pace myself, but kept returning to the French chicken dish, the Estonian ham and cheese rolls, the Romanian apple pie, Germany’s favorite fast food, the döner kebab (complete with a photo of how it should be eaten), and Lithuania’s towering and delicious wedding cake. It looked like a deep sea formation but tasted like butter cookies.

Between helpings of food it was fun to watch the Irish step dancers perform their vigorous routines. They probably made the guests feel that by watching them dance it was a virtual manner in which to work off calories – before returning to the buffets for more EU delicacies.
Twilight at Euro Night.
Pastries from Lithuania. Representing traditional Slovenia.
The French provided plenty of bread.
Stuffed grape leaves and wine from Greece. Sweden's patriotic display of "Princess Tarta."
Spicy and sweet "Colombo de Poulet" from Martinique in the French West Indies.
Romania's many spreads, including beet, lentil and egg salad.
Romanian apple pie.
From the Embassy of Romania, Luana Gagu and Lavinia Ochea. Vodka shots from Finland.
Hungary's offerings included Panfried Catfish with Garlic, Spinach and White Wine sauce.
Hungarian catfish.
Hungarian vegetable strudel.
The cheddar cheeses of Ireland. Lithuanian wedding cake - looks like a sea formation but tastes like butter cookies.
How to make a Belgian waffle, courtesy of the Embassy's chef ...
Snack foods from Great Britain.
Baltic rye with honey from Latvia.
Italy serves up risotto balls.
Enjoying the "Reindeer's Tear" vodka shots from Finland.
Young foodies: Evan, Alexa, and Cole.
Sampling the EU: Andrew Schumacher, Michael Katz, and Nicholas Mejia.
Lining up at the Polish buffet.
Polish vodkas.
Wines from Cyprus.
Georgetown University students Andrea Const and Jonathan Gillis. Austrian chocolate cake.
Not enough hands.
Euro Night was for all ages.
The Euro Night party filled up fast.
Beers from Estonia.
Polish tchotchkes.
Just as the sign says: ham rolls with cheese. How to eat a German doner: hands only and lots of napkins.
The German doner kebabs.
Spain celebrated food and soccer.
Spanish Jamón serrano
Inside the French Embassy there was American rock music.
Outside there were Irish step dancers.
A late summer Friday evening in France.

If you live in or will be visiting Washington and would like a night in Marrakech via France, the Sofitel will be the go-to casbah for ten days beginning Friday. Of course it’s a promotional event – Sofitel wants you to know it’s expanding its presence in Morocco – but that doesn’t mean the food’s not rewarding. In fact, the menu being served for “Morocco Week” at the hotel’s Ici Urban Bistro is quite good, perhaps because its prepared by staff chefs who are natives of Casablanca and Fez.
Ici Urban Bistro restaurant at Washington's Sofitel.
At a lunch to showcase the menu we got to sample all kinds of traditional dishes, starting with a glass of date and almond milk. For $39, diners will get the milk plus platters that are suitable for sharing and feature native salads like the sweet pepper and tomato Taktouka, the eggplant caviar Zaalouk, and the marinated bean Chermoula. Main courses include Couscous three ways – lamb, beef or vegetarian – and a delicious Chicken tagine with olive and lemon confit. The orange and cinnamon dessert comes with Moroccan mint tea and assorted traditional pastries.

Moroccan red, white and rose wines are available plus an assortment of regionally inspired cocktails: a “Moroccan Julep,” made with Benedictine, gin and mint; the “Almond Sour,” with cinnamon and Amaretto; and the “Red Roses,” which includes vodka, strawberry puree and rose water.

All that’s missing is a camel for the ride home.
An assortment of Moroccan salads.
Tajine de poulet au citron confit.
Couscous d'agneau.
Vegetarian couscous.
Almond milk cocktail. Moroccan ambience at Sofitel's Ici Urban Bistro in Washington.
Moroccan mint tea service.
Moroccan pastries.
Orange with cinnamon.
Prepping in the kitchen.
Diners enjoying the Moroccan feast at Ici Urban Bistro.
Chef Fatiha Bettahi, who is a native of Fez. The ritual washing of the hands with orange water after the meal.
The same Morroccan inspired feast will also be available at Sofitel’s New York and Montreal hotels.
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