Along with covering figure skating, luge and skiing, the Sochi winter games are providing some outlets with the opportunity to create some confusion about the provenance of some Caucasian culinary specialties.
Take the case of khachapuri, that most Georgian of dishes (or so you'd think). Not according to the Annapolis, Maryland Capital Gazette, which in it's "Foraging for Flavor: A Taste of Sochi" feature, offers up a picture of khachapuri with a headline that reads "Russian cheese bread."
Meanwhile, on the website of clothing maker American Eagle, a travel blog posting about Sochi offers up a sampling of "Russian Delicacies," among them not only khachapuri, but also khinkali, the classic Georgian dumpling. (The original post appears to have been taken down, perhaps due to a Georgian outcry, but a cached version can be found here.)
Of course, considering the history of the region and historic tensions between Russia and Georgia, the confusion over who can claim khachapuri as their own has touched a raw nerve among Georgians. Says a local Kebabistan source in Tbilisi: "I have seen Georgians posting photos of churchela [a confection made out of grape molasses and walnuts], etc. on Facebook with reminders to journalists that these are Georgian foods. Attributing these foods to Sochi or to Russia is being seen in Georgia as just another example of Russia trying to steal things that belong to Georgia, and managing to deceive clueless foreign journalists."
Azerbaijan may be surrounded by simmering geopolitical crises, but the country's Ministry of National Security knows what the real challenge facing the country is: Armenian "plagiarism" of Azeri national cuisine. The ministry, which is responsible for Azerbaijan's intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts, recently unveiled "Three Points," a documentary it was involved in making which, as one Azeri website described it, is "about the Armenian plagiarism of the Azerbaijani national cuisine and historical realities." The Trend.Az website reports on the film's recent Baku premiere, held at the ministry's "Cultural Center":
In his speech, Chief of the National Security Ministry's office, Major General Farhad Vakhabov stressed that Armenians not only occupied Azerbaijani lands, destroyed cultural and historical monuments in the occupied territories, but also change the place names, misappropriate Azerbaijani national values - folklore, gastronomy, music, presenting it as their own to the world public.
"The National Security Ministry, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Copyright Agency and other relevant bodies are fighting this phenomenon hard," he said.
Farhad Vakhabov said that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva have a special role in promoting and developing the national values.
Head of "Azad Azerbaycan" TV and Radio Company Vugar Garadaghli said that the project aims to inform the world community about the true essence of the Armenian plagiarism regarding Azerbaijani national cuisine and historical realities.
Has the White House inadvertently stepped into one of the Mediterranean's oldest unresolved conflicts, namely: which country in the region gets to claim itself as the inventor of baklava?
The issue has been heating up over the last few years. In 2006, for example, Turkish makers of the flaky dessert were outraged when European Union tourism posters featured baklava as a, gasp, Cypriot invention. But the baklava battle has opened up a new front after a March 22 White House dinner in honor of Greek Independence Day. Although it was a closed affair, Maria Loi, a New York-based Greek chef who prepared the evening's dinner, told a Greek-American publication that President Barack Obama "loved baklava." Picked up by the Turkish press, the story became one of the President saying how much he loved "Greek baklava," leading to angry denunciations from columnists who suggested Obama brush up on his Balkan culinary history and that Loi's entire menu for the affair -- moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, Greek salad and the offending baklava -- was comprised of nothing more than Turkish dishes dressed up as Greek ones.
Worried about the Greeks claiming other cross-border staples as their own, some Turkish foodmakers are now taking preemptive action. Reports Turkey's Cihan news agency:
The İstanbul Simit Tradesmen Chamber has launched a process to get an international patent for the number one Turkish street food, the simit, a ring of chewy bread coated with toasted sesame seeds.
Although there have been some recent indications that there might be a bit of a thawing out in the tense relations between former allies Turkey and Israel, some Israeli egg producers are having none of it. According to a report in Globes, an Israeli business publication, a lawsuit has been filed against Tnuva, one of Israel's largest food producers, charging the company with selling Turkish eggs disguised as Israeli ones. The switcheroo is no yolk, the suit says. Turkey, the petition, notes "is a country that has turned into a hostile country to Israel in recent years and where the level of veterinary inspection is lower than the level prevailing in Israel."
This is not the first time eggs have come in the way of Turkish-Israeli relations. In late 2009, Israel's then ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, had to cancel a scheduled visit to a university in the Black Sea area's Trabzon after students pelted him with eggs. The egg-hurling students were protesting Israel's Gaza invasion earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, while on the subject of eggs, Istanbul Eats has a recommendation for what is very likely the best spot in Istanbul to eat eggs, Turkish or otherwise.
Thanks to tipster EO, I recently discovered the excellent blog "Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism," which is bringing together journalists from different parts of the Caucasus in an effort to publicize some of the more positive developments taking place in the conflict-prone region.
One very interesting story on the blog is by Lusine Musayelyan, a reporter for RFE/RL who lives in Stepanakert, the largest city in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been in Armenian control for some 20 years after a war with Azerbaijan. In her story, Musayelyan reports on restaurants in NK that, despite the ongoing conflict, still serve Azeri food to nostalgic locals. From her fascinating story:
Azerbaijani dishes are still in high demanded at the restaurants of Karabakh. All over the region people speak about the Azerbaijani cuisine with respect. Despite a conflict that is ongoing between the two nations for more than twenty years, in many restaurants patrons can taste typical Azerbaijani dishes alongside the rich offerings of Karabakh cuisne.
Despite the Azerbaijani “ethnic origin” of this dish, many diners come particularly to taste khangyal, as the employee of a restaurant in Stepanakert, who preferred not to be named, told us.
“There is demand, and we cater to it with great pleasure. We serve not only khangyal but also piti and bozbash. It may be interesting for you that usually those meals are ordered by members of the elder generation. It seems that they are nostalgic for these dishes,” our respondent said.
Vania Grigorian, a 58 year old lady, remembers that during Soviet times she went with friends for a weekend to Shushi, just in order to enjoy pita – a meal of lamb meat and peas – at an Azerbaijani restaurant there.