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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lahmajoun, and a mystery herb revealed

First off, the lahmajoun:

I know you can get lahmajoun in Moscow, but I only eat it in L.A. It's a paper-thin Armenian pizza sold in pairs, the sides with the toppings facing each other and a square of paper in between. You roll each one up and eat it with hot tea. Lahmajoun is supposed to be mildly spicy, but this particular lahmajoun stopped at being just savory. Still satisfying.

And now for the mystery herb:
[01/15/10 NOTE: this is actually summer savory, NOT oregano, which is what the saleslady called it!!]

My mother-in-law always chops up a bunch of this very pungent herb and puts it in potato salad or potato piroshki. She calls it citron and I always assumed it was some exotic Armenian herb you could only find at an Armenian grocery in Los Angeles. I've never seen it anywhere else in the U.S. and never at markets in Russia.

I saw some on sale at the store today, and since the place was otherwise empty I asked the saleslady what it was called in English. After a moment she remembered the name - oregano!

I took it home and compared the aroma to a good bottle of dried oregano. The dried oregano smells slightly sweet, like it's already on its way into a bottle of Italian seasoning. Aside from being much stronger, the fresh oregano has a hint of the smell you get when you touch a tomato plant. And it has none of the sweetness of the dried oregano.

My father-in-law remembers picking wild oregano in the hills when he was a boy, and he says the smell was enough to knock you down.

If you can get fresh oregano, try this potato salad:

Start with cooked, chopped potato (starchy, not waxy)
Add chopped bell pepper, halved kalamata or other purple olives, a good handful of chopped fresh oregano, a little bit of finely diced onion
Dress it with olive oil and lemon juice

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Память на века

"Погребение в мавзолее-усыпальнице: скидка - 5% с предъявлением этого купона"

"Mausoleum burial: 5% off with this coupon"

This ad made me put down my fork. I'll let other people wonder about how the deceased are supposed to present coupons, or better yet, pay $26/month for a double. Here's my take on the words:

Мавзолей (mav-zo-LAY) is an obvious borrowing of the word mausoleum. The root of усыпальница (oo-si-PAL-neet-sa) is the Russian word for sleep, and the prefix means "away." It's another word for mausoleum. I'm not sure why the two are used together so often. Perhaps the pair functions as a euphemism. I've always been partial to the word склеп (sklep, or tomb). Makes me think of the mask of Agamemnon. Click the link to see a map of what sklep means in different Slavic languages.

In the same vein, I've wondered for years about ПОСБОН (POSBON), the name of a chain of funeral homes in the area where we live near Moscow. I tried to make it be an abbreviation of funeral home - похоронное бюро - but it just doesn't work. What are the "s" and the "n" doing there? I guess I could call them and ask.

I promise the next entry will be about lovely food and food words.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Now that he's in school, my son's Russian is getting better every day. The other day I heard him say, "Не вешай мне макароны на уши!" ("Don't hang macaroni on my ears!") The actual Russian expression is "лапшу вешать на уши," or hanging noodles (lapsha) on someone's ears, and it means "to tell a lie." I suppose he heard the expression at school and didn't know the word лапша so he substituted Italian macaroni for Russian noodles. Curiously, Russians use the word macaroni for any pasta product, not just elbow macaroni. The word lapsha is reserved for homemade noodles.

According to Vasmer, лапша was borrowed from Tatar laksha, meaning little pieces of dough cooked in a stock.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Зачем вам столько гуталина?

The гуталин obsession continues. I've found the full names of the "MM. Worms and Zwierchowski" who patented guttaline some time in the 1890s.

Eugene Worms and Alexandre-Sigismond Zwierzchowski worked together on a number of patents, like one here for "an improved bicycle." They also invented things independently and with other partners. I doubt they had much knowledge of Mongol footwear, though.