Don't Forget to Decompose Your Auk

Dallas immigrants don't have to go home for holiday fare

Europeans often scoff at America's apparent lack of unique tradition, especially around the holidays. Fruitcake, eggnog, and ham, for example, are all Christmas staples borrowed from the Old World. And turducken belongs to Louisiana alone.

Historians tell us that America's early settlers braved the treacherous Atlantic crossing to escape tyranny, find opportunity, or bask in religious freedom. Yet perhaps they were just trying to avoid the food. From the Russian delicacy of boiled tongue encased in gelatin to Slovakian hraituo, a hot drink made from honey, goose lard (or butter), and vodka, Europeans enjoy some stomach-churning holiday traditions. In Norway they settle down on Christmas Eve to a plateful of lutefisk--cod treated in a lye solution, the same stuff Texas grandmothers once used to wash out, shred, and otherwise destroy fine shirts. The British savor plum pudding, which is, inexplicably, a raisin spice cake. They also call cookies "biscuits."

American holiday traditions must seem drab compared with these dishes, as well as the more palatable roasts, cakes, mulled wines, and the array of spices used worldwide, and immigrants living in Dallas must sometimes search for their holiday favorites.

Tins of imported chocolates are some of the more familiar holiday offerings at European Market and Deli.
Stephen P. Karlisch
Tins of imported chocolates are some of the more familiar holiday offerings at European Market and Deli.

"I just found a shop that imports a line of Croatian products," says an excited Ruzica Dakovic, a recent immigrant to Dallas. According to Dakovic, Croatians roast whole piglets for Christmas and New Year's Eve. They also fix up platters of sarma, pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice. "I found canned sarma and a lot of pickled things," she adds. "I was very surprised." Dakovic frequents the European Market & Deli on Central Expressway and Forest, a small store offering a mix of Polish, Croatian, Romanian, and Hungarian goods, including canned tripe soup. "I started stocking Croatian items because you couldn't get them anywhere else," owner Jerzy Drozen says .

"Even Americans have become exposed to international foods," says Yousef Sukkar of Worldwide Foods on Greenville. Sukkar's store carries more than 1,800 items from 13 countries, including Greece, Italy, France, and Turkey. Worldwide Foods offers baklava, cheeses, and an impressive selection of olives. Apparently Mediterranean farmers produce more than the green and black varieties. In fact, Worldwide Foods stocks 23 types of olive--all with pits, if you appreciate the simple tooth-jarring joy of biting down on a rock-hard seed. They even carry ketyfa, a shredded dough drenched in honey and pistachios popular this time of year in Greece. "The Greek community in Dallas is growing," Sukkar says. "We can tell by the type and amount of cheeses we're selling."

The foreign-born population of Dallas is not just growing, it's booming. Texas attracted 2.4 million new residents between 1990 and 1997, more than 600,000 from outside the country. Dallas International, a network of ethnic communities and cultural organizations, lists 980 groups. The Dallas Stars speak at least four languages, the Mavericks three, and DISD students 120. You can even learn Finnish in the city, something unthinkable 20 years ago. Of course, Mexican immigrants make up the largest single foreign-born group in the area, but census counts list more than 3,000 from Turkey, 70,000 from Vietnam, 4,000 from Kurdistan, 13,000 from Ethiopia, 60,000 from India, and 6,000 from Russia. At Russian Deli Specialties on Campbell, shopper Kate Nersesov, originally from Russia, claims no difficulty in finding everything from the aforementioned tongue stuff to herring and other smoked fish. In fact, the small display case at Russian Deli Specialties contains whole smoked fish, heads included. On the other hand, Amanda Jury, newly arrived from Colombia, has yet to locate a market--a legal market, that is--offering products from her home. "On Christmas Eve they prepare food all day," she recalls. "Everybody is hungover on Christmas day."

Colombians enjoy a midnight dinner of tamales, in this case chicken and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. Mexicans also eat tamales wrapped in cornhusks for Christmas.

Margarita Lako, a recent transfer from Albania, claims that byrek me mish, petulla, and pule me drop really require no difficult or unique ingredients. Dallas stores provide everything necessary to produce meat-filled fillo dough, pancakes, and stuffed chicken.

A few items remain difficult to find in Dallas. Lithuanian blood soup may require a late-night visit to the local hospital storage bank. Christmas tradition in Greenland calls for residents to cook up auks wrapped in sealskin and buried for several months until decomposition kicks in, apparently for added flavor and texture.

Until Americans really open up to tradition, this stuff will be difficult to locate.

 
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