Diana Popescu, preface to the volume The Sarmale Collection and other culinary stories

Vgros The sarmale collector and other culinary stories is available for pre-order and will arrive in the first half of December. You can pre-order the book here. Until then, you can read the preface of this volume written by Diana Popescu.

You know what shopping experts, friends of your budgets and arch-enemies of hypermarkets advise you: "Don't go shopping on an empty stomach." I recommend the same: don't start reading Cosmin's book until after a hearty meal. Otherwise, you are in real danger. This man is evil: he writes about food with the fervor with which he attacks plates. He has a passion for gastronomy bordering on frenzy. And an inexhaustible desire to explore. Basically, I suspect he only stops researching, analyzing and comparing when he writes.

It's no wonder, then, that after "The Curator of Sausage" he relapses with the present volume. How to describe it? It could have been a "Teleencyclopedia" of sarmals. Or, for younger readers, a smarmy Wikipedia. What is it actually? A gastronomic jukebox. Like in a club where you go out with friends, you put in a record and choose your favorite song, from this irresistible book you can extract exactly what makes your taste buds happy. What quenches your thirst for liquor. Or that of knowledge.

Cosmin does not discriminate: he writes for manic carnivores and unconverted vegetarians; for those crazy about sweets and those who are sick of even the idea of sugar; for traditionalists and progressives, for those who like experiments on a plate and those who are afraid to approach something they haven't eaten "at home". Any citizen interested in the culinary phenomenon will find here a huge volume of information. And, what I appreciate about both the author and the book, a lot of humor.

Humor is vital when debating complex topics such as the best diet for uprisings and revolutions; the inexorable link between small and patriotism; how pubs influenced the geographical development of the Capital; the culinary establishments of yesteryear and the decisive role in neo-Aotian literature.

Humor is also vital when you write things that are delightful to the hard core of foodies but troubling to the sensitive nature of others. For example, when you attack the area of organs, mats and other "underneath" animals. Don't panic, though: there's a section on pickles in the book, plus extensive references to brandies, wines, beers, brandies and other liquid miracles to get you back on your feet. If you wake up with a hangover after not-so-moderate consumption, the chapter dedicated to soups, borschts and other types of juices will certainly do the trick.

The effect of the book is to whet your appetite. It gives you the courage (at least in theory) to try things you've stayed away from. But most importantly, it makes you want to read. In the end, we are talking about a book in which you find Sibiu salami and nunneries; Brâncusi's culinary critic "hunt" and subtleties such as the difference between sana, kefir, yogurt and whipped milk. It talks about food and ideology, food and marketing, food superstars and forgotten foods; about the complex issue of street food, the culinary brands of cities and low-heat anthropology; about long-chain pastrami (just as far as New York) and luxury hotels.

Do you want to know something about sausage? Impossible. You can find out (almost) everything from Cosmin. And since the author eats not only sausage, but also history on bread, expect to find things of all wonder about this downright legendary food. 

Did I say "legendary"? Don't imagine that in the more than 700 pages some legends, myths and tasty controversies did not fit; laudable habits and detestable dispositions; great ladies of gastronomy (whether they are princely or worthy daughters of the people) and food freaks. How does "cabbage with roe", "roe soup", "eggplant and roe salad" sound to you, for example? What about "garlic stuffed onions"? It might sound intimidating, but it has a delicious taste and story.

If I tell you that in the book I even found culinary references to a sensational play, which later became a memorable show at Bulandra, you have to take my word for it. Although you better check by reading it.

Returning to the title, a bizarre phenomenon occurs in the matter of sarmals. In my case, at least.

While for the vast majority of dishes in this world I have very specific tastes, exact demands and preferences bordering on fixism, when it comes to sarmales I have a downright suspicious tolerance.

In short, I like cabbage ones, but also those wrapped in vine leaves; the ones with sour cabbage will make your neurons tense, but the ones with sweet cabbage can also be used in a dessert; those with sauce in which all the broth production for the current year went, but also those that didn't feel a whiff of tomato. With pork, with beef, with pork-beef mixture, with lamb, turkey, even without a micron of meat. With a lot of juice or "dry" a lot and well in the oven; like at grandma's house or with crazy spices from the other side of the Earth.

That's it, I'm stopping. What I was trying to say - without many words - is that I perfectly understand Cosmin's madness with the sarmales. Every reader will understand it once they go through the dedicated section. Because there they talk about everything we know (or think we know) about sarmales, but also about things we wouldn't have dared to suspect. About prehistoric varieties, noble varieties, "intervention" sarmals, literary sarmals, sarmals from the other side of the world and so on. If, one day, someone is going to discover the existence of extraterrestrial sarmals, rest assured that it will be Cosmin. 

For the time being, he has collected only earthly charms in his physical collection. Especially from the peregrinations through the Balkans, the most recent documentary "adventure" that he took into account. I'll say it again: the pleasure-seeking that one could be "guilty" of is only an appearance, it is clear from every article. We are not dealing with a collection of "impressionist" chronicles, but with the result of long research. In his case, culinary historian is not a title that only works well in presentations. Because the enthusiasm with which he eats is matched only by that with which he digs into the archives. That's exactly why, after The charm collector you will be left with multiple revelations. And with the joy of a feast.

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