At the border of Romania and Moldova, formerly part of the Soviet Union, I got off of a 1950′s communist train, to get a visa from a Moldovan immigration officer. Two government officers looked me up and down and said, “You have just entered our country without a proper paper. This passport is not yours. You’re traveling with your sister’s passport. We’re going to have to lock you up”. That outrageous threat gave me a chill, but it didn’t surprise too much. Before boarding the train to Moldova, I was warned that I’d get harassed at the border and would need to bribe Moldovan immigration officers to walk “hassle-free”. I calmly responded to the officers, “I know I lost some weight and look better than that passport photo, but it is me. Look! (smile). How much do you want to give me a visa and let me go?” The officer wanted $20 for a visa and another $20 for his pocket. I negotiated down to $25 for both official and unofficial entry cost and entered the small, landlocked crossroads of Latin and Slavic culture with a big excitement.
Upon stepping on the Moldovan soil, I noticed that it still held reflections of the old “communist” mindset. To a certain extent, it was like standing in an old James Bond’s “cold war” movie set. In a very “grey” hotel, which reminded me of “colorless” East Berlin before the German reunification, I was given an identification card to carry around the city. Talking to the hotel receptionists, taxi drivers and winery owners also felt like dealing with rigid mindset that would say, “what is customer service?”. Nevertheless, I loved talking to the locals and eating their foods. Moldovan cuisine is interesting. It is heavily influenced by its neighboring countries, Romania and Ukrainia, as well as Russia. Moldova, which is known for good terroir, used to supply wines all the way to Moscow. Wherever I ate, potatoes and cabbage almost always appeared on my plate, and I loved the way Moldovans cooked beef and pork. Today I’m making a delicious Moldovan sausage in my California kitchen, using locally available ingredients.
First, I mix 1 lb ground pork and ½ lb ground beef with 2 eggs, 2 Tablespoons whisky (aged in sherry casks), 1 teaspoon all spice, 2 tablespoons sea salt & 2 long, thin green chili (chopped). Then I divide the mixture into 6 portions and roll each portion into a sausage shape by hands. Next, I wrap it with cheese clothes and tie both ends with string. Separately, I bring 2 liters of chicken stock to boil, place all 6 sausages in it and simmer for 30 minutes. Then, I let it cool inside the chicken stock (to get deeper flavors infused to the sausages), remove the cheese clothes and lightly grill (or pan-fry) the sausages before serving.
I am pairing this delicious Moldovan sausage with a 10-year-old Domaine de Cabasse Cote du Rhone (from Seguret region). A blend of Syrah and Grenache, it was aged in French oak for 12 months before bottling. Having aged beautifully for the last 10 years, this Cotes du Rhone has a great balance of acidity and tannin with notes of smokiness, blackberries & spices. A bite of the sausage, which is packed with a sherry cask’s smoky, sweet & spice flavors, shows off its “multi-dimensional” tastes when accompanied by this Syrah/Grenache blend. As flavor profiles keep changing in my mouth, this pairing also makes me think… vanilla, pepper, caramel, tobacco, tea leaf… hmm… what else am I tasting? The list keeps building on. How interesting!
Hope you enjoy the taste of Moldova and its interesting pairing with the Cotes du Rhone. If you’re thinking of entering Moldova by land like I did, don’t forget to have some extra cash in your pocket to alleviate a potential headache. Expect the unexpected and have fun with this discovery! Happy cooking!