658 - Bulgarian Salad Voted Europe's Favourite Food
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Elections for the European Parliament have been held every five years since 1979, but none have been as crucial as this 8th edition, taking place from 22 to 25 May. The euroskeptic parties poised to win are set on freezing, or even reversing half a century of European integration.
Not that the average European voter (if such a strange beast exists) seems to give a hoot. Turnout dropped below 50% in 1999, and looks set to continue its downward trend.
But the twin evils of voter apathy and anti-EU populism will not win the day unopposed. Leading the fightback is the European Parliament itself. On its Facebook page, the 751-member assembly proposes parlour games and a map of national dishes – one for each of the 28 member states – to turn the election results marathon on tv into an evening filled with transnational fun and culinary delights.
Clearly, the European Parliament is drawing inspiration from the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual competition to find the continent's kitschiest song. The annual finale of that televisual feast spawns innumerable house parties across Europe, to cheer on national favourites and to gawk at the parade of outrageous costumes, competitors and compositions.
Eurosong may be palatable only with a stiff dose of irony, but the fact remains that it is a genuinely popular, continent-wide event at which European countries compete with and vote for each other. If only that other European project could borrow some of Eurosong's uniquely unifying vibe.
That's what A Taste of Europe is trying to do. As explained on the initiative's starting page on the European Parliament's Facebook:
You live in Europe, you work in Europe, come 22-25 May you will be voting for Europe – now have a Taste of Europe.
Celebrate Europe by making a feast of the European elections […] Election Night is when you finally get to see for yourself what impact you made on Europe’s future, so why spend such a big night alone? Why not host a fun EU Election Night for your friends and family, so you can watch - and hopefully celebrate - the election results together?
Just take a second to take stock of the fact that the European Parliament has just taken over party-planning your life. If you see nothing wrong with that, you are beyond redemption and may proceed to download the entire 'election toolkit'.
That kit consists of personalisable popcorn boxes, napkin rings with EU member state flags, drinks markers to prevent your guests mixing up their glasses (that would just be too hilarious!), and even a fun game where you stick a random flag to your forehead and have to guess which EU member country you are by asking your friends pertinent yes-no questions (“Are my main exports footwear and pharmaceuticals?”)
When the time comes, the app will even include a live stream of the election results. So there really is no escaping the fun. Meanwhile, your guests could each prepare a national dish to bring to the event. A handy map provides an overview of the EU's favourite dishes.
Each favourite has been selected from a wider list of national recipes via the pseudo-democracy of 'likes'. If you don't see your favourite dish among the list, you could always add your own recipe (although we doubt whether Reindeer Pad Thai or the mysteriously-named '5677778' really are Austrian specialty foods).
What do these dishes and their relative popularity tell us about the state of European democracy?
28. Malta: fenek moqli (fried rabbit). 41 votes.
Maltese rabbit does not have the same ring to it as Maltese falcon.
27. Luxembourg: gromperekichelcher (potato fritters). 65 votes.
Like the Maltese, there just aren't enough Luxies to vote this dish up in the rankings.
26. Ireland: arán prátaí (potato farls). 77 votes.
Not shunning the cliché, Ireland's favourite dish consists of... potatoes! At least the Irish name is marginally more pronounceable than the Luxembourgish one.
25. Denmark: Dansk smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches). 80 votes.
Scandinavia's efficient, no-nonsense approach to governance also applies to their culinary efforts.
24. Finland: avokadopasta (pasta with avocado). 82 votes.
Arctic avocados thrive in the short, intense Finnish summer.
23. The Netherlands: pannenkoek (traditional Dutch pancakes). 100 votes.
The first dish on the list to break the three-digit barrier, from the first country on the list to break the 10-million inhabitants mark. European democracy is not about how right you are, but about how big you are.
22. Sweden: köttbullar (Swedish meatballs). 116 votes.
An interesting variant to the chicken-and-egg question: What was popular first, Ikea or Swedish meatballs?
21. UK: fish and chips. 155 votes.
This shows just how out of touch the EU is with the groundswell of British public opinion. Everybody knows that chicken tikka masala is Britain's favourite food. Or is it Chinese stir-fry now?
20. Cyprus: flaounes (easter cheese pies). 177 votes.
Cyprus is only half-in the EU; the Turkish north doesn't get a say. But the food is ecumenical at least: flaounes are a delicacy eaten both at Easter and during Ramadan.
19. Slovenia: potica (dessert). 178 votes.
Sweet yeast dough rolled around a filling of nuts, honey, butter, raisins and cinnamon. Slovenia's greatest contribution to the world. Or do you know of any other?
18. Germany: Spargel mit Sauce Hollandaise (asparagus with Hollandaise sauce). 178 votes.
The German favourite dish shows two things: the 'Europeanisation' of Germany (which other country elects a food covered in Dutch sauce?) and its diminished enthusiasm for the European project (only as many votes as tiny Slovenia?)
17. France: bœuf bourguignon. 201 votes.
A French classic, rightfully earning more votes than Germany's asparagus, but still stranding at a disappointing 17th place.
16. Belgium: moules frites (steamed mussels and fries). 204 votes.
One of the few things most Belgians can agree on.
15. Czech republic: svíčková na Smetaně (beef sirloin in cream sauce). 219 votes.
Wait, does this mean the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana is actually called Freddie Cream?
14. Croatia: zagorski štrukli (cheese puff pastry). 228 votes.
Part of Croatia's Intangible Cultural Heritage, this pastry is fortunately tangible enough to eat.
13. Hungary: tölltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls). 275 votes.
Hungry in Hungary? You'll likely get stuffed with stuffed cabbage rolls.
12. Portugal: arroz de pato (duck rice). 290 votes.
In northern Portugal, you'll find very few ducks voting for Christmas. That's when they'll end up in this seasonal favourite.
11. Spain: gazpacho (cold soup). 331 votes.
Spanish soup is like revenge: best served cold.
10. Poland: bigos (hunter's stew). 385 votes.
The recipe doesn't say how many hunters you need for a stew.
9. Latvia: rupjmaizes kārtojums (sweetened rye trifle). 402 votes.
Well, it sounds delicious.
8. Estonia: kiluvõileib (sprats with bread). 437 votes.
Who knew Estonians were this desperate to be Scandinavian?
7. Italy: spaghetti alla carbonara. 613 votes.
A simple, but strict classic: should only consist of al dente spaghetti, egg, cheese and pork (guaniciale – pig's cheek – if you can get it).
6. Austria: Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese cutlet). 735 votes.
The highest-ranking food from Western Europe; as with Eurovision, Austria uses its pivotal position between east and west to garner votes from either side.
5. Greece: dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves). 799 votes.
The appetizer that is as classically Greek as Alexander the Great. But wait, wasn't he Macedonian?
4. Slovakia: bryndzové halušky (dumplings with sheep cheese). 811 votes.
These Slovakian dumplings are four times as popular as boeuf bourguignon. But are they four times as delicious?
3. Romania: sarmale (sweet cabbage rolls). 995 votes.
Romania shares with Hungary a predilection for cabbage-based dishes, but is about four times as proud of it.
2. Lithuania: šaltibarščiai (cold beet soup). 2,268 votes.
Relatively few in numbers, the Lithuanians are still enthusiastic enough about the EU to vote their favourite dish high up in the rankings. That, or cold beet soup must be a lot more delicious than it sounds.
1. Bulgaria: shopska salata. 14,214 votes.
Winner by a massive landslide, crowning the evidence that, like Eurovision, A Taste of Europe is heavily dominated by Eastern Europe. But there is a twist to the Bulgarian win: some commenters suggest that shopska salata it is as much a Serbian dish, and perhaps even more so than a Bulgarian one. But Belgrade gets nulle points, as Serbia is still outside Brussels' political (and culinary) orbit.
Meanwhile, the real European elections are crucial for another reason: for the first time, the European Parliament will directly elect the President of the European Commission (currently José Manuel Barroso).
The change is hoped to amplify the relevance of the European elections, revive the interest of the voters and increase turnout. But of course, the EU wouldn't be the EU if the process wasn't overly complex and only marginally democratic.
The candidates for the five-year EC presidency were put forward by the so-called Europarties, the half-dozen ideological alliances within the European Parliament. They are: Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium (for the liberals), the tandem José Bové from France and Ska Keller from Germany (for the greens), Martin Schulz from Germany (for the social democrats), Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg (for the centrists), and Alex Tsipras from Greece (for the leftists).
Neither of them is electable throughout all member states. The European Council will draw up a shortlist of presidency candidates based on the overall performance of the Europarties, and then present that list to the newly-elected European Parliament for its consideration.
Hardly an electrifying prospect, but then: How are you going to govern a continent famous for its countless culinary treasures, which then elects a Bulgarian salad as its top dish?