My mom and I arrived in the small village of Carahasani in the afternoon on a dry, stifling day. Our GPS told me we would arrive in two hours, but as the reality of the bumpy dirt roads set in, I knew the trip would take much longer. The best roads in Moldova run north and south, and unfortunately we started our trek at the Prut River on the western border and ended at the Nistru River on the eastern border.
When we entered the village four hours later the church steeple became our north star, directing us to our meeting point where we found a petite but solid woman with short red hair wearing a bright purple house dress. She looked strong and fit, so it wasn’t surprising when she hopped into the back seat with ease and agility to navigate the way home. In villages this size there are no real street names or signs, and many of the gates and fences look so similar that it’s difficult for outsiders to find their way.
We followed Ana along the concrete path separating her home from the garden where a 1980’s pale blue Lada sporting 2 flat tires was parked while she outlined our next three days of cooking with excited anticipation. I lost her somewhere between plăcinte miresei and naut as my attention turned to the three cats wrestling in the most beautiful fuchsia mum-like flowers hedging the path to my left. Then it hit me – that familiar aroma that I’ve only ever smelled in Moldova. I knew exactly what it was, and a relaxing satisfaction came over me, giving me the sensation that I had just returned home. Ana continued leading us around the back through a double doorway lined with lace to keep out the flies, a battle she fought in vain. The kitchen was bigger than any I had seen in a rural village. It housed a table for six, an ancient gas range, creamy Formica cabinets and of course the pinnacle of any traditional Moldovan kitchen, the wood-fired oven. This oven was huge – at least six feet long, four feet wide, and more than five feet tall. Hot mama, she was a beauty!
A steaming chicken noodle soup – that familiar aroma – was waiting on the stove to welcome us to Ana and Grigore’s home. Zeamă may be the most characteristically Moldovan dish and is definitely a favorite among locals. As I sipped the clear, hot broth in the 90 plus degree weather, I reminded myself that air conditioning, window drafts, and cold drinks would not be enjoyed again until my return to the states. Hot soups are served for lunch as the first course all year long. While I may have lamented this fact as sweat dripped down my temple, my grief subsided when I tasted the perfectly ripe yellow and orange heirloom tomatoes and salty goat cheese set before us. Heaven.
After secretly licking my bowl clean, Ana served up the chicken. I couldn’t help but think how earlier that day it was hanging out with its friends, pecking at the ground and generally enjoying life until it drew the short straw and lost its head, an inevitability for all hens in that country. We all picked our favorite pieces – neck for Ana, drumstick for me, and breast for my mom – and sucked it to the bone, the least we could do to honor that poor chicken.
“Every house has its own traditions with food. Zeamă is a traditional food, probably the most traditional, but that doesn’t mean it’s made the same way in every home,” Ana explained after I observed that the red peppers were missing. She’ll add peppers or homemade noodles but never both. Some add a few potatoes or a homemade fermented souring agent (borș acru – more to come on this) or tomato sauce for a slightly more acidic flavor. However you decide to make this chicken noodle soup, I hope you officially feel at home with Undiscovered Kitchens. Xo.
(The recipe below is from Liza’s kitchen)
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup (Zeamă cu Carne de Găină) is Moldova's signature soup and is typically served for lunch, the largest meal of the day. This soup is known to welcome travelers home, be served for breakfast the day after a wedding, and pair nicely with a glass of white house wine.
- 1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs.) (1.5 - 2 kilograms)
- 9 quarts water (8.5 liters)
- 1 large onion, diced (350 grams)
- 1 medium carrot, diced (85 grams)
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced 100 (grams)
- 10 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- 10 sprigs fresh dill
- 10 sprigs fresh lovage chopped see note
- 4 Tbs borsch see note, (70 ml)
- 1 Tbs salt (20 grams)
- 1 tsp pepper (4 grams)
- 1 hot red pepper
Homemade Egg Noodles
- 1 cup unbleached white flour
- 2 extra large eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
Butcher the chicken and rinse the pieces. Place them in a 12-quart stock pot, and add the water. Bring to a boil. Prepare the vegetables and set aside. When water is boiling, reduce the heat to low. Scoop the chicken foam off the top. Continue to boil on low ten more minutes, scooping foam every couple of minutes. Do not boil on high to keep the broth clear. Add the diced carrot, bell pepper, and onion (and ground celery seed if substituting). Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the homemade egg noodles.
Sprinkle the dried noodles into the pot, being careful not to press them together. Try not to add too much excess flour. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 5-7 minutes. The noodles are done when they rise to the top. Meanwhile chop the parsley, dill, and lovage and set aside. When the noodles are done, decrease the heat to simmer. Add the borsch (or desired substitutes). Add the salt and pepper, and make adjustments for your own taste, increasing lemon juice or tomato sauce for a sourer taste.
Add the chopped greens and gently stir. Remove from heat and cover no more than 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Cut or bite the tip off of a hot pepper and stir the pepper in your soup to make it as spicy as you’d like.
Substitute 2 tsp ground celery seed for lovage. Substitute 2 Tbs lemon juice or 1/4 cup tomato sauce for borsch