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Friday, August 25, 2017

Baby Cows for Dinner?

It was Mother's Day in Slovakia.  And in the US, but that's not terribly relevant.  I decided that my mother-in-law deserved to have someone else cook dinner for the family.  I'm not a mother yet, but in my view, Mother's Day should be a time for mothers to not have to do all the mothery-type things they do every other day.  My MIL didn't seem terribly put out by having to make dinner, since it resulting in what she really wanted for Mothers Day - all of her children and grandchildren with her.  

However, she allowed me to take over dinner.

I used the trusty internet to find a Slovak cooking blog and sent my MIL three options that looked delicious and we settled on the pork loin.

Enter the saga of the baby cow.

I wasn't really sure where to buy a pork loin, but I was pretty sure our local TESCOextra (think Super Walmart) had a large selection of meat cuts and decided to go there.  I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for, other than the words bravčové kare and the fact that a pork loin is a somewhat cylindrical cut of meat.

What I eventually found and cooked for Mother's Day
I entered the meat aisle and started looking.  I picked up the first cylindrically shaped package I saw and began reading.  I didn't understand most of the words but saw kralik and bez hlavy and that got quite a reaction from me.  I turned the package over to confirm my suspicions and saw four little legs-eek, I was not expecting that!  I immediately put the meat back on the shelf and kept searching, thoughts and questions and wonderings swirling in my head.

Things that would probably be helpful for you to know right now:
  • True, authentic wienerschnizel is made from veal, otherwise known as baby cow, and I had recently learned this when we dined with a visiting relative.
  • bez hlavy means without a head
  • Krava is Slovak for cow.  Many nouns in Slovak can be made diminutive by adding -ka, -ička, -ik.  Therefore, I quickly translated that kralik must certainly mean small or baby cow.
  • I did not remember the word kralik, just that I had seen a word that made me certain that this package contained a baby cow.

Please join me inside my head:
Umm, that is a baby cow.  Put it down.  Keep looking for the pork loin.
Wait, isn't that tiny for a baby cow?  How do they even get a baby cow that small?
Do they make the mother cow deliver early?
Do they abort early term baby cows so that people can eat them?
This is horrible!  What a strange Slovak custom.

Note that the possibility that it was NOT a baby cow did not enter my mind.

Note how quickly I reacted with horror and disgust and assumed that the culture was strange, not that I had possibly made a mistake in translating the label from Slovak to English.

When I got home, I asked my husband if he knew that they sold baby cows at TESCO and what kind of Slovak dish involved cooking a tiny, premature baby cow.  He had never heard of this, which only added to my confusion.

I called my friend who's father is a vet and asked her if she'd ever heard of "harvesting" baby cows for food.  She had not. Shocker.

The next day at dinner (which by the way, turned out fabulously) I asked my husband's brother if he'd ever heard of these mysterious baby cows.  I showed him the rough size of the package and he replied that it sounded like it might be a rabbit.

Guys, baking a pork loin is actually pretty easy - and delicious!
"But it definitely didnt say zajec" (the Slovak word for rabbit) I said, quite proud of my proficiency in my new language.

We explained to story to their aunt, and she asked "Did it say kralik?"

"Yes! That's the word that I read!" I replied.

Well, it turns out that the Slovak diminutive for cow is kravička, not kralik.

When I took a picture of the package at TESCO for this blog post, I was quite embarrassed to see a picture of a rabbit on the label.

I was so busy reading the words, I missed the picture of the rabbit!

So now this story isn't just a hilarious language snafu, but also a revealing picture of how easy it is to miss something right in front of you.

How easy it is to see only your side of the story.  To assume your perspective is the right one.  To abandon rational thought (really, aborting premature baby cows won in my brain over the possibility that I was wrong that it was a baby cow?).  To just go with the seemingly clear facts you have.  To completely miss the most obvious things because you're so focused on a different thing.

There is so much grace in the food system here, they put pictures of what you're buying on the packages (do they do this in the US?), but I was so focused on using my Slovak skills and figuring my way around a foreign system, that I completely missed the helpful hints right in front of me.

It's definitely a hilarious story, and I wouldn't know the Slovak word for an edible rabbit if I hadn't made the mistake, but I hope that I also will learn grace and patience and forgiveness and giving others and situations the benefit of the doubt when it seems completely obvious that _________ (insert quick reaction to just about anything, big and small) is true.

Do you have any baby cows in your life? Any places where you need to step back and reconsider the story that you're telling yourself is true?

Feel free to use my mistake and in any situation where you're tempted to jump to a conclusion.  Just tell yourself "this might not actually be a baby cow".


  1. So quickly we jump to our own conclusions without stopping to ask questions, etc.

  2. So good and funny! I don't have any baby cows, but I haven't gotten over the blood sausage eating custom here. I always think, "WHY. That is so strange. It should not be a thing." But - I'm not Austrian and didn't grow up eating blood sausage like most of my friends, so I should calm down a bit. Thanks for sharing this hilarious story! I can TOTALLY see you working this all out in your head!

    1. Oh wow, that would be hard for me to get used to as well! Calming down is always a good plan! ;)

  3. Johanna, I really liked your story about the baby cow. I do not think they put pictures of animals on the packages of meat here *now I will have to look. The big controversy is pictures of cows in a field on yogurt and butter *but the argument is that it might not really be yogurt or butter from "grass fed cows" just a marketing technique. (Grocery shopping can be so hard when you do not know what you are looking you feel better a young man behind me was trying to buy collard greens last night and the clerk did not know what he had brought to the counter (actually chard) when she wanted to look up the key code but knew it was not collard greens. (I told her it was chard she thanked me and called the produce department to find the young man collard greens) . I am not sure how long he had to wait for someone to help him find his collard greens but he seemed grateful that the clerk stopped him from buying chard instead of collard greens. I really wanted to ask him who he was shopping for or more questions but resisted my urge to find out if he was "new to America or just new to grocery shopping".

    1. that's so funny! yes, I have definitely encountered produce here that I was unfamiliar with. But I'm not sure if I would know the difference between collard greens and chard. :D

  4. Jojo fruit, I have dissected a fetal calf, teaching biology has it's joys. They are surprisingly big even before birth. However I will say that Europeans have many food traditions that are super weird to Americans so perhaps your assumptions come from some previous experiences! To be fair, I'm sure Velveeta has disturbed and confused many European ex-pats.