The Ivano Frankovsk region of the Ukraine (Eastern Carparthians), is well forested and has for centuries bred foresters. These foresters have had to move around the whole of Europe and further due to falling wages, forced down by ever decreasing amounts paid per tree felled. Those that stay have to work harder than we in the west could possibly imagine.
For a region that has such a rich forestry heritage, arguably one of the richest in Europe, it is no surprise that there exists a range of traditions heavily linked to the forest. Including many culinary dishes based on food foraged from the forest (or to use that awful buzz term ‘Non Timber Products’).
And there is one dish that is not made from forest foods – but is foresters food. The cooking of which should take place in the forest to gain the right taste and clearly ‘invented’ to provide the huge calorie intake needed by a forestry practitioner.
Hopka is a potato dish, which despite initial reservations, (as always when faced with unusual ‘traditional regional food’ – so often it is not well known for a good reason), I can’t recommend highly enough. It is a social meal, similar to fondue or raclette – designed to be eaten around the embers of a fire in the forest.
OK – we copped out of eating it in the forest (this first time).
The potato mash is prepared as a dough, just perfect for soaking in a creamy, cheesy, onion sauce (or indeed any favourite sauce you may have), and is scooped out of the cast iron hopka pan by hand, shaped and dipped.
The preparation and recipe is as follows:
Mash a large amount of potato’s in a cast iron pan (No milk or butter).
Light a decent fire using spruce or pine. Wait until enough embers to level out and place the pan on. Spread half a cup of plain flour over top of mash and place on embers.
Wait 5 minutes. Then pound with freashly de-barked hardwood club.
Add more flour and repeat process 3 times.
Next add 3 – 4 eggs and add lard or infused vegetable oil, pound in and then add more flour.
Rest on embers for further 5minutes or so – then final pounding until doughy.
The smoke from the conifer embers enters into the mash, providing a subtle but distinct and unusual taste.
Thanks to Vasile & Sergei.