At Portland’s Kachka restaurant, you can get Russian hors d'oeuvres like perlova: pickled pears with barley, dill, sorrel, mushroom, and hazelnut. You can get dumplings, cabbage rolls, rabbit, game hen, and an array of pickles and spreads. And you can get vodka—an entire menu of it, from places like Moscow, Slovakia, Poland, and, of course, from Portland itself.
Much lauded by locals and food critics alike, “Kachka” is the Belarusian word for “duck,” and the name goes back to the chef/owner Bonnie Morales's family history. When Morales's grandmother, who was from a small town outside Minsk, Belarus, was in her 20s, Nazi soldiers invaded. German forces killed Soviet Communists, requisitioned peoples’ homes for Nazi soldiers, and seized so much food that thousands of civilians starved. Minsk became the site of one of the biggest Nazi-controlled ghettos in Europe, housing close to 100,000 Jews. As Morales told the Oregonian, her grandmother, who was Jewish, escaped in the middle of the night as Nazi soldiers were digging mass graves.
“She ran toward Russia.” Morales recounted. “Along the way, she was stopped by a Starosta, or German village warden. He was convinced that she was Jewish. She made up some story about being a Ukrainian peasant going to visit family in Russia. He doubted her story. He asked her, ‘If you’re from the Ukraine, how do you say duck in Ukrainian?’ She was Belarusian, not Ukrainian. The languages have some overlap, but not completely. But she just crossed her fingers, prayed, and said the Belarusian word for duck: kachka.” The word was the same in Ukrainian, and the warden let her go. The next day, she would later find out, Nazis killed everyone in the ghetto. “Kachka” saved her grandmother’s life.
Considering Morales's family history, it is perhaps especially painful that she has recently been accused of being a Nazi sympathizer—an allegation that started on social media, and quickly set off a wave of criticism that resembled Seattle's own Jewish-Nazi firestorm last year.
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