Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New Blog

Finally!  I've started a new blog, Writing Cultures, and I hope you'll join me there.

This blog is about writing and the ways it can help us understand ourselves better and learn about the world. I hope to incorporate international food and recipes into the new blog as I have with this one.

Thank you!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The End of This Blog

After I returned to the U.S. from Russia, I struggled to figure out how to continue this blog. While I wanted to continue to explore Russian food, I felt it would be difficult to commit to writing a blog about food from a country I no longer lived in.  I started a few different blogs but have had trouble keeping up with any of them.  I hope to start something new soon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vegetarian Food in Russia

Vegetarianism is not widely understood or popular in Russia, but I have discovered that it is not too difficult to be a vegetarian in Russia, in you are not too strict about your diet and if you use a little creativity.

Of course, it's easy to cook a vegetarian diet for yourself because the country's grocery stores offer a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and starches. Although traditional Russian cabbage and potatoes may not round out a vegetarian diet, other offerings will. Green, red, and yellow peppers are easy to find in Russia; tomatoes are popular; and mushrooms come in a surprising number of varieties.

When eating out, there are decent options for the vegetarian diner. Although sometimes finding vegetarian dishes can be difficult, for the most part, it is not too large of a challenge. Russians like their meat, but they also like dairy products quite a lot. (If you are a vegan, living in Russia would be QUITE difficult!) Pirozhki and sloyki (types of Russian pastries) and bliny (thin Russian pancakes similar to crepes) can easily be found filled will cabbage, various types of cheese, potatoes, and mushrooms. Khachapuri is a Georgian pastry filled with rich, mouth-watering cheese. Fried eggs and omlettes are relatively easy to come by, and the old stand-by of "rice with vegetables" often yields a delicious meal (after explaining for several times that you do not want meat to go with this!).

Japanese food has become remarkably popular throughout Russia, and in some cases, it seems like every fourth restaurant serves some form of it. Miso soup, cucumber and avocado rolls, vegetable fried rice, or vegetable soba or udon make for a great vegetarian meal.

If you are willing to eat a little meat broth in a pinch, soups can sometimes be a reasonable compromises. In many restaurants, soups like borsht (beet soup) can easily be served without the beef chunks they oftentimes add in later, and sometimes soups made with chicken broth are intentionally served without any meat. (If you eat fish, you are even more in luck, since Russians love fish. You will be able to find numerous fish-broth soups such as ukha and will enjoy baked fish, smoked salmon, and caviar.)

However, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, it is increasingly possible to find dedicated vegetarian restaurants! The one pictured above (Jaggarnath) is located near the center of Moscow, not far from Red Square, and features a cafe and a grocery store. Although the general theme is Indian-influenced, you can find vegetarian foods and spices from Asia and other parts of the world. Tofu, vegetarian sausages and caviar, and soy products can all be found in the store. The buffet-style cafe features delicious and relatively inexpensive vegetarian dishes that will be such a feast to your eyes you will likely have difficulty choosing what to eat! Below is a sample of a meal I recently had: bean sprout salad with tofu chunks, Asian-flavored stir-fry and an all-natural ginger drink. All for 190 rubles, about $6!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Uzbek Food in Russia

Central Asian food is remarkably easy to find and quite popular in Russia. Many fast-food stands sell Central Asian foods like somsa (meat-filled pastries) and are usually run by Central Asian immigrants. There are also sit-down restaurants serving Central Asian food, some of them run by Central Asians themselves but most run by ethnic Russians.
The most common Central Asian cuisine in Russia is Uzbek, and most Russians are familiar with Uzbek foods like somsa, manti (dumplings filled with beef or mutton), and palov (rice pilaf with carrots, onions, beef or mutton, and sometimes chickpeas, raisins, and garlic cloves).
I recently had the opportunity to eat at several sit-down restaurants featuring Uzbek cuisine. The first took me by surprise. In the picture above, you can see this restaurant's two menus: one featuring Japanese food, the other with Uzbek food. The waitresses did not seem to consider this a strange combination and simply laughed when I asked why both were served. The atmosphere of this restaurant was definitively Japanese, but the menu featured a number of Uzbek dishes I have been unable to find elsewhere. Although they did not offer pumpkin manti, they did serve xonum and tuxum barak. Xonum (below left) is a roulette of steamed dough similar to manti. My host mom in Uzbekistan used to make xonum with pumpkin for me, but here my husband enjoyed some with beef and onions inside. Tuxum barak (below right) is a traditional dish in the western Khorezm region of Uzbekistan. Ravioli are filled with raw eggs and then boiled and eaten with sour cream, kefir, or qatiq.
Other Uzbek restaurants are focused exclusively on Central Asian food (usually with some Caucasian and Russian dishes mixed in). These restaurants tend to be relatively fancy and to aim to provide an "exotic" experience. Most offer hookahs for smoking flavored tobacco, and some feature bellydancers. Nearly all are designed with elaborate interior decorations such as draping curtains, plush pillows and benchs to sit on rather than firm chairs, and traditional Uzbek-style blue or green dishes. Some even offer guests the opportunity to sit on korpucha (futon-like cushions) on the floor and eat at traditional Central Asian low tables.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Honey Wine

A great way to warm up on a chilly Russian winter day evening is to drink some hot medovukha, or honey wine. This traditional folk drink can be found in bottles at grocery stores but is also sold at outdoor holiday markets, where I recently tried some. It's sweet and slightly alcoholic flavor is appealing, while the warmth of the liquid going down your throat on a frigid day will help keep you going when you feel you have reached your limit!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Russian-Style Junk Food

It seems that every culture has its own tastes, and marketers are quick to test new flavors in different markets. For example, here in Russia, I've come across a few interesting flavors of chocolate bars and potato chips.

The picture above shows a bag of shashlyk-flavored potato chips. Shashlyk is a type of meat kabob that probably originated in the Caucasus but today is popular throughout Russia and Central Asia. These chips are flavored with the vinegary, meaty taste of shashlyk, much as American chips often come in barbeque flavor.

I have also tried a Snickers bar with hazelnuts instead of peanuts. However, the taste is a bit more gourmet but seems to lose the essence of the Snickers bar (in my American opinion!).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bliny: Russian-Style Pancakes

Bliny are thin, Russian pancakes similar to the French crepes. Although Russian cuisine also boasts thick pancakes (called oladi) and pancakes made with vegetables (called bitochki), the thin doughy bliny are far more popular and widespread. They are eaten with a variety of fillings, from sweet to salty and rich to starchy.

At home, Russians often make piles of bliny from scratch and enjoy them simply with butter or sour cream. Honey and jam are also popular fillings. However, bliny are more than just dessert: they are often eaten as a snack or a small meal. At lunchtime, long lines usually form at food stands that make bliny to order on round grills in front of your eyes. These stands serve sweet bliny but oftentimes specialize in "mealtime" versions. Popular fillings include: red caviar (see above picture), smoked salmon (see below picture), mushrooms in sour cream, potatoes and dill, tvorog (a soft, sweet cheese), brynza (a soft, salty cheese), or ham and cheese. Thanks to my meat-eating husband, I have included a few pictures on this blog with meat in them. :)

Bliny can also be purchased frozen and then are often filled with jam, tvorog, or beef. This is a popular quick dinner or breakfast, since they can be easily reheated on the stovetop or in a microwave. Of course, bliny can also be found at expensive, five-star restaurants and at coffee shops.