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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Great Russian Adventure - 3


When in a foreign land, it is a blessing to be guided in the choosing of restaurants. Georgian cuisine is popular in Moscow and St Petersburg, we discovered, and our first dinner in Moscow was in a superb restaurant called Argo. We started the meal with a drink with a liquorice flavour called TAR XUN. We enjoyed chicken in a sauce called CA SI VE. Meat, SHASHLIK, cooked on skewers and served with tiny dishes of sauces for dipping, and bread baked with cheese and an egg – looking like a fried egg – in the middle, for tearing and sharing. Finished with Baklava. Spelled with a P.

In other Georgian restaurants we enjoyed meats cooked in walnut sauces, unusual and delicious.

We were treated to traditional Russian breakfasts cooked skilfully by Ksenia: fried eggs with ham, black bread, cheese and meat and tea. Other mornings we had BLINI, traditional pancakes. In Tver, we enjoyed caviar on bread spread thickly with butter first. We did notice there is a fondness in Russia for sour cream and other dairy products.

One evening we visited a popular workers’ cafeteria. We each took a number and when it was our turn, we chose from a spread of unusual (to us) dishes. Salads are layered and served up like lasagne, usually without a lettuce leaf in sight. Liver and other offal are enjoyed (one menu even offered entrails!), and seaweed salad. 

We started a meal in one restaurant with exotic little patties made of spinach, beetroot or green beans and served with sour cream. Eggplant (aubergine), rolled up and sliced thin and then grilled. Washed down with Georgian vodka.

Not everything was delicious. We made one big mistake in Gorky Park, when, on our own, we ordered what we thought sounded nice, but spent the next hour or two regretting our choices. Lamb pancakes. Chicken in a sort of thick white soup with a bit of what looked like curry powder floating listlessly by. 

Our final meal in Moscow was at Cafe Pushkin and was memorable. I tried Kvass, the Russian drink made from fermented black bread. The less said about it the better. Then I had borscht which, given my lifelong aversion to beets, I didn’t expect to like. It was delicious, one of the best soups I’ve ever had. Then on to duck which was sliced, served with some cherries, sauce, ravioli stuffed with pate, and a cherry risotto. It was a work of art on a plate. I finished with pistachio crème brulee which again was gorgeously served, flamed at the table by the waiter.

We all have different tastes. What is delicious to one person is awful to another. In the year the Berlin Wall came down, an aunt and uncle of mine took a trip through Russia and Germany (bringing us pieces of concrete from the broken wall). They arrived here starving, declaring that the Russian food was terrible.

I didn’t expect Russian food to be a highlight of the trip, but in fact it was wonderful.  As were our friends, guiding us through the menus.

Gathering round a table of food is such a universal way of sharing lives with other people. Jesus did it so much he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Perhaps people would say that about us.

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