Food & drink discoveries: kissel and shchi

Believe it or not, after two and a half years in Russia, I tried two new traditional foods last weekend!

Kissel

Kissel is a drink made of fruit, usually berries. It reminded me a bit of mors, but it was thicker and chunkier. There were two options on the menu, a hot and a cold drink. Given the cold weather, I decided to go for the hot one. Good choice!

Kissel

Shchi

This is a soup whose name doesn’t only look impossible to pronounce, but actually is! (At least for me.) It’s written with the letter щ, and the difference with the letter ш still remains a mystery for me today. Anyway, the soup itself no longer is a mystery now! Shchi is a cabbage soup. It usually contains meat (what doesn’t in Russian cuisine?) but I went for a ‘Lenten’ (vegan) version with mushrooms. Very tasty!

Shchi

Advertisements

Happy Easter!

This year, orthodox Easter exceptionally falls on the same date as western Christian Easter. As you may know, the orthodox church still follows the Julian calendar, while all other Christians switched to the Gregorian calendar a couple of centuries ago.

Russian Easter traditions include church services and religious processions (of course), baking kulich (Easter bread) and painting eggs, which are traditionally dyed red, the colour of the blood of Christ, using onion peels.

easter2

On Easter Sunday, people greet each other with “Христос воскрес!” (Khristos voskres; Christ has risen) and reply “Воистину воскрес!” (Voistinu voskres; Truly He has risen). After that, they hug and kiss three times, for belief, hope and love.

Fortunately for most people participating it, but sadly for me, Easter also means the end of Lent. As I’ve written before, Lent is a real feast for veggies here, who are shamefully neglected the rest of the year. You can find some vegetarian products (like plant-based milk and dairy-free mayonnaise) in supermarkets, which are often marked as “постный” (Postnyi; Lenten) and most restaurants have a separate vegetarian Lenten menu.

Especially this year, I was very glad that in Russia, Lenten products and dishes are mostly even vegan instead of ‘just’ vegetarian as I set myself the challenge of not eating any animal products for 46 days. If you wonder how I managed not to starve, I invite you to have a look at my Instagram account.

Who knows maybe this was the start of long-term dietary change, like the Dagen Zonder Vlees (Days Without Meat) inspired me to go veggie a couple of years ago. However, I don’t think that’s very likely as long as we’re still in Russia, where you have to be very resourceful once Easter has passed…

Picture taken from here.

Surprising vegetable discovery: savoy cabbage

I was amazed to see savoy cabbages at the supermarket the other day. In Belgium this type of curly cabbage is very common, but I’d never seen it before in Russia. In fact, the vegetable is so rare and unknown here that they put up an information sign explaining what it is and why it is good for you. Funny, isn’t it? 🙂 Also strange that they had them on offer now, because in Belgium they’re typically known as a winter vegetable and although summer is slowly but surely coming to an end here, it’s definitely not wintertime yet.

IMG_20160902_161515.jpg

In general, the variety of vegetables (and fruits, too) in supermarkets here is extremely limited compared to what we’re used to in Belgium. Most vegetables that are sold are both local and seasonal, which is great for the environment, but not for a vegetarian’s nutritional needs, especially in winter! 🙂 I know, potatoes, onions, cabbage and beetroots have their merits too, but they get quite boring after a while … And anything else than that is usually not only of poor quality but also outrageously expensive. So we have to get creative: buy large quantities and freeze them, or use canned vegetables, or – a very Russian thing – go for pickled veggies! 🙂

Of course I bought a savoy cabbage right away and I’ll try it tonight using a recipe by Belgian chef Jeroen Meus with pasta, white beans and parmesan. Приятного аппетита!

Kartoshka, a delicious ‘potato’ dessert

I recently discovered a new Russian dessert, kartoshka. I had already seen it a few times before but I was a bit hesitant to try it because “kartoshka” translates as “potato”. Not my idea of a yummy ingredient for dessert!

But a few days ago I was at the Paveletsky train station in Moscow, where I had some time to kill and where I had lunch at Мама Раша (Mama Rasha), a Russian-cuisine self-service restaurant. I noticed the delicious-looking kartoshka right away but decided I should have something more nutritious  and took the buckwheat kasha with mushrooms and carrots. However, the portion was so small (not at all unusual here) that I was still hungry enough for dessert.

dav

And the kartoshka turned out just as delicious as it looked! It reminded me a bit of “koekjestaart” (“cookie pie”) and some online research revealed that its ingredients were indeed not much different: mainly cookies (or cake or even bread) and butter, completed with cocoa powder and condensed milk and sometimes powdered sugar, nuts and liqueur. You can find a recipe with cookies here, cake here and bread here.

So why do Russians call them “potatoes”? Apparently because they are supposed to look like potatoes. The Mama Rasha variant was not a very good example of this, but these are quite obvious 🙂

 

New: Belgian restaurant in Yaroslavl

Believe it or not (I didn’t when I first heard about it!) – there’s now a Belgian restaurant in Yaroslavl, called Брюгге (Bruges). I heard it was based on three principles: beer (obviously), mussels and waffles. Of course, we had to go and explore …

IMG_20160707_214004.jpg

Our first impression was quite good. Although it’s just opened its doors very recently, the place seems to be very hip. Most of the customers were very young and trendy (we felt a bit out of place, haha) and it was very crowded.

The restaurant has a very nice interior (and outside patio, too), decorated  with Belgian beer plaques and bottles, and some items probably bought on a flea market such as the tin box you can see in the picture below. And very loud music, which we didn’t really care for (especially because it wasn’t even Belgian! A missed opportunity …)

There was a TV screen on which they showed different documentaries on beer, but as far as we could see no Belgian ones. Another missed opportunity! It would have been very nice to show a little film about Belgium, e.g. one like this.

So far so good. But then we received the menu (which was only available in Russian, not really a big surprise for us anymore, but still a missed opportunity given it’s a Belgian restaurant – maybe I should offer my translation services 🙂 ) and we were quite entertained.

There were indeed a lot of beers (not all of which were Belgian, by the way) and there were mussels (in portions of 1kg or 0.5kg, served in a cute little mussel pots) and waffles. The strange thing about the waffles, however, was that there were two kinds: appetizer waffles, made of potatoes (!) and sweet waffles for dessert. Although it was described as a typical Belgian specialty, we had never heard of the first kind! So we had to try them. They came in two varieties: with cheese or with paté. Although their presentation wasn’t very appealing, they were actually quite delicious! Maybe we should introduce them in Belgium as well … 😉

IMG_20160707_204831.jpg

As main dishes, we ordered mussels (Mediterranean-style) and fries (for Wim) and fries and pepper stuffed with cheese (for me; needless to say there weren’t many vegetarian options). The latter was a bit disappointing, as I was expecting to get a side dish of vegetables, but it was actually only one small pepper stuffed with the same cheese as the waffle came with served on a piece of bread. It tasted pretty good, though. The fries were also good (very thin and crusty, just like I like them, and well-seasoned) but definitely not Belgian fries. One of their biggest missed opportunities!

As the portions were not Belgian but Russian-sized, too, we still had room for dessert. So we ordered the two varieties of sweet waffles: one with vanilla and one with caramel sauce. Not really Belgian either, by the way. We would have expected waffles with powdered sugar, or strawberries (although ours did have some small pieces of strawberry on them) or … – the biggest missed opportunity of all in my opinion! – with chocolate sauce!! Can’t believe they didn’t have that on the menu. But ours were pretty good too.

So all in all it was a very good experience for a Russian restaurant – especially the quality of the food and the nice interior – but a bit disappointing if you expect typically Belgian food. Fortunately we didn’t, because we had already heard that the owners weren’t Belgians but Russians who had just happened to have been to Belgium and liked the food. We’ll definitely be going again!

Russia’s love for ice cream

I heard on the radio that today is Ice Cream Day at GUM, a famous shopping centre on the Red Square in Moscow. Too bad I’m in Yaroslavl at the moment!

GUM is one of my favourite places in Moscow. Not for shopping – it only features exclusive stores with insane price tags – but because it is such an amazing building that’s always beautifully decorated depending on the season. Its architecture reminds me a bit of the Galéries royales St Hubert in Brussels. It was built before the Soviet era, at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s Stalin converted it into office space but in 1953, it reopened as a department store. Now it’s difficult to imagine the queues there must have been back then, because most of today’s luxury stores are empty nearly every time I go there.

Here’s a video showing what GUM looks like during the flower festival that’s going on right now.

Although I visit GUM almost every time I’m in Moscow, I had my first ice cream there only a couple of weeks ago. At first I didn’t know what a big deal it was to try an ice cream at GUM and by the time I had learnt about it, it was wintertime and my tongue was one of the only body parts that wasn’t frozen yet, which I wanted to keep that way. Now that’s a very un-Russian attitude because Russians love ice cream, whatever the season or the weather. You can find ice cream stands any time anywhere and they’re even selling ice cream on the train, all year round.

Russia’s love for ice cream dates back to the 1930s, when the first ice cream factory in Russia was opened after the Russian Ministry of Food Supply had visited the US. The idea was to create a mass-produced product at a reasonable price for everyone to enjoy. Ice cream was taken so seriously that a state-wide standard for manufacturing was introduced in 1941 to ensure its quality. According to the standard, the ice cream could include only natural ingredients and could contain no chemicals of any kind. These strict rules meant that the taste of the different types of ice cream available were the same everywhere, so it was very recognizable and therefore nostalgic for Russians today.

Many of the Soviet ice creams are still sold nowadays. The most legendary one is that from GUM, which traditionally comes in crème brûlée, chocolate or vanilla flavors and is served in a waffle cone. I tried the chocolate one (of course) and was pleasantly surprised. After having tasted fresh gelato in Italy, my expectations weren’t too high. But the taste was pretty good and very creamy. (Probably because of the high fat content but let’s forget about that!) And the best part of it? An ice cream only costs 50 rubles (about 60 eurocents). I think I’ll make an ice cream at GUM part of my standard routine when visiting Moscow!

Communism_Icecream-1024x682
Picture taken from http://www.fierceandfar.com

 

Looking for herring in Pereslavl

Two weekends ago, we went to explore Pereslavl, a small city about halfway from Yaroslavl to Moscow. It was actually a friend of us who wanted to go there because she was craving herring and as it happened there was a herring festival in Pereslavl on Sunday.

However, just like when we went to the sheep festival in Tutayev or the pancake festival (Maslenitsa) in Yaroslavl, where we didn’t see any sheep or pancakes, it was quite hard to find herring at the festival as well. 🙂  But the city was definitely worth a visit too.

We first stopped at the Kremlin, where we admired one of the oldest buildings in Russia, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour church dating back to 1152.

dav

Pereslavl’s kremlin is still surrounded by its original earthen city walls, which you can see in the background of the picture. We took a stroll on top and admired the view.

The other churches (three more!) on the Kremlin square weren’t really worth mentioning (we’re getting spoiled!), except maybe for the tent-roofed Church of Peter the Metropolitan.

dav

But the souvenir shops and stalls were quite nice. 🙂

dav

We then kind of ‘party-crashed’ a meeting of officials from Yaroslavl and Pereslavl (as the friend we were travelling with is a member of parliament of Yaroslavl). The ‘party’ soon moved from a restaurant to a Dutch-inspired bar specialised in … herring!

As the resemblance to anything authentically Dutch was a bit off and a herring restaurant wasn’t really the best place to be a vegetarian like me (but did you see that cute Russian bouncing castle?), I was happy we soon moved on to our last stop before returning to Yaroslavl: the beautiful Nikolsky monastery.

A bit more about Pereslavl herring

You aren’t a veggie and I’ve left you hungry for more info about herring? Sorry about that. 🙂 Here you go: Pereslavl is known for its herring thanks to Plescheyevo lake, which is home to ‘ryapushka’ or freshwater herring. The lake is also a former resort for Russian tsars, who liked the herring so much they made it one of the main courses at their official dinners. The city of Pereslavl’s coat of arms features two golden ryapushka on a black background:

Coat_of_Arms_of_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(Yaroslavl_oblast)

By the way, Plescheyevo lake is also where Peter the Great developed his obsession with the sea. When staying there on holiday as a teenager, he built a ‘toy flotilla’ of more than 100 little ships, including the so-called ‘Peter’s little boat’, which would be considered the forefather of the Russian fleet.

11144931_1042959055714400_8486877650044457265_o

(At the statue of Peter the Great in Moscow)