Thursday, November 6, 2008

Russian to Rushin

Though we've been back for less than a week, our trip to Russia already seems like a distant memory. The inability to sleep past 5:30 a.m. and a constant hankering for borscht are the strongest reminders that we've just returned. Of course we also have a ton of pictures and some great memories of our trip, both of which will remain long after I've fully adjusted back to US east coast time.

And while the memories are still fresh, we thought we'd dedicate the new few entries to sharing our experiences visiting Moscow....starting with my most favorite topic, food. We believe this option will be much preferred by our readers to the alternative--which would be entries that detail the million last minutes projects Kevin and I have been immersed in so that we can get Cielo back in the water and start moving south before we freeze to death...but if anyone would like to read about how I spent the day organizing canned goods, please let me know.

Lost in translation
Anyone who knows Kevin knows that he tends to be hungry most of the time, so finding good snack food is always a priority for us. In Moscow, one of Kevin's favorite snacks was a hotdog-like sandwich that was sold from some of the kiosks lining the city's busy downtown streets. The dog was served either in a bun or a tortilla and came with fillings that could include pickles, bacon bits, vingary mayonaise and mashed potatoes. There was one day when Kevin got them all. Though the dogs themselves were certainly a draw, it was the name on the kiosks selling the dogs that first caught our attention...it seems that just as the Chevy "Nova" suffered in Spanish speaking countries, the Cyrillic lettering for "star dogs" would have to change before these tasty treats could have any chance in the US...because mashed potatoes and pickles aside, I'm not sure that "crap dogs" would be a hit.


So as always, Kevin and I thoroughly enjoyed sampling street food, but we also ate in lots of fantastic restaurants during our time in Russia. Dina mentioned to us that restaurant dining was quite rare for people in Russia when she was growing up but it seems that since the fall of communism, Russians have wasted no time in opening a huge variety of restaurants. Though we mostly stuck to dining out at Russian restaurants, we were also able to get our fill of sushi as surprisingly (at least to me) it's all the rage in Moscow. I would estimate that every third restaurant had a sushi bar and just about all of them were packed day and night. There was also lots of traditional Russian food to be eaten. Our favorites included borscht served in a bread bowl, savory dumplings filled with ground meat and broth and perfectly cooked potatoes served with herring. We also sampled both meat and fish "jelly" which is basically either meat or fish encased in gelatin, which looks gross but is actually pretty tasty. Food is without doubt expensive, but just about everything we tried was really, really good.

So I think about my next drink

And then there was the vodka...lots and lots and lots of vodka. Based on my experiences, I can report that the notion that Russians drink a fair amount of straight vodka is understated at best. Though some restaurants now served mixed drinks (nothing like an ice-free vodka tonic), the majority of folks tend to order some quantity of vodka, drink it straight and chase it with beer and "zakuski" which means "little bites". Zakuski can range from salted cucumbers to crepes with caviar and this type of food (along with a decent amount of vodka) generally makes up the first course of any proper Russian meal. In addition to zakuski, Russians also like toasts with their vodka, and it took both me and Kevin a while to realize that while we may look a bit rude to not down a shot with every toast made, we'd certainly die if we did. After about three days of trying to keep up, I switched to "piva", which is beer and fared somewhat better, though I have concluded after this trip that nowhere in my lineage do I have any Russian ancestors...and if I do, they're likely highly disappointed.

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