Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Russia, A Real Place -- Sunday in St. Petersburg

My friend Ryan lives in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), which I've heard is very nice. Everything I know about Russia is wildly inaccurate, as I gleaned most of it from Rocky IV. Ryan sets us straight with an account of a typical Sunday in the Motherland:

When I woke up on Sunday, my girlfriend Natasha said, “Someone has fallen in
love with you. Who is it?” Then she led me to the bathroom mirror and pointed
at a little pimple on the tip of my nose. It was the day’s first reminder (thankfully,
a cute one) that this is Russia and stuff is different.

Sometimes stuff that’s different comes out of the tap really hot, but kind
of brown, or it doesn’t want to rent you ice skates because you didn’t bring
a plastic bag for your shoes. At other moments, it makes you say, “Mmm” and
“Yum,” and the little voice that likes to ask, “What the hell are you doing
here?” takes a nap.

So, back to the pimple. The second early morning reminder that St. Louis,
Missouri is 4,852 miles away was...bliny! Bliny translates to pancakes, but
that’s a poor equivalent. A blin is basically a crepe, similarly enjoyed
with anything from honey to ham and cheese wrapped in its spongy embrace.
Natasha decided we’d try blin’s brother, oladi, for a change, who is more
pancake-like in his nature save one crucial difference: kefir. You know
that stuff that is only found in eclectic dairy sections and is supposedly
very good for digestion due to the presence of living bacteria (oh my god),
but tastes spoiled at its freshest? That’s the stuff. Kefir (400ml or about
2 cups) + 2 eggs + 9 spoons of flour (Natasha was oddly specific) + a little
sugar + a little salt = good pancakes. Top them off with some raspberry jam
and the condensed milk you were saving for your Vietnamese coffee and your
breakfast might look like this:

But why stop there when you spend most of your work week eating diminishing
portions of whatever you whipped up over the weekend? We hit our local
market, which, like all good markets, unabashedly greets you with certain
odors the supermarkets assume you just can’t handle. No feet or
miscellaneous organs today, thank you. We made a beeline for the fish lady,
who sold us some red caviar and pickled herring without smiling at all.

Back in our kitchen we cracked a beer, buttered some bread and got generous
with the caviar.

This midday indulgence pumped us up for the task at hand, the culminating
dish of the day, which the Russians call, “seliodka pod shube,” and we will
happily refer to as, “herring under a fur coat.” To make this masterpiece,
you get your girlfriend, Natasha, to do the fancy knife work with the fish,
removing all those annoying little bones while you focus on the
no-less-honorable assignment of boiling some potatoes, carrots, and beets
until soft (but not too soft!). Natasha renders our fishy friend into tiny cubes while
I shred the veggies.

Everything then goes into a big bowl in this order: carrots, potatoes, diced
onions, herring, beets, mayonnaise (you thought we’d forget), beets,
mayonnaise. Then refrigerate until the mayonnaise turns red (like blood).

Bliny and caviar are for tourists. Get a spoon, dig into this, and you
might be Russian by the end of the year.



Edan said...

Yum. Natasha can come stay with us anytime!

Anonymous said...

Order doesnt matter that much- most people put the herring on the bottom- and where are the onions? I put dill in the mayo and axe the carrots. Anyhow endless possibilities (sort of) . To be Russian you should master borscht (which is actually Ukranian) so i guess you should master our amazing cabbage soup (sarcasm- i hate that stuff) Anyways, I am from the motherland but live here in USA, and was just googling images of herring under fur coat because i am making some right now :)

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