Russia Real Food Tour

20190828_194051When I announced that I was going on a food tour in Russia friends and family rolled their eyes and said things like ‘ you will be eating a lot of bortch then ‘ or ‘cabbage rolls and potatoes’ and ‘ vodka and herring. ‘  ‘Oh’ I said ‘all of that and so much more’ and I proved them wrong!

I will blog later about the food we ate from hotel breakfasts….tomato, cucumber, cheese (always cheese), olives, meats, breads, boiled eggs, to the meals we had in st Petersburg where we tried some excellent Georgian food….khachapuri and kinkali. Actually I think the Georgian food we had in Russia was better than we had in Georgia…but that is a big call!

Our first trip dinner was a memorable and to give you an idea of food we ate I will give you a small taste of that meal.  We started with savoury cheese cake with caramelized onion, porcini caviar, bruschetta with chanterelles, chicken liver pate and beetroot hummus.  Main courses included venison, beef, lamb, halibut and pikeperch which I had!  No bortch or cabbage rolls here.

The following morning we toured a local market which is always a great place to start any food tour.  We tried cheese, honey, all sorts of pickled and fermented food.  Yes a lot of cucumbers either pickled overnight with a lot of dill and the cucumbers we see here in vast jars.   Then not for the faint hearted there was horse, bear and deer, all of which were made into a type of salami and sliced thinly.  There was gingerbread and meringue and a biscuit which I had seen on a Russian blog Ifollow which was in the shape of a walnut with a filling of caramelized condensed milk.   Yes….condensed milk is popular especially on crepes with delicious home made jam.

Then it was onto lunch in the suburbs by metro with a family in a Soviet apartment.  Yes up six flights of stairs to be met by our charming hostess.  The table was spread with a beetroot salad, a tomato, cucumber and onion one which appeared at every meal, rye bread and herring and a bowl of local apples.  Did I mention the vodka of which there were two varieties.  And our first taste of the famous beetroot  soup which is traditional served with sour cream and dill. Herbs are very popular in Russia I was to discover.  A lot of dill but parsley and surprisingly coriander (cilantro).  This was followed by a lot of boiled potatoes with a type of meat stew ( the type of meat was not given!  Maybe beef? Or horse!  Crepes were offered for dessert with yes….condensed milk and/ or jam.  The crepes were excellent and it was hard to stop at one and yes they were homemade. Vodka was taken with various toasts and singing!

Then onto our next adventure!  An overnight train journey in a 2nd class carriage.  I have travelled on overnight night trains before….in Vietnam, Turkey and even India so I was sure it would be a breeze and it was especially as I had a bottom bunk in our cabin for four.  What was the worst thing that could happen? guessed it.  I was sleeping opposite a snorer who not only kept me awake but the occupants in the next cabin.  But we had facilities in each carriage and even a bar on board which served warm Russian beer and the cold imported variety.

Our train was due to arrive at 3.42am at our destination and it was on time.  A 40 minute drive to our destination by private bus and we were  in Suzdal.  Our accommodation was described as a guesthouse which is a broad term even by Russian standards.  We had one bathroom with toilet for 12 people which was a challenge but perhaps a bigger one was not even sharing a bedroom with five others but the steps leading up to our accommodation as there was no handrail leading up and down.   So it was less dangerous to crawl up and down the stairs.  Occupational health and safety was not an option here.  But it was in the kitchen downstairs where we had our Masterclass (formerly called cooking class)  in making bortch. I think we would have enjoyed learning how the make the sweet yeasted buns for breakfast or the egg and cheese ones served with our dinner.  When we enquired about the recipe for these we were told they would be sent to us.  Still waiting!  After all grating beetroot and carrot, chopping onion as we did for our bortch was not exactly what we were expecting.  I did enquire if canned beetroot was ever used in their soup but my question was instantly dismissed.  We did however discover a very good supermarket near our hotel in st Petersburg where one could purchase everything from freshly made salads,  great bread and a variety of vodka of course.

There were some positive aspects about Suzdal.   Very pretty churches and an interesting town walk, some lovely souvenir shopping including a purchase of a set of handpainted Russian dolls and some Christmas decorations. The interesting architecture of local houses with lots of carved timber.  Some delicious porcini soup and potato cakes with sour cream and caviar.

And another train ride.  Well it was two actually with another overnight one and you guessed it.  I got to share with the snorer but I did have the bottom bunk!  When one travels overnight one misses the scenery one would normally see during the day but Russia is a huge country and it is a convenient way to travel.

Welcome to Kazan!

Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan, a region somewhat independent from the rest of Russia and home to the Tatars.  After our town walk in freezing cold and visiting the Kremlin (the government equivalent) and the Kut Sharif Mosque we stopped in a Soviet style canteen for some excellent and remarkably inexpensive food to warm us up. A delicious broth accompanied a meat and vegetable pie with a slice of a tart for dessert.  All this for a few dollars.

Ivan the Terrible conquered the city of Kazan and the Tatar became the first Muslim subjects of the Russian Empire.  And it was a traditional Tatar family we visited the following day who preserved the way of life. For them it was the first time they had welcomed a group of Intrepid visitors.  They were extremely hospitable and generous.  We had a guide to help with translation as they spoke no English.  The table was laden with fresh flowers and food.  The matriarch of the family showed us the family tree which goes back seven generations.   We were entertained by the cutest five year old grandson who recited a poem, danced with his seven year old sister (she in traditional costume) and finally a song played on his button accordian.  I will write a blog in more detail about this wonderful experience with this Tatar family in Kazan.

But then we were off to Moscow from Kasan with Air Siberian or Siberian Air a short flight but an impressive one from the point of comfort and inflight snack of cheese and ham croissant with coffee or tea.  I reflected on a previous internal flight in Australia which was a longer flight where $4  was charged for either some water or tea/coffee!  After our visit to Moscow we flew to Yerevan,  Armenia where on Aeroflot we had a similar positive experience in spite of unkind comments about both airlines.  Go Siberian Air and Aeroflot!

We were excited to arrive in Moscow.  Our hotel was in an affluent area with imported cars in the street that one may see in expensive suburbs in larger wealthier cities around the world.  Yes this was in Moscow.  Our guide took us to a local restaurant with food that could be in any cafe.  It was here that I sampled Russian honeycake which was my favourite dessert in Russia.  It looked complicated but I think it is something that I must try to reproduce for a special occasion soon.

20190830_220346After a long walk around some of the sights of Moscow (including a visit to the very first McDonalds where only roubles (the Russian currency) were accepted.  In the foyer there was a photo of the day when the ‘ restaurant ‘ opened with queues round several blocks.  It reminded me of queues when a well known donut chain opened in Sydney!

Our evening was a vodka tasting one.  Well we were in Russia after.  There were three different bars which were all quite unique.  In a future blog I will write about the three different alcohol tastings we experienced (vodka tasting in Russia, brandy in Armenia and wine in Georgia).  But I will say that there were several ‘ interesting’ vodkas we sampled including those with garlic, ginger, horseradish and pine cone. These were perhaps more medicinal though the fruit flavors were more to our liking…think raspberry,  strawberry and blackberry).

The final full day of our Russian food tour and it was to be to the Lenin Mausoleum but predictably it was closed but there was still Red Square, St Basils and the Kremlin’s Armoury Chamber. Here there ranged treasures including ceremonial garments, carriages and armour.  This was a guided tour with a local guide who did not give us ample time to enjoy many of the artifacts.  And sadly we were forbidden to take photographs which was a disappointment as it is a great reminder of what we have glimpsed.  Also there was disappointment that the number of tickets available for the Diamond Fund that day was sold out. Tourism is big business in both st Petersburg and Moscow and we were in Russia in late summer and not the high season.

Our farewell dinner and I finally got to try beef stroganoff… a Russian staple.  Our was served with buckwheat which was served a popular choice with many dishes.

One last piece of honeycake and visit to the Moscow’s underground with some superb stations and very deep escalators.  Simply stunning as we said goodbye with an early wakeup call booked for 5 am so we were off to Yerevan in Armenia for more food adventures.







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