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eG Foodblog: Alinka - Not Just Borsch: Eating in Moscow

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#1 Alinka

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 11:41 PM

Good morning everyone! Time flies incredibly fast: when Susan offered me to keep a blog right after we moved to Moscow in the end of May, I did not want to say no, but I did not feel ready and asked if I could do it sometime at the end of summer, like August. Before I knew it, my blog week is here!

So… A week of blogging from Russia, how exciting! Let me tell you how this happened. My American husband and I met in Russia when we were students, and got married 10 years ago. So I moved to States to be with him. Last year Shawn landed a job which eventually took him to Russia. In May he was offered to stay in Moscow long-term, and very fortunately my company was also able to offer me a job in our Moscow office.

These two months of adjusting to the new life have been interesting, to say the least. I was expecting what they call a “reverse cultural shock,” which people experience when they move back to their home country. But I would say, to me it almost seems like I have simply moved to a new country, the language and customs of which I happen to know. Believe me, Russia has become a new country in the 10 years I’ve been away (and I have become a different person, too). Additionally, I have never lived in Moscow and am just getting to know the city. My new job is also a lot different from what I used to do before, more demanding and with much longer hours. Just to keep things interesting, life threw in another surprise: a few days after we decided to move to another country, we found out we are going to have a baby!

When I think about introducing you to Moscow in a culinary sense, I get overwhelmed: there are so many things to see and do (and eat), and there are so many misconceptions about what’s available here that I don’t know where to begin. But, as they say, one cannot embrace the boundless, so I will not attempt. I will simply invite you to spend my usual week with me, with no weddings, Passovers, visits to wineries, or other special events planned. I think even that should be plenty interesting :smile:. And, as good tourists, we will assume we will return: hopefully, in a year or so I will be able to invite you to another blogging week in Moscow which will be completely different as I will be offering the view of a seasoned Moscovite :smile:.

Well… What a long introduction! And you are probably just waiting for the pictures. Then, we shall begin with… breakfast!

Before we do that, a short notice: since English is not my native tongue, I am sure I will make a lot of mistakes, but we’ll just consider them my quaint Eastern European accent, won’t we? :wink: And, my name is Alina, but I used the diminutive form of my name because Alina was already taken when I was registering. Either one is fine.

Oh, and please ask plenty of questions: we can make this blog whatever we want, and your questions will shape what will be talking about.

#2 tejon

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 11:48 PM

So excited to finally see you blogging! I'm looking forward to the beautiful pictures to follow. I'd love to see as much as possible of Moscow and "typical" foods eaten by those around you as well as your own daily fare, if possible. Fascinating to look at a different part of the world and see what's different and what is the same.
Kathy

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#3 Lady T

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 11:49 PM

:cool:

I'm particularly curious about the way marketing has changed over the years you were gone. If shop owners aren't uncomfortable about pictures, I for one would love to see some store interiors. Hope that's possible for you.

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#4 Alinka

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 12:43 AM

So excited to finally see you blogging! I'm looking forward to the beautiful pictures to follow. I'd love to see as much as possible of Moscow and "typical" foods eaten by those around you as well as your own daily fare, if possible. Fascinating to look at a different part of the world and see what's different and what is the same.

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Thanks Kathy! We'll see if others will not mind me sticking my camera in their plates :smile:.

:cool:

I'm particularly curious about the way marketing has changed over the years you were gone.  If shop owners aren't uncomfortable about pictures, I for one would love to see some store interiors.  Hope that's possible for you.

:biggrin:

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I'll try to take pictures inside stores. They look pretty much the same as those elsewhere in Europe. I'm afraid I won't be able to offer a fair comparison just because I never lived in Moscow, and as every Russian knows the capital city is almost a different country.

By the way, I see a few Russian names in the list of the members reading this blog. I'd like to invite everyone to participate. Also, a small disclaimer: my view of Moscow and its food is very subjective and is no way meant to offend anyone. Comparison with the US is inevitable.

So... Back to our breakfast. This morning I had tvorog - cottage-cheese looking substance that is drier, less creamy and more tart. It is sold in containers like this, for example:

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They sell it in some stores in the States, too. There it is sometimes labeled "farmer's cheese." I added some sour cream and wild strawberries pureed with sugar:

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Wild strawberries are much smaller than the garden variety, but they have a lot more flavor. Shawn had his daily cereal of course (today it was Special K):

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As custom requires, a couple of shots of my kitchen:

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It looks bare because I do not like clutter on the counters. I'm fortunate to have a full-size dishwasher.

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Notice a round jar near the water bottle. I had a jar exactly like this one in Houston which I bought in Ikea to store bread. Well, this one was bought in the Moscow Ikea store, and it's used for the exact same purpose!

Now, a couple of views from our window. Unfortunately, the weather is kind of rainy today.

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#5 Pan

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 02:29 AM

Alina, I have looked forward to a blog by you for ages! Have a wonderful time. Your English is excellent, and your photography is marvellous!

Lately, I've had the idea of trying to find a satisfying blintz in New York. Are blintzes part of Muscovite cuisine? What about varenniki, is that a common thing to eat there? I'm wondering how much overlap there is between the Eastern European Jewish cuisine I know from my Ukranian/Polish/Lithuanian background and today's Muscovite cuisine. Some other foodstuffs from my childhood are compote (made by my Ukranian Baba), pastrami, stuffed cabbage, borsht (as per your subtitle), shchav, latkes (potato pancakes), split pea soup, flanken (flank steak) or bone soup, chicken soup -- well, I think you get the picture. :wink:

Where are you from, by the way?

#6 Swisskaese

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 03:10 AM

Hi Alina,

I am looking forward to seeing Moscow. I haven't been there for 11 years and I know it has changed 180 degrees.

Happy blogging.

#7 Anna Skigin

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 03:25 AM

Hi Alina,
I'll promise to visit your blog every day - I'm sure you'll make it very interesting. I love your stories and your great pictures. It's great that you've agreed to start this!

#8 Chufi

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 03:35 AM

Hi Alina!
I am so excited about this blog.

Is it a coincedence that yesterday I bought the Dutch translation of the 1861 Russian cookbook by Elena Molokhovets - A gift to young housewives? Do you know it?

I hope to see some Russian cooking this week, and maybe some of your gorgeous baking. But anything you do will be great! Have fun blogging!

#9 johnnyd

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 04:37 AM

I've never been to Moscow. How fascinating! Thank you for foodblogging this week Alina.
Johnnyd
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#10 Susan in FL

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 06:00 AM

Absolutely wonderful so far Alina, as I knew it would be, and as everyone who knows your posts would expect from you! I hope you enjoy this as much as all the rest of us.
Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

#11 Abra

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 06:36 AM

Wow, this is really an awesome time for you - a whole new life, all at once. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

I spent a week in Moscow about 12 years ago, and I know that practically everything has changed since then. For one thing, there were virtually no restaurants at that time, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how restaurant culture has developed. I was there at exactly this time of year, and one of the best things I got to do was go for mushroms in the forest. Any chance you'll be doing that?

#12 C. sapidus

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 06:55 AM

Alina: I’m looking forward to tales of Moscow and to your wonderful pictures. Congratulations on the impending family addition. Our two sons are from Russia, so we spent few jet-lagged days in Moscow each trip. I have very fond food memories from Russia, and I am still haunted by the delicious aromas that emanated from Russian pastry shops wherever we went.

Moscow is huge – can you give a general idea of where you are? Any tips for making shashlik (including what fish to substitute for sturgeon in the US)? Any tips on making Russian fruit-filled pastries?

How many diminutives are there for Alina?

Edited by C. sapidus, 06 August 2006 - 06:56 AM.


#13 Pille

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 08:27 AM

Hi Alinka, very much looking forward to reading your foodblog! Though I've been to St Petersburg several times, I've never been to Moscow, so it's interesting to hear about your food-related stories from that city.
Although the cuisines are different, there are still plenty of common elements in Estonian & Russian food, so I expect to read about some familiar dishes. How exciting!!!
I like your breakfast, curd cheese/tvorog is very popular back home, too. I also had wild strawberries in Estonia a fortnight ago - I picked them myself in the forst :rolleyes: - and miss them already! It would be interesting to read about the wide choice of wild mushrooms & berries available on a daily basis to Muscovites. There are so many Russian dishes I would like to read about - solyanka, kulebjaka, strogonov, ikra, etc etc, but I guess I must wait until your follow-up blog next year :unsure:
Also, congratulations on the baby news!

#14 MarketStEl

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 08:59 AM

Now this sounds like a real treat--a (sort-of-)insider's guide to Moscow!

I'd like to hear from you just how the city has changed in the decade or so since you last lived there. I'm sure the experience of shopping for food has changed dramatically from what it was like in Soviet days, and I'd like to see and hear how.

How is food produced and distributed now that the days of the collective farm are past? What's gotten better, and what (if anything) has gotten worse?

And what does the menu at the local McDonald's look like? :wink:

Also, you must do us weary Stateside commuters a favor and post one photo of the interior of a Moscow Metro station. The more ornate, the better.

You got the kitchen shot out of the way quickly, but what's inside that fridge?
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#15 Daniel

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 09:26 AM

Alinka,

Congratulations on the good news! Looking forward to seeing Moscow.. Have a great time..

#16 racheld

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 09:29 AM

I'm so delighted you're blogging!! I love the IDEA of Moscow, from childhood reading---troikas and furs and dashes through the snow; always, always I imagined the sound of bells in the air---to histories, to the arts and literature and all that food! Your glorious photography will do justice to the steam and the colours---the crumb of a loaf, the shine of chocolate, and just the enticing array of your dishes. Your eye combined with a camera lens: forces to be reckoned with.

Your kitchen looks brand-new, like your life-change---a ready, clean white canvas for painting wonderful things. I'm SO looking forward to hearing about your week.
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#17 MelissaH

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 09:42 AM

Hi Alinka,

I'm very much looking forward to seeing your week. And I second Pan's request to know where you came from. I'm curious about the comparisons between Moscow now, and other places you have lived.

When I think of Moscow, I think of cold dark snowy days, since you're way north. But as it's August, I hope you're getting a little sunlight. What time does the sun come up? And when does it get dark again, this time of year?

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#18 Alinka

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 09:46 AM

Wow, I did not expect such a response! Lots of questions for me to answer now, but I asked for them, didn't I? :smile: Thanks for your support and ecouragement. And for your congratulations :wub: :smile:.

Let me tell you quickly about the rest of my day, so that you have some pictures to look at while I am answering questions.

My mom and my 7-year-old nephew were visiting us for a week. It was a fun and busy week as we were trying to show them as much of Moscow as we could. This whole week my mom did all the cooking, and she was regretful that my blogging week did not happen last week because she could show us all kinds of Russian home cooking. Today was their last day here, so she cooked a couple of dishes to make sure they last us for a couple of days.

For lunch, we had one of my favorites: plov. I was born in Kyrgyzstan where my parents grew up (although mom was born in Siberia). My family moved to Russia when I was 12 but there are still several dishes native to Central Asia that we in my family like. One of them is plov, a rice/carrot/lamb dish that is traditionally cooked in Uzbekistan, in heavy Dutch-oven-like pots. Mom made an easier variation of it, using chicken thighs instead of lamb.

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My favorite way to eat it is with tomato and onion salad, so that the rice soaks up the juice from the salad:

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We still had a few hours to kill before my mom's and nephew's train departure (it's a 72-hour train ride) so we went for a walk in the park and did some window shopping. Mom wanted me to take this picture:

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Then we came across my nephew's favorite dining establishment of which there are unfortunately plenty in this city:

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McDonald's... Making kids happy worldwide.

This one is for MarketStEl (and no, I didn't know you were going to ask!):

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So... They are gone, and the apartment feels empty. But here's another thing left from their visit: mom's borsch for supper (it's in the title, so we have to see it here at least once, don't we? :smile:)

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I shared a recipe for borsch once here. This time though mom did use beets.

Edited by Alinka, 06 August 2006 - 11:24 AM.


#19 suzilightning

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 10:02 AM

Wow what a beautiful dish of borsch - i can almost taste it over here.
your kitchen cabinets match those i had in my first house...who would have thought?
i'm especially interested in any american foods you have become accustomed to that you seek out or make in your new hometown.
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#20 Alinka

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 10:34 AM

Are blintzes part of Muscovite cuisine? What about varenniki, is that a common thing to eat there? I'm wondering how much overlap there is between the Eastern European Jewish cuisine I know from my Ukranian/Polish/Lithuanian background and today's Muscovite cuisine. Some other foodstuffs from my childhood are compote (made by my Ukranian Baba), pastrami, stuffed cabbage, borsht (as per your subtitle), shchav, latkes (potato pancakes), split pea soup, flanken (flank steak) or bone soup, chicken soup -- well, I think you get the picture. :wink:

Where are you from, by the way?

View Post

Blintzes is the word I first heard in the US. In Russia, we call them blini or blinchiki. They look like crepes and can be stuffed with tvorog, meat, liver+rice, etc., or eaten plain, with jam, sour cream, butter, condensed milk, etc. These days, there are blini kiosks all over the city, offering fast, cheap and filling food of blinis stuffed with anything from Nutella to smoked salmon and caviar. For some reason, the type stuffed with cheese and ham is called "Internet" :hmmm:.

Posted Image

Regarding your question about the overlap between Eastern European Jewish cuisine and modern Russian cuisine, it's hard to tell. I'm sure there is some, just by the virtue of geographical proximity (Russians also have stuffed cabbage, borsch, compot, and chicken soup) but I think the Western idea of the Russian cuisine was formed by the massive emigration of the Jewish population to the West and does not truly reflect the current situation. Besides, Russian cuisine evolved in a different direction even for the simple reason that Russian housewives had to find ways to adapt to the shortages during the Soviet time and still provide their families with nutritious meals. Again, this is just my subjective view; I am not a food historian. Split pea soup, latkes, pastrami or flank steak are not common in Russian home kitchens, at least as far as I can tell. Shchav is probably the dish we call "green borsch" because the Russian word shchavel means "sorrel."

It is really difficult for me to speak for the entire country because Russia is so huge that there are bound to be regional variations. Besides, it's important to remember that ethnic Russians constute only a portion of the population. The Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics not to mention different ethnic groups within Russia. There was (is) a lot of sharing and mingling of traditions and cuisines.

You also mentioned vareniki. I did talk about them a little here.

There was a quesition of my background. I was born in Kyrgyzstan and lived there for the first 12 years of my life. I graduated from high school in Kamchatka, Russian Far East (across the Bering Strait from Alaska), and went to college in Pyatigorsk, which is located in the south of Russia, Northern Caucasus to be precise. My parents now live in the Krasnodar Region which is not far from the Black Sea. My mom's family comes from Siberia, and my dad's family is from Voronezh which is in central Russia.

#21 johnnyd

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 10:44 AM

Lovely photographs. Looks delicious. Must make plov... today!
"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

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#22 Alinka

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 11:16 AM

Is it a coincedence that yesterday I bought the Dutch translation of the 1861 Russian cookbook by Elena Molokhovets - A gift to young housewives? Do you know it?

View Post

Hi Klary! I have heard about the book but I have never seen it. Just recently I read an article about it in one of Moscow’s English language expat magazines, and I thought it was interesting. My impression was though that the recipes are not easy to follow and use the ingredients that no longer exist. The author’s opinion was that nobody heard of the book during the Soviet times because it could remind the population of the times past when there was no shortage of anything. I now want to at least look through the book, I’m sure it can be found in any bookstore.

I spent a week in Moscow about 12 years ago, and I know that practically everything has changed since then.  For one thing, there were virtually no restaurants at that time, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how restaurant culture has developed.  I was there at exactly this time of year, and one of the best things I got to do was go for mushroms in the forest.  Any chance you'll be doing that?

View Post

There are lots and lots of restaurants now, virtually on every corner. From cheap to outrageously expensive, from minimalist to lavishly decorated… I can’t think of a cuisine that wouldn’t be represented. We’ll probably talk more about Moscow’s restaurant scene later. As to mushroom and berry picking, we did some of that when we visited our friends’ dacha but I am not a connoisseur, so I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a poisonous mushroom and an edible one.

While we are on the subject of dachas :smile:... Dacha is an important part of Moscow and indeed Russian life. It’s a house in the country (ranging from a shack to a huge mansion, depending on the family’s income) where people go on weekends or on vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle of the huge megapolis. Many people have vegetable gardens and orchards there which they use to supplement their grocery needs. On Friday nights the traffic on the roads leading out of the city is terrible due to the mass exodus. A couple of weeks ago we spent a weekend at a friends’ dacha which we enjoyed immensely as this was our first chance to get out of the city. We grilled some meat and fish there, had wine and beer (ok, I didn’t :rolleyes: :biggrin:) and picked red and black currants and raspberries from their garden. There is nothing like eating warm berries straight from the bush! Here are some photos from that weekend: http://silverbelle.fotki.com/dacha Susan used some for her teaser photos. By the way, MarketStEl gets the prize for guessing the country correctly :biggrin:.

#23 Alinka

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 11:30 AM

For some reason, some of the photos do not show on my screen. I hope I am the only one experiencing these problems.

It's getting late here so we will have to continue tomorrow. Thanks again to everyone for you kind words - you guys are a great crowd!

#24 Chufi

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 11:56 AM

Is it a coincedence that yesterday I bought the Dutch translation of the 1861 Russian cookbook by Elena Molokhovets - A gift to young housewives? Do you know it?

View Post

Hi Klary! I have heard about the book but I have never seen it. Just recently I read an article about it in one of Moscow’s English language expat magazines, and I thought it was interesting. My impression was though that the recipes are not easy to follow and use the ingredients that no longer exist. The author’s opinion was that nobody heard of the book during the Soviet times because it could remind the population of the times past when there was no shortage of anything. I now want to at least look through the book, I’m sure it can be found in any bookstore.

View Post


the Dutch translation doesn't have any weird ingredients, but it's not an integral translation. It does have some directions though that I don't see myself doing in my city apartment.... like "feed your chicken some vinegar and kill it one hour later" ... :wacko:

#25 Gruzia

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 12:40 PM

Alina, I'm so excited about this blog and congradulations on your pregnancy! Zhelayu vam vsevo lychshevo!
So, I have a request: I'm from Kiev so i don't know if it's the same in Moscow, but one of the things I missed most when we came to US was the bread! Could you do a little photo/visit or something to a bakery and show some bread? Extra points if you find Ukrainian chernyi xleb! And, bybliki!!!

#26 racheld

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 01:12 PM

The photos were wonderful---it must be a lovely thought in a hurried week to know that timeless place is there, just waiting to bring calm and content.

I think my favourite picture is the fence with its cloak of vines, the tendrils hanging on to that weathered wood, reaching for as much as they can, for as long as light and warmth last, to grow that last tiny bit, reaching for sun and sustenance. Lovely weekend, I'm sure, and we enjoyed it with you.

The sauna looked particularly welcome, warm weather or no; is the custom to share? Hot rocks or just baths?

And speaking of baths, both bowls of borscht are particularly DIVE-worthy, with no coming up til time to depart for that enchanting dascha. My movie-fed mind still recalls the frost patterns on the windows of Lara and Yuri's country house, as well as the sea of yellow which greeted them in the spring.

And if you made pictures of your Mom cooking, it's not too late---we'd love to see.
Fairy tea has its own magic, for it never does run out;
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#27 MarketStEl

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 02:11 PM

I never learned Russian, but I did subscribe to Soviet Life when I was in high school, and I did learn what the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet were through collecting Soviet postage stamps, among others, at about the same time.

I'm guessing that the menu you shot at that McDonald's was their "Happy Meals" based on that limited knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet. (Looks like an attempt to transliterate the English words into Russian.)

That borscht looked fabulous!
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#28 Kim Shook

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 05:39 PM

Alinka, I am so glad to see that you are blogging! I love reading your posts on the dinner thread and your photos are just inspiring! Can't wait to enjoy a (vicarious) week in Moscow! Congratulations on you coming blessing!

#29 ludja

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 06:08 PM

...

So... They are gone, and the apartment feels empty. But here's another thing left from their visit: mom's borsch for supper (it's in the title, so we have to see it here at least once, don't we? :smile:)

Posted Image

I shared a recipe for borsch once here. This time though mom did use beets.

View Post


Already enjoying your blog immensely, Alinka; and congratulations on the upcoming addition to your family!

Thank you for linking to your previously posted borscht recipe. For the beet version, would that posted recipe be approached the same except for the addition of beets or would some of the ingredients be omitted? Perhaps the beets are boiled in the stock after the potatoes are cooked and removed?

Thank you again for sharing your week with us!
"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

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#30 Pan

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 06:16 PM

[...]Shchav is probably the dish we call "green borsch" because the Russian word shchavel means "sorrel."

View Post


Indeed. Shchav is made from sheep sorrel and sour cream is mixed in. And of course, there's plenty of that wonderful northern European herb, dill. My father likes shchav; I find it very sour but not bad in small sips. Any of several varieties of borsht is more my style.

It is really difficult for me to speak for the entire country because Russia is so huge that there are bound to be regional variations. Besides, it's important to remember that ethnic Russians constute only a portion of the population. The Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics not to mention different ethnic groups within Russia. There was (is) a lot of sharing and mingling of traditions and cuisines.[...]

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Right. Shashlik is popular, I think? I'm presuming that comes from the Caucasus. I'm guessing that the cuisine of Central Asian republics like your native Kyrgyzstan has had an impact, too. What foods that come from Central Asia are popular with Muscovites nowadays?

There was a quesition of my background. I was born in Kyrgyzstan and lived there for the first 12 years of my life. I graduated from high school in Kamchatka, Russian Far East (across the Bering Strait from Alaska), and went to college in Pyatigorsk, which is located in the south of Russia, Northern Caucasus to be precise. My parents now live in the Krasnodar Region which is not far from the Black Sea. My mom's family comes from Siberia, and my dad's family is from Voronezh which is in central Russia.

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You have had an interesting life. I have an anthropologist friend who went to Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy in the wintertime for a conference on shamanism. She brought back slides of the extraordinarily beautiful landscape (to a large extent, a snow- and volcano-scape). She told us she spent a lot of time in thermal baths and drinking vodka (possibly at the same time, sometimes) with her new friends, and that everyone was really friendly.

I neglected to congratulate you on your pregancy! How far along are you, and how are you finding your eating habits changing, if at all? Any unusual cravings?





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