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Alinka

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

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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.

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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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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!

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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.

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!

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

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.[...]

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.

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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Hi Alinka!

Looking forward to you blog! I was in Moscow 10 years ago -- looking forward to see how it changed.

John

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Could you share the recipe for that plov, please? It looks delicious and comforting.

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Speaking of weird ingredients, the borsch recipe I brought back with me from Russia calls for Aromat. I brought some home with me at the time, but have never been able to find it since. We have something here called Aromat, but it's not that same mix of green herbs. If you happen to have a packege in the cupboard, would you be so kind as to tell me the ingredients? I notice that your recipe doesn't call for it, but I'd love to recreate the soup Galya made for me in St. Petersburg all those years ago.

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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:.

I think that sounds like a perfectly splendid plan. I can't wait to see some of your home-cooking and whatever you'll be able to show us of Moscow.

Half of my family is from Russia - so while we do the Jewish foods, we also call pierogi vereneki and fill them with fruits in the summer. The ones you posted on the dinner thread look great! Is your borsch sweet? Sour? A little of both?

I'm looking forward to your week.

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Alinka thank you for blogging this week! We were in St Petersberg for new years eve with friends just last year and found it to be so interesting- we all really want to go to Moscow now also!

A question for you, and I know you said that obviously things are different all over Russia so you may not be able to answer but just in case. We looked all over for pirosky when we were in Peter but honestly never saw a shop- maybe they are sold in the carts? Anyway my real question is are they still a popular food in Russia? I've actuallly only seen them and eaten them here in Seattle! weird!!

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I'm fascinated by your blog and photos too. I've never been to Russia... my closest experiences are a bit of Russian in my heritage and two friends who lived in Moscow some years ago: one in the depths of Soviet Russia (I remember her comments on the stores: "You wait on line for an hour to get in, but once you get in, there's nothing there to buy" and the economic planning: "This year they made three kinds of blankets, but no sheets"). It will be interesting indeed to see how things have changed.

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Thank you all for your interest and your continuing support! I had no idea blogging will be so exciting! I promise I’ll answer all your questions later; right now I want to show more pictures.

Some of you asked about supermarkets so I went out last night and took several photos. This is our neighborhood store, not my favorite because it is small and expensive. But we end up shopping there several times a week because the work hours for both of us are pretty long and do not leave us much time for shopping or cooking. I usually come home around 7 pm to collapse in bed 3 hours later.

Anyway, here it is. Like I said, nothing special, looks pretty much like any other grocery store.

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Edited by Alinka (log)

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Now, I have something that I think you will find more interesting. On Saturday we went out for a walk in the city as we always do on weekends. Went to the Red Square (it’s about a half hour walk), then took the metro to the Novodevichy Monastery. I snapped some pictures for you along the way.

On weekends there is a small market set up in the park near our house. This time we did not buy anything because we were on our way elsewhere.

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I thought you guys would get a kick out of this photo:

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It's dried salted fish. Good with beer :biggrin:.

Dried fruit. The stuff in the bags is the dried fruit that does not look very good. They sell that cheaper - people buy it to make compot (sweet drink served cold):

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I know the issue of prices will come up :smile:. The exchange rate is approximately 26 rubles to a dollar. For those who want to know the exact figure: http://www.xe.com/ucc/. Prices on the tags are per kilo.

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Later in the day we went to a mall. I thought you might want to see the food court. Looks just like any in the States.

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We got stuffed blini, kvas (I talked about it here), and buckwheat with roast pork and horseradish sauce:

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You can have chocolates for dessert...

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...or some gelatto (Cyrillic letters read Mia Dolce Julia).

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Ok, and one last thing from Saturday - the bakery that is near our house. The sign says Frantsuzskaya Bulka - "French Baguette" - and "Fresh Bread" below.

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We got three mini-quiches, an eclair, and a cherry/custard croissant.

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[Edited to replace wrong photo with right photo. :hmmm:]

Is that halvah on the upper right corner?

The bakery near your house looks great!

I noticed that some of the places to eat in the food court are the same chains that are often seen in the U.S. Sbarro and Yo! Sushi are outfits I've seen before, especially Sbarro, which has long had a big branch in the Theater District in Manhattan. The shape and color of the Brasserie sign also looks familiar.


Edited by Pan (log)

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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?

Moscow is huge, isn’t it? Officially, the number of people living here is 12 million but I am pretty sure there are many people who live here illegally (one is required to have a registration to live in Moscow). Our apartment is located not far from the Garden Ring, in the center of the city.

There is probably a million of recipes for shashlik. The main idea here is that the meat has to be marinated. People marinate it in wine, kefir, mayo, lemon/onion/spices, etc. But, like barbeque in the States, shashlik is a man thing so I’d be a wrong person to ask :smile:. Regarding Russian fruit-filled pastries – it depends on what you mean. They can be baked or deep-fried; made from yeast dough, puff pastry or the dough simply made with sour cream or kefir…. There are plenty of pastry kiosks everywhere so maybe we will look at them later this week.

As to the diminutives: plenty! The Russian language is rich in diminutives :smile:.

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:

Hi Pille! It would be interesting to learn more about Estonian food. As to the Russian dishes you mention, I’m not sure I will be able to cover them this week. Shawn wanted me to buy ikra and show it in the blog, but it seems too souvenir-matryoshka-style and less like real life. That is not to say that Russians don’t eat caviar. Well, there’s always next time.

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?

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

I never lived in Moscow so it’s hard for me to compare. I guess the main difference is that you can buy almost everything you want these days. I haven’t found some of the American things I wanted (like chocolate chips) but I’m sure that’s because I haven’t had much time to look. And a co-worker got me a bag of chocolate chips from the Embassy store anyway – so I was able to bake chocolate chip cookies for the office.

Collective farms do exist, as do privately-owned farms as well. Plus, a lot of produce is imported. What is disappointing is that the produce sections in supermarkets are smaller than those in the States. But there always markets and kiosks that might not offer a huge variety but they sell everything that is in season and is very fresh. At first it took some adjusting to realize that those tomatoes are not going to sit fresh on the counter for days on end the way they do in the States :smile:.

I'll take a photo of the fridge later.

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.

Rachel, you are a poet! I’m afraid troikas and dashes through the snow have gone the way of cowboys and the Wild West :smile:. But Russia sure does look pretty in that Doctor Zhivago movie (too bad they shot it in Spain, Finland and Canada :raz:). Thank you for your compliments; I appreciate it. My dream is to get a new camera because I am tired of the old one; it seems it does not do as much as I want it to do.

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It's dried salted fish. Good with beer :biggrin:.

That is interesting! Looks good with sake too. :biggrin: Could you tell us the name of the fish? Is it the only fish dried and salted in your country?

One more question: Ikura is one of the few Russian words I know. How do you eat ikura (I mean salmon roe) in your country?

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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?

I dread winter, to be honest. I hate the cold. The summer is nice though: warm and with long days. In June, even at 10:30 or 11 pm it’d still be light outside. I checked on weather.com: sunrise today was at 5:45 am, and sunset will be at 9:26 pm.

i'm especially interested in any american foods you have become accustomed to that you seek out or make in your new hometown.

Today I had a craving for an American-style sandwich, with whole wheat bread, sprouts, turkey, avocado, etc. Served with potato chips. I haven’t seen them in cafes but it does not mean they do not exist, or that I cannot make one myself :smile:. Also, I couldn't find decaf black tea here – Russians are not big on decaf. Burgers though are easy to find: there are several American diners in town. At home, we mostly eat Russian food these days simply because it’s easier to make here. But there is no reason why I could not make such American standards as meatloaf or spaghetti. Oh, and I miss the beef here. Pork is more popular in Russia, and it’s really flavorful and “porky,” not the lean tasteless stuff that is common in the US stores. But the beef here is usually tougher and does not taste as good. Also, I haven’t seen cottage cheese that I used to buy often in the States.

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!!!

Privet! Thanks for your good wishes. You know, I’ve never liked rye bread, but I’ll take a picture for you of the rye bread and bubliki :smile:.

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

The Russian sauna is called banya. Unlike the dry Finnish sauna, for example, the heat here is humid, it’s all steam. There is a stove with hot rocks there on which you sprinkle some water if you want to make the temperature hotter. No bath inside: just basins which you fill with water. There was also a shower in the corner in this one. Banyas are not shared by the members of the opposite sex unless they are married and want some time alone :smile:.

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.)

Good job! It does say Happy Meal.

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

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.

Well, here is a picture of the green borsch just for you:

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What foods that come from Central Asia are popular with Muscovites nowadays?

I’ve noticed that Uzbek restaurants are popular in Moscow. I know in my family we cooked plov, manty (somewhat similar to Chinese steamed meat dumplings), lagman (lamb/noodle soup with pickled green garlic, spicy), shurpa (meat/vegetable soup), funchosa (rice noodles with meat sauce). I’ve seen all these items on the menu in Uzbek restaurants, plus their traditional lepeshka (flatbread baked in tandur), samsa (baked meat or potato pastries made form sour cream dough or puff pastry), and other dishes traditional to that region.

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.

Yes, the nature there is very beautiful. My dad’s fondest memories are of fishing and hunting there :smile:.

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?

Thank you. I’m almost at the end of the second trimester. I did not have unusual cravings but the morning sickness was brutal the entire first trimester, and even now I get nauseous if I don’t eat something every couple hours.

But generally, my attitude to food has changed a lot since we moved. I think it is a combination of circumstances. I am less particular about food now. In Houston I had plenty of time to read about food, plan, shop and cook. My favorite pastime was shopping at Central Market or Whole Foods and cooking. Most of the stuff in our fridge or freezer was organic, and you couldn’t find anything non-whole grain in our pantry. These days, my job leaves me less time for that. Besides, Moscow is so beautiful and exciting that I’d hate to spend these summer days in the kitchen. Most of our weekends are spent sightseeing or just strolling in the city. I haven’t seen much whole-grain pasta here (just a couple varieties) but I did find whole wheat flour, so I bought a bread machine and try to bake my own bread.

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Speaking of weird ingredients, the borsch recipe I brought back with me from Russia calls for Aromat.  I brought some home with me at the time, but have never been able to find it since.  We have something here called Aromat, but it's not that same mix of green herbs.  If you happen to have a packege in the cupboard, would you be so kind as to tell me the ingredients?  I notice that your recipe doesn't call for it, but I'd love to recreate the soup Galya made for me in St. Petersburg all those years ago.

I’ve never heard of it, but I’ll make sure to look next time I am in the store.

Half of my family is from Russia - so while we do the Jewish foods, we also call pierogi vereneki and fill them with fruits in the summer.  The ones you posted on the dinner thread look great!  Is your borsch sweet? Sour? A little of both?

Pierogi actually means “pies” in Russian. As in, large pies made with yeast dough and filled with fruit, fish, meat, eggs, rice+liver, etc. The borsch is not sweet; it’s a slightly tart savory dish.

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?

The beats are julienned or shredded and sautéed together with the rest of the vegetables. The potatoes are not supposed to be removed from the soup :hmmm:.

Alinka thank you for blogging this week! We were in St Petersberg for new years eve with friends just last year and found it to be so interesting- we all really want to go to Moscow now also!

A question for you, and I know you said that obviously things are different all over Russia so you may not be able to answer but just in case. We looked all over for pirosky when we were in Peter but honestly never saw a shop- maybe they are sold in the carts? Anyway my real question is are they still a popular food in Russia? I've actuallly only seen them and eaten them here in Seattle! weird!!

Hi Wendy! I remember your trip to St. Petersburg. I hear it’s beautiful (never been there). Could you describe what you mean by pirosky? We have pirozhki in Russia, small pastries with different fillings. They are sold all over as this is probably one of the most popular kinds of fast food here.

Well, I think I’m getting close to catching up on questions…. I hope you all are not tired of reading yet!

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I'm finding this blog fascinating. My dearest friend's mother just managed to get born in the USA. She made pirozhki, borscht, stuffed cabbage with pork, and a lovely cheesecake made with cottage cheese. A wonderful cook.

Your photos are so colorful. Seems like most of the pictures I've seen of Moscow are so depressing. I'm glad to see all the color.

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Regarding Russian fruit-filled pastries – it depends on what you mean. They can be baked or deep-fried; made from yeast dough, puff pastry or the dough simply made with sour cream or kefir…. There are plenty of pastry kiosks everywhere so maybe we will look at them later this week.

These pastries were baked, not puff pastry, and sold at a pastry kiosk. The aroma of freshly-baked pastries and bubbling-hot fruit penetrated the Siberian winter, drawing hungry customers from at least a block away. I will follow any visits to pastry kiosks with great interest.

By the way, please give us a chance to translate the signs. I knew Happy Meal, coffee, and khleb (bread). Спасибо, пokа!

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Hi Wendy! I remember your trip to St. Petersburg. I hear it’s beautiful (never been there). Could you describe what you mean by pirosky? We have pirozhki in Russia, small pastries with different fillings. They are sold all over as this is probably one of the most popular kinds of fast food here.

yes, that is what we were looking for! Isn't it strange that we never found any? Are they mainly sold off of the street carts or in shops?

Now I have another question regarding the grocery stores. In Peter the small neighborhood shops were set up where all the grocery items were behind a counter and each counter was run by a different woman- you paid each one seperately. Is that just a step below the larger grocery store? Do you have that set up in Moscow also?

Peter is beautiful Alinka, you and your husband should go for a weekend!

Thanks again for answering all these questions and reporting so well on Moscow, it is so interesting! The only Russian word I learned was bap! :raz:

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The cherries made it to Moscow!! :laugh:

Lovely and interesting blog, Alinka! Having lived further north before, I envy you the length of your days during the summer. Since I have never been to Russia, I am quite surprised by some of the things you have shown us just in these first few pages. Very different from reports of visits that predate your move to the U.S. I can see why you say the culture seems new.

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      Welcome to “Tales from the Fragrant Harbour”!
      In the next couple of days I am hoping to take you to a little excursion to Hong Kong to explore the local food and food culture as well as maybe a little bit more about my personal culinary background. I hope I can give you a good impression of what life is like on this side of the globe and am looking very forward to answering questions, engaging in spirited discussions and just can share a bit of my everyday life with you. Before starting with the regular revealing shots of my fridge’s content and some more information on myself, I’d like to start this blog and a slightly different place.
      For today's night, I ‘d like to report back from Chiba city, close to Tokyo, Japan. It’s my last day of a three day business trip and it’s a special day here in Japan: “Doyou no ushi no hi”. The “midsummer day of the ox”, which is actually one of the earlier (successful) attempts of a clever marketing stunt.  As sales of the traditional winter dish “Unagi” (grilled eel with sweet soy sauce) plummeted in summer, a clever merchant took advantage of the folk tale that food items starting with the letter “U” (like ume = sour plum and uri = gourd) dispel the summer heat, so he introduced “Unagi” as a new dish best enjoyed on this day. It was successful, and even in the supermarkets the sell Unagi-Don and related foods. Of course, I could not resist to take advantage and requested tonight dinner featuring eel. Thnaks to our kind production plant colleagues, I had what I was craving …
      (of course the rest of the food was not half as bad)

      Todays suggestion: Unagi (grilled eel) and the fitting Sake !
       

      For starters: Seeweed (upper left), raw baby mackerel with ginger (upper right) and sea snails. I did not care for the algae, but the little fishes were very tasty.
       

      Sahimi: Sea bream, Tuna and clam ...
       

      Tempura: Shrimp, Okra, Cod and Mioga (young pickled ginger sprouts).
       

      Shioyaki Ayu: salt-grilled river fish. I like this one a lot. I particularly enjoy the fixed shape mimicking the swimming motion. The best was the tail fin
       

      Wagyu: "nuff said ...
       

      Gourd. With a kind of jellied Oden stock. Nice !
       

      Unagi with Sansho (mountain pepper)
       

      So, so good. Rich and fat and sweet and smoky. I could eat a looooot of that ...
       

      Chawan Mushi:steamed egg custard. A bit overcooked. My Japanese hosts very surprised when I told them that I find it to be cooked at to high temperatures (causing the custard to loose it's silkiness), but they agreed.
       

      Part of the experience was of course the Sake. I enjoyed it a lot but whether this is the one to augment the taste of the Unagi I could not tell ...
       

      More Unagi (hey it's only twice per year) ...
       

      Miso soup with clams ...
       

      Tiramisu.
       

      Outside view of the restaurant. Very casual!
      On the way home I enjoyed a local IPA. Craft beer is a big thing in Japan at the moment (as probably anywhere else in the world), so at 29 oC in front of the train station I had this. Very fruity …

       
      When I came back to the hotel, the turn down service had made my bed and placed a little Origami crane on my pillow. You just have to love this attention to detail.

    • By KennethT
      OK.... here we go again!!!  While this post is a bit premature (we don't take off until around 1:30AM tonight), I am extremely excited so I figured I'd just set up the topic now.  As in previous foodblogs, I may post a bit from time to time while we're there, depending on how good my internet connection is, and how much free time I have... but the bulk of posting will really get started around July 9th - the day after we get home (hopefully without too much jetlag!!!)
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