This is about my attempts to ward off starvation, I figured it deserved a post of its own.
We’ve been eating out for the most part at Stolovayas (short for stolovaya komnata – dining room) which are frequented by the locals and you can get a good Russian meal for about £1-2, if not a little less. Our kitchen facilities here are limited – we’ve only got hot water and bowls, so we’re living for part of the time off instant soup/noodles/porridge (very Russian).
The restaurants are not really worth going to as Russian service is much slower than the slowest English service I’ve ever encountered and the food is not really worth it – I’ve had consistently better Russian food at a stolovaya than at a restaurant here. I guess they’re OK if you fancy something like spag bol which stolovayas tend not to serve, but the best borsch and plov comes from the nearest stolovaya. Plus there is a good proportion of stolovayas which are open 24 hours a day. Bonus.
Stolovayas are self-service canteens which are completely no-frills, with basic tables, basic cutlery and basic décor. However, rather like the English coffee shop, I can only imagine they are a complete mine of gossip, especially if one is a regular. There was one in the centre of Kazan called Dom Blini (house of pancakes) at which I was pretty much a regular – I started recognising the staff and they started recognising me and I always ordered the same thing – blini s kuritsey (chicken filled pancakes).
The Russians don’t really have the same relationship with curry as the British – presumably as a result of our colonialist history and the old Spice route, but I don’t know enough about that to really make a judgement. Instead, the Russians as a nation absolutely LOVE sushi. They have sushi restaurants where we might have a curry house in England – if not more of them. This was the case in Kazan last summer and it’s also the case here in Piter. I’ve had the best sushi of my life in Russia to the extent that I largely refuse to eat it in England, bar the occasional Yo Sushi! Blue Monday, as it’s just not as good. (Yes, I am aware of how pretentious this is and I can imagine anyone who’s been to Japan that may read this will be laughing with incredulity right now).
So while Russian people don’t do curry, there are some things they do well including:
SOUP – this goes under a number of guises, so I’ll list each one separately. There is a Russian proverb that is essentially ‘If you eat your soup every day then you won’t get constipated’. Nice.
UKHA (or yxa in Cyrillic) – This is fish soup. It is a little bit like chowder but much less creamy. It’s really delicious – when I’ve had it, it’s had great big chunks of salmon and white fish (I presume haddock but I couldn’t say for sure), chunks of potato and carrot and as with much Russian cooking, a good helping of dill (or zelyoniy, which also means ‘green’). Finnish ukha has cream and salmon roe in it, so it is more like chowder.
MUSHROOM SOUP – the best in the world. They use Russian forest mushrooms, which are different from English, I would maybe liken them to cepes but again, I don’t know enough about mushrooms to really make a judgement. Again, there is plenty of dill on top.
SOLYANKA – I literally have no idea what they put in this, but it’s some kind of stock based soup with vegetables. I made the mistake of telling my vegetarian friend that it had no meat in it – then she found a chunk of sausage in it. Awkward.
BORSH – Arguably the most infamous of all Russian cuisine. This is a beetroot soup with vegetables and sour cream (nicer than it sounds) and is usually a fantastic shade of pink. I’ve had it served in a rye bread bowl before and it occasionally is served with chunks of beef. One to try, definitely. It’s a staple of Eastern European cooking, in Poland they call it Barszcz (someone please correct my spelling on that one if it needs it).
PIROZHKI – Or ‘pastries’. Russians fill these with all manner of sweet and savoury things – my favourite is their version of a samosa filled with minced meat and onion and spices.
PEL’MENI – these are ravioli style dumplings that originate from Siberia which are either served on their own or in a stock soup. They usually have meat filling and have a strong onion flavour, but they are really rather nice. Best served with a dollop of Smetana (sour cream) and dill. My Russian hozeyka (hostess) in Kazan made me these when I arrived there for the first time last year and I’ve never forgotten it – for a good reason, I should point out!
BLINI – Russian for ‘pancakes’. Russians eat these with both sweet and savoury fillings – my favourites are mushrooms and chicken. These are again served with dill and Smetana – a flavour staple.
My ideal Russian meal would be mushroom soup, a chicken blin and a Russian samosa. Yummy.