Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guest Post: Meet my mum

I've been in love with Russia ever since I was twelve. My parents fully supported my love of all things Russian (except for when I'd cheer for Team Russia during hockey...they never supported that!) but they didn't really understand what it was about such a cold, forbidding country that fascinated me so much.

I think I can now state quite confidently that after our fantastic trip last week, they totally get my love of Russia. But I don't want to put words in their mouth. So I asked them to both write a guest post on my blog about their experiences. Without further ado, meet my mum, Julie:

Good Eats

Katie recently asked her father and me if we would be willing to write a guest post for the Devushka Diary. “No problem”, I thought. As soon as I get over my jet lag I’ll whip something up about one or two of the amazing experiences we had on our recent journey to Mother Russia..

Now where to start? There are just so many things that I could write about. The architecture, the history, the people? Suffice it to say that the trip was everything we thought it would be, and more.

Being somewhat of a foodie, I thought that what we ate would make a perfect topic for my guest post. It also happened to be the one question that was repeatedly asked of me when I returned. I have to admit that I was a little concerned about that very thing before we left. Not for myself. I can pretty much eat anything, and am quite adventurous when it comes to trying new cuisine (within certain hygienic standards). Rick not so much. I did assume that potatoes, beets, and bread would be in ready supply, and since he loves those I knew he wouldn’t starve to death.

To most people’s surprise, including our own, we ate very well everywhere we visited. In fact, I have been trolling the internet the past two days for recipes to recreate some of the fantastic meals that we enjoyed.

Here’s a sampling of the wonderful food we discovered in Russia.

The “best salmon I ever had”. I think I uttered this constantly throughout the meal.

Our first introduction to Shashlik came courtesy of Bakinskiy Bulvar in Mytishchi. The meat, fish, and vegetables are grilled over open coals in an outside cookhouse. From my window seat I could see the waiters running inside with the piping hot delicacies served over fresh lavash. As Katie mentioned in an earlier post, Georgian food became our go-to cuisine. I believe Rick had chicken shashlik that evening, and Katie enjoyed an eggplant dish.

Another helping of shashlik. This time a mixture of meat veal, chicken, and pork, courtesy of Gennatsvale on Arbat.

Somewhere around this point, Rick discovered the absolutely decadent cheese bread khatchapouri. Here`s a photo of it alongside the peppers and eggplant dish that Katie ordered. Yummy!

My meal that night a tasty lamb stew with garlic-mashed potatoes and some of Rick`s khatchapouri. I don`t know if he knew that we were sharing!

Yes, note the ashtray in the background of the above photo. Sadly we had to enjoy all the wonderful food in Russia with the aroma of cigarette smoke nearby. Canadians slightly younger than me have never had the pleasure. We always asked for non-smoking sections, which are available, and it was never a real problem.

While in St. Petersburg we discovered a gem of a restaurant close to our hotel. Actually it was Rhea and Mike who discovered it. We just enjoyed the fruits of their discovery. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we had two dinners at Balzac. I loved my eggplant and tomato smothered in mozzarella.

Rick was quite satisfied with pork tenderloin in a mustard crust, and served with rice and vegetables.

Katie`s tuna with vegetable spaghetti

Of course I saved room for dessert. A traditional Russian medovnik (honey) cake. Who needs chocolate? This was sinful.

One of my favourite meals was the one we had on our last full night in Mytishchi. This was all about the company and the warm and fuzzy feelings. Instead of eating at a restaurant, Katie and I walked down to the local Perekrestok (a popular grocery chain). We picked up some ingredients to prepare a meal of zakuski. Think “appetizers” if you are in North America, and “dim sum”, “antipasto”, “tapas”, or “hor d’oeuvres”, if you are in other parts of the world. We were even able to score some still-warm-from-the-oven bread. The bread in Russia was varied, delicious, and cheap.

After a relaxing hour or so of nibbling and talking and laughing, we hit the streets of Mytishchi for an after-dinner stroll. It was a beautiful evening still quite light out for that time of night, and warm. It was wonderful to see and feel the city that has been Katie’s home for the past eight months. Rick made one more stop for ice cream. Seeing the beer, and knowing that his days of drinking in public were soon coming to an end, he picked up a traveller. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me and was not able to snap a photo of him as he walked double-fisted and delirious with enjoyment.

On our return to the flat, Katie put on a pot of tea. The two of us sat in her kitchen, sipping tea and leafing through the Royal Wedding newspapers and magazines I had picked up enroute through London the day after the big event. It was an evening I didn’t want to end.

But all good things must come to an end, and so too did our Russian adventure. It was much too short, but we enjoyed every minute of it.

Now if I could only find some of those recipes! Any readers who know how to prepare some of the fabulous meals featured here please send them my way. And the salty, paprika-like grains that garnish the shashlik what is that? The sauce that accompanies the beef and pork shashlik what are the ingredients? The real coup would be to recreate that mouth-watering khatchapouri that Rick (OK, all of us) enjoyed so much. Anyone?


  1. It's a shame the only one real shashlyk goes unmentioned - the mutton one. I also enjoy different stuff (including grilled vegetables), but I think one should try the original before experementing.

    On the side note I saw a picture of vodka served with strawberries the other day and it looked kind of... exotic to say the least (and a little bit cute and so innocent :-) I must say you're more experienced since you chose pickles!

    Grains could be carum (тмин), but I'm just guessing here - I don't know much about georgian food myself. More like the eater type than the cook :-)

  2. Hi Julie, Great post! I'm so glad you enjoyed your time in Russia visiting Katie. All that food looks and sounds so delicious! I hope you are able to recreate them back here in Canada. I will have to ask Katie about the salmon and khatchapouri as they both look amazing!

    It's really nice to hear other opinions about Russia too from those who haven't been obsessed with it forever (not that there's anything wrong with that). I totally did not know about the wide array of eats in Russia / the former USSR territory. Thanks for the insight!

  3. Everything looks and sounds amazing! I can see where Katie gets her writing talent from.

  4. I could eat khatchapouri every day for the rest of my life! My favourite night was our last full one together too :)

  5. Thank you for the compliment Annonymous. Do we know each other?

  6. No, I'm a fellow expat (but from the States) and living in Tula. Just a big fan of this blog! :)
    - Rob

  7. I'm glad you had a great time in Russia; I always loved visiting there, and I really miss it as I haven't been back since 2005.

    I imagine Shashlik has a lot of regional variations, just like everyone has a "best secret recipe" for grilled hamburgers in North America. But according to Jennifer Eremeeva - who runs a great blog that features a wide variety of Russian recipes adapted for the western cook's access to ingredients - there is nothing on Shashlik except ground peppercorns and coarse sea salt. I'm guessing what you mentioned might be the latter, since it would take on the flavour of the marinade. Her recipe for Shashlik is here, along with lots of others:

  8. Thank you so much Mark for pointing me in the direction of Jennifer's Blog. I had a quick look at it, and love it. Katie, I think we will be very busy this summer.

    Glad you found the Devushka Diaries Rob. All the best in Tula.

  9. Jennifer Ereemeva also writes a blog for The Moscow Times, which is really informative, funny, and interesting!

    I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to Canada this summer and trying to recreate Russian recipes! Honey cake too Mum!!

  10. Yes, I think she's a writer for a living now, although when she was first in Russia she worked for Aeroflot. She doesn't have very much good to say about them, I'm afraid. I couldn't say, as I've never flown Aeroflot. Usually I arrived in Russia via Korean Airlines. The one exception (via Vladivostok Air), I was pleasantly surprised by the new aircraft (a Tupolev TU-204), the excellent inflight service and the delicious hot meal even though it's only a 2.4 hour flight from Seoul. In 2009 Vladivostok Air won the "Wings of Russia" award, which is chosen by customer acclaim.

    I bet Aeroflot was jealous.

    Jennifer's a very good writer, and likely a hell of a cook. The Shashlik recipe includes the sauces (by name only, you'd still have to look them up), and if she doesn't know how to make Katchapouri (I'll ask my Mom-in-Law, she's from Stavropol and might know), I'll bet she knows somebody who does.

  11. Here's a recipe for Kachapuri that looks pretty good, and uses western cheeses that might be easier for you to get: