Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things in a Russian supermarket

I was inspired today by David Lebovitz, an American chef/writer whose blog on food and life in the City of Light I like to read. He just wrote a post on "goofy things in a Paris supermarket" and I thought I would do the same here. So I brought my camera to the Perekrestok chain store on Novoslobodskaya, and here are the results:

1) Kefir

Kefir - I'd say the third most popular drink in Russia, after vodka and kvass! (only half joking) Kefir is a slightly carbonated, sour milk drink that is absolutely delicious (and, in case you were wondering, very healthy to boot!). There are approximately fifty billion different brands and percentages of kefir to choose from, but my favourite is Bio-Kefir (the green carton).

2) Lays "Crab" and "Red Caviar" flavoured chips

You know, for when you want to be classy while you eat chips.

3) Pickled corn in a jar, and various other pickled products:

4) Special K cereal

For some reason I have never been able to figure out, Special K cereal is RIDICULOUSLY expensive over here. That's one small box going for 689 roubles, which according to the fabulous website, is $23.92 Canadian. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (other cereal brands are nowhere near this expensive, if you were wondering. It's JUST Special K. Why???)

5) MedovukMedovuk is honey cake, a tasty Russian traditional dessert that is MUCH better home-made, but a store-bought version does in a pinch. My friend Natasha would always bring us a box of Perekrestok's medovuk whenever she would visit - yum! (Note: I had to fight off two businessmen in order to get a pic of this medovuk: it was the last one on the shelf! I think they were more than a little perplexed when I put it back after taking a quick photo, but they quickly snatched it up and ran off to the cash register with it...see how popular this cake is??)

6) Blinis

To Westerners, Blinis are perhaps Russia's most well-known culinary dish. They're thin pancakes which can be stuffed with either sweet fillings (Nutella, sugary condensed milk, honey, cottage cheese, jam) or savoury ones (mushrooms, fish, caviar, smetana, smoked salmon). Obviously, like the medovuk pictured above, homemade blini are the BEST. But for the Russian whose rushin', prepackaged "just heat and serve" blini are a popular choice, and you can pick up blinchiki (the cute form of the name) with just about every possible filling. These remind me of "Bagel-fuls" back in Canada - slightly creepy looking tube-shaped quasi-bagels stuffed with a cream cheese-substance that can pass for a "breakfast-on-the-go" if you try really hard to trick your tastebuds while simultaneously ignoring the list of 37 different ingredients. Appetizing.

7) Dried fish

The less said about this popular snack the better. I still have painful flashbacks of a vodka-fueled night where I mowed down on a bag of these.

8) Kotleti

Kotleti is an umbrella term for various types of patties - either meat/fish or vegetable-based (I've seen beet kotleti, carrot kotleti, and lentil kotleti, especially popular during Post, or the Great Lent fast before Orthodox Easter).

9) Mayonnaise in a bag

Mayonnaise. Ingredient number one in a Russian salad. Ingredient number two: meat.

10) Harry's American Sandwich bread

When I was reading David Lebovitz's blog, his number ten goofy thing found in a Paris supermarket was this exact brand of bread - Harry's American Sandwich bread. When I saw his picture, I immediately thought, "Wow! I know I've seen this somewhere!" So today when I walked into the Perekrestok on my food photography mission (and yes, I definitely did get some weird looks as I ambled around taking pictures of food), I made a beeline for the bread section to see if I was right. Yep, it turns out that Harry's is not just a Parisian phenomenon but a Muscovite one, too. David Lebovitz posited that the bread is so popular amongst the French because it is sweeter than most and makes large sandwiches - plus the "American" part of the description makes it seem trendy. I honestly don't know why Parisians or Muscovites would choose this bread over the delicious homemade varities you can get that are nestled right along beside (and that are baked fresh in the store nonetheless!) - Russian bread is something I've fallen in love with over here and I don't know how I'm going to cope back in Canada without my 20-rouble loaf of "domashni khleb"!

Anyways, there is your look into a typical Russian supermarket. I didn't get around to including the huge selection of sour cream, tvorog, vodka and beer, but you can take my word that it was quite extensive!

Now I'm off to rustle up something to eat. Perhaps some Russian bread? Gotta load up now - I only have two weeks left before I have to return to boring old Canadian bread!


  1. Nice overview :) And it's always interesting what catches the eyes of foreigners in local stores. I mean, with locals so used to what they see, it's curious what begins to stand out for those reared in a different set of stereotypes.

    As for the fermented dairy, what do you think of baked form of kefir, that is "ryazhenka"?

    P.S. I just have a very small correction: it's "Medovik", not "Medovuk".

  2. Oops, thanks for the correction! :) I would definitely be interested in knowing what catches the eye of a foreigner in a Canadian grocery store. As for ryazhenka - I love it!! But I consider myself a bit of a dairy queen haha, I love all types of dairy products, although tvorog is my favourite!

  3. What I want to know is how you managed to avoid getting arrested while taking these snaps? Did you play Very Stupid Foreigner, or just very discreetly use your iPhone?

  4. You'll be happy to hear that I came across Kefir at our local Sobey's last night. Surprised. And we do have some amazing bread in Canada. It is just that unlike in Russia, it is pretty pricey.
    And Jennifer, I was able to get quite a few snaps from the grocery store in Mytishchi as well. We must play the VSF very well.

  5. The Kefir available in Canadadian markets (or at least that available in B.C.) is made in Quebec, if I recall correctly, and it is non-regenerative (real kefir has some kind of granules that you save and just make more kefir, over and over, much the same way as miners during the California gold rush had sourdough buckets that were continually working for years) in the sense that there are no live cultures in it, so you can't use it to make more.

    Everybody has their own preference, I guess, and Katie's right that there is a huge variety of kefir in Russia. But there seems to be only one variety commercially available here, and my wife didn't care for it so I stopped buying it. She loves ryazhenka, but I've never seen it here.

    A viable alternative, though, is to purchase the kefir starter cultures and make your own, which is something I mean to try.

    Here are a couple of examples:

    The second link contains a lot of listings that are probably very close by for you, Julie. The first link contains a lot of useful instructions for "awakening" the culture and how to get started. It looks like the cardinal rule is to never wash the grains in chlorinated water, because it will kill them.

  6. Jennifer - I play the Very Stupid Foreigner card pretty much every day here! :) But I just tried to be discreet and although I got a few weird looks no one said anything to me!

    Thanks for the links to making your own kefir, Mark. I'm REALLY interested in exploring that this summer, and I want to look into making my own tvorog too. I'm currently eating some right now and I just don't know how I'm going to give it up once I'm back in Canada! I'll have to give the kefir from our Sobeys a try, thanks for finding it Mum!!

  7. OH NO! She knows the secret of KEFIR now! Must call FSB immediately! We shall not let her leave the country with this!

  8. muahaha... ;)

    But seriously, don't make any jokes about me not being able to leave the country! I'm due to embark on a British Airways flight in about 8 hours and I'm terrified that I'll be detained for some reason!! The secrets of kefir-making are pretty important after all...

  9. even to a moscovite, 600+ rubles for a box of cereal is pretty f-ing ridiculous. found the bottled picked individual corn funny too...
    your Russian to English phonetic translations are accurate and kind of sweet to read, better than any i have read in language books.