Stockholm- A Culture Capital

Stockholm- A Culture Capital
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Friday, October 22, 2010

Live to Indulge

Anyone in a megalopolis knows what is like to rush about and commute for hours each day, and anyone constantly on the run knows the hunger caused by this. There is no time to stop and eat. On average a roast pig probably has more stuffed in its mouth than a New Yorker, Londoner, or Tokyoite. Resultantly fast food and kiosks have become the lifeblood of these people on the run. In New York they ‘grab a slice’, Londoners have Cornish Pasties, and in Tokyo they have steam buns and sushi galore. These metro foods are often eaten out of desperation, but can also be an indulgence.

In Moscow I have been starved and enticed into a variety of metro fare. Most of these are high energy and low cost or quality. The first fad I fell into was grabbing a few Sloika Pies on my way to work in the morning. These pies range from ground meats and sausages to creamy cheese and fruits. Stopping for these pies reminds me of indulging at the patisseries in France sans the silky French names, and the smiley Frogs in white hats spattered with flour. Lets just say the quality and ambience isn’t there.

Next in line was the shawarma. Similar to the shawarma we get back in Canada from late night Lebanese joints like ‘Mr. Shawarma and Shawarma Kingdom’ (result of English as a second language I am sure) They wrap up spiced chicken that has been marinating in its owns juices with cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumbers and give it some gusto with garlic mayo and chili sauce. I started eating these late night wraps because it was one of the only things I could say and at 1:30am getting off the Metro I couldn’t ask for anything more. I have managed to cut down but still love having shawarma at least once a week. The best part of Moscow shawarma is that it is sealed on both ends for convenience and they put a dollop of garlic mayo on the top so that your first few bites that are tortilla heavy are just as good or better than the ones that come in the middle. This technique needs to cross borders!

One that I was hesitant to try, but I feel could be wildly popular back home is Kartoshka (Potato). Here you can have a foil wrapped potato pulled out of the oven, have butter and cheese worked into its whites and then adorn it with your choice of toppings. Toppings range from sausage and cheese, shrimp, feta cheese, and move into crispy onion bits, and things I just point at and hope they taste good. Luckily they nearly always do. The point and pray is a strategy I have mastered.

Now here comes my new favorite, a little place called Beard Papa’s. Not exclusively Russian, but exclusively wonderful. Beard Papa is a pipe-smoking sailor that happens to have an expert hand with jumbo cream puffs. As soon as you get upwind of the store you smell the sweet fresh baked scents of tender puff pastry. Once inside you choose if you want chocolate, vanilla, berry, or green tea cream piped into your fist-sized puff. I went with green tea; it is a fix I have been deprived of for months now. I was more than fixed. In a hurry I mowed into my giant creamy heaven as I walked. I had green cream in and around my mouth and icing sugar all over my pea coat like powder burns from a shotgun. I advise you to indulge at Beard Papa’s but to take your time eating your dream cloud and pairing it with a nice cappuccino before you rush off.

Although I am often cursing the fact that I have no time for a real meal, and condemned by other teachers for eating these foods I am enjoying the new tastes on the go. Next up: corn and the cob, and a pint.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food Feud!

Most people know that I have an amazing and highly developed relationship with food. It is the first thing I think of when I wake up and often the last thing on my mind as I pass out at night. I am been living in culinary bliss, but last week there was trouble in the home and the relationship was threatened.

I was informed that I have been eating chocolate like a sissy! This was not easy to deal with, so I am writing for this for all those chocolate loving guys out there that are in danger. Yes. Danger. Our reputations are at stake. I was in my local 24-hour supermarket last week when I found Nestle For Men-a line of chocolate bars that are bigger, more rugged, and absolutely for men. In fact each mountainous and badass square is branded with a ‘no women’ sign to make sure these special chocolates don’t fall into the wrong mouths. The product is not all about image either. The secret recipe reveals the tenderness in a man and allows him to speak to any woman.

Nestle For Men comes in classic, with peanuts, and with almonds for only 30Roubles at your nearest Russian store. Chances are I will still eat other chocolate behind closed doors, but now I have something I can eat confidently out in the open, and keep my food matrimony in harmony.

Monday, October 11, 2010


The first famous tower I ascended was Eiffel’s masterpiece in Paris and a couple of years later came the CN and the Empire State. To continue the tradition in Moscow I took the initiative to go to Europe’s tallest tower: Ostankino.

The Ostankino Media Tower was built in honor of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution and was completed in 1967. Taking 5 years to build, the tower was the tallest in the world when built and stands at 540 meters. Ostankino is named after the district in Moscow where it is located and broadcasts TV and Radio signals over the whole city.

To some the tower may seem a little rough around the edges, and in fact it is with all the antennas and broadcasting arms poking out. It may be one of my favorite buildings in Moscow however. What I see when I look up at Ostankino is a magnificent tower that could be the cover art for a great sci-fi or steam punk novel. The surrounding grounds melt away and my mind washes up nautical, magical, and even post-Armageddon worlds trying to find where this spire fits best. The tower itself seems to have a dark mysterious quality and the area around the tower felt like you were walking into the headquarters of an evil organization.

The situation isn’t helped by Russia’s love of red tape. Usually when one arrives to a famous tower they purchase tickets and line up for the breath taking view. As they wait flashing cameras, people milling about excitedly and flashy presentations about the tower surrounds them. There is fervor in the air. The experience at Ostankino on the other hand goes a little like this: you must first sign up online or at the tower for an appointment to go up the tower (maximum of 30 at a time), on arrival your name is checked on the list at security and then you must go to a check in. Arriving 30 minutes early at the check in you must then give over your passport and once it in scrutinized you are printed an official entrance card.

Your group is brought together and given an entrance briefing in Russian, taken on a path to a security check point where you are scanned for metals and have your ID checked again. Finally you use your entrance card to scan you into the tower doors and you have time to look at the exhibit at the tower base. A security briefing is issued next and then you can finally board the elevator. Once up stairs you are free to roam and observe for half an hour before you must leave with the group and reverse the security process while on the way out. Moscow may be modernized but it certainly has that on its own terms

I felt the procedure of mounting the tower just added to the Russian charm and that the experience wouldn’t have been complete without it. Now when I see Ostankino from the ground it still gives me a spark of magic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sticky & Sweet

HONEY! It is a food miracle- the only thing on our earth that doesn’t rot wet or dry. Not to mention that it tastes like heaven and most resembles liquid gold. I have had a good relationship with honey since I was young, often dipping my chicken tenders in it. Now I keep a jar in the house for my love of late night mugs of Earl Grey Tea with milk and honey.

All this in mind: when I heard about a honey festival in Moscow I had to buzz to my nearest metro to have a look. The festival is held annually at the park near Tsaristino metro station and hosts kiosks from honey farmers that hail from all over rural Russia and even some areas of Kyrgyzstan and other satellite countries. Once you enter the steel gates you need to leave all sense behind, except taste, and get ready to plunge into honey.

There are over 200 sellers at the event with dozens of varieties of honey, mead (an alcoholic honey drink) and a Chak-chaks (best described as a giant honey rice crispy square). The varieties of honey range from sweet to smoky and even bitter. They also can be thin enough to drizzle, thick like ice cream, or be full of crushed up honeycomb. Even as a ‘foodie’ I was surprised by the types of honey I have been missing out on for so long. After an hour of picking up a little white dipping sticks and melting a gob of honey over my tongue I managed to pick a nice creamy honey to take home with me.

A point of advice would be to not get too excited from the get go and taste every honey at one stand, because there is nothing around the cleanse your palate and unless your tooth is as sweet as mine you may end up a little overwhelmed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Metro Madness

The Metro is the Heart of Moscow. The first line opened in 1935; it is the gift of the Soviet Union. The Metro now consisting of 12 lines and transporting an average of 6.6 Million passengers a day is the second busiest in the world after Tokyo.

Chances are if you live in Moscow that you ride the Metro, although there are plenty of cars and traffic jams above ground, most of the city’s traffic happens underneath the surface.

Ever since I got acquainted with ‘The Tube’ in London earlier this year I have developed a fascination with Metro systems and every city with an underground gives me an extra treat explore.

The Moscow Metro is a treat for several reasons: many of the stations look like they could be the entrance to a grand palace or museum especially on the circle line (this fell in and out of fashion due to political leadership), the system is massive and will take me all year to discover, and of course the metro is a people watching heaven with some of the best characters around.

My most memorable metro rides thus far have been falling asleep on the train and being woken up by the conductor lady with a paddle that is red on one side and white with a black dot in the center on the other, a drunk man caught peeing on the platform being spanked with the same paddle by a similar conductor, having a group of 20 somethings start a dance circle with music from their cell phone in my metro car, and lastly seeing a man bowl through the metro carrying two car tires he had just bought. This list is preliminary and I can’t wait for it to grow.

A recurring thought I have on my daily commute is something I heard from a sales training. The idea is that if you run through a crowd people will move out of your way. This is true in the metro. I see it everyday. More importantly it is true in daily life. When we are moving ‘faster’ than everyone else they let you pass by to success. If we want to be successful and to get ahead we can’t be moving out of the way for those who chose to run. We need to put on our trainers and go for a mad dash, because once you pick up the speed no one will dare get in your path.

My 2+ hours a day on the metro are full of these thoughts, but what makes the ride worth it for me is that I don’t have to deal with my road rage.