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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sampling Soviet Satellites

When you think of Russian food you probably don’t get much past Vodka and Caviar, but there is a quite a lot more. What really adds to the cuisine in Russia is the influence and availability of food from former Soviet Satellite countries. These countries have given Russia food of Slavic, Middle Eastern, and Asian origins, which I have not come across even in the most global of cities.

Last weekend I went with a group of teachers and had my first Belarusian dining experience where I dined on Draniki (a small, flat potato dumpling) served in a pot with baked prunes, onions, and veal. It was served with smetana (kind of like sour cream without the sour). With this I has fresh whortleberry juice and krambambula-a spiced Belarusian liqueur made of vodka, honey and spices such as nut meg, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.

This following weekend we went for homey Georgian fare- Georgia as in the small eastern European country and not the southern states of America. Georgians are known for good taste and culture as well as being much louder and passionate than our stone-faced Russians. From the smoky long tabled bar we dined in I would have to agree.

We started with Khinkali, a large meat dumpling that you eat with your hands and suck the salty juices out of while still piping hot.

Next we had the iconic and famous Hatchipuri. This cheesy Georgian flat bread is simple but divine. To go with these we had kabob-roasted meat topped with dill, onions, and pomegranate arils, which they call sashik. As dessert we had a double round of Turkish coffee served with chocolate. The coffee is sweetened and served with the grounds still swirling in the glass. You must let it settle to the bottom before you enjoy.

When winter is rough and work is demanding food is often the best part of my day and I am glad to be dipping into a new world of cuisine that is a combination of the new and the homey. If I am in any luck we can hunt down some Azerbaijani next week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Maslenitsa Madness!

This week in Russia has been the annual celebration Maslenitsa, or Butter week. It is the last week before lent where people all over the country feast upon Blini (pancakes) before their partial fast. It is combined as a festival of spring coming and on the last day of the festival a female scarecrow, the symbol of winter is burned to welcome in the spring.

The week starts fairly slow but each day has a theme, one for having pancakes with your in-laws, one for sweet pancakes, another for festivities and games, and so on. Sunday is the most important day, the day of forgiveness. On this day families take pancakes to their dead relatives in the cemetery as well as celebrate in major festivals included pancakes and animal fighting (sometimes even bears)

As you may have guessed I took full advantage of this holiday and have been eating pancakes left right and center. I began my feasting in Red square with a traditional condensed milk topping paired with a mug of hot mead to the background of fur clad drummers.

Then I did two nights of home cooked Blini from Smoked Salmon and cream cheese, to banana and Nutella, and cinnamon and sugar. These Blini were better than anything I found out on the streets.

The grand finale was on sunday in Red Square where there was a small state fair erected in the shadow of St.Basil's Cathedral. Here there were hundreds of people with scare crow face paint and colorful sunshine pinwheels. Blini were being served up hot- both sweet and savoury as children when flying down a big ice slide. Center stage however was a musical competition with performers in traditional style from all 12 regions of Russia.

It was a cold spring night and so we went home to have a pancake nightcap. I decided it would be best to do this in a personal way with Canadian Maple Syrup and butter.

I am full of Blini, ready for spring, and looking forward to tasting all of the special Lent menus.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cracks in the Ice

Well once upon a time at New Year I told you I would be publishing many more posts on my blog, and alas the last 2 months have been as dry and barren as my Moscow winter.

Over the last 2 months I have been working at school, with private students and on top of that taking 2 teaching certifications through International House. One in teaching Business English and one for teaching Young Learners. Between the 12 hour days, class prep., homework, meetings, and a teaching practicum on Sundays I have become incredibly productive and have managed to keep some money under the matress for the fall.

On the other hand I have been rendered uninspired and socially uninteresting.

However the first day of spring came yesterday and I have seen some water trickling across the snow-pile-lined pavements of Moscow. Nothing could excite me more! A hint of spring and the summer to follow coupled with the fact that this week is also Maslenitsa (Butter week) in Russia. What the Hell is butter week you ask?

Well, Butter Week or Pancake Week is the week long festival to celebrate the coming of spring and the week before the religious holiday Lent. It is celebrated by eating pancakes (more like a French style crepe) everyday of the week in a different place or accompanying them with social activities and music.

By Sunday I shall be fat, buttery and well informed on the holiday. Watch for my blini news.