Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Taste Of The World

The above picture is a street in St. Petersburg, Russia, my son’s first stop on his seven-week semester studying abroad this past spring and summer. Notice the signs for American fast food chains (there are two—see them?) But for most of his time in Russia he stayed with a host family in Volgograd, where there are over one million people and only one McDonalds.

So Scott experienced food the way Russians experience it. Lots of bleenies, tiny Russian pancakes. Lots of cabbage, which Scott didn’t mind since “Russians know how to cook it.” Not everything he liked. Leftover fried fish for breakfast? Hmmmmm, that was a bit hard to swallow.

But Scott says only once did he secretly dispose of his meal when his Russian mother’s back was turned. He tried to sample everything. Eventually, he did buy a bottle of American catsup, so he could flavor some of the blander elements of home-cooked Russian food.

Then something strange happened. Scott’s catsup began disappearing very quickly. It was as if someone in his Russian family was liberally using it themselves with their own meal (his Russian family ate at a different time than he, so he wouldn’t know). Possibly they were even drinking it. Either way, within four days his catsup was gone. Empty.

So Scott found another way to get a more familiar meal. He volunteered to cook some American hamburgers for his Russian hosts. Hamburgers were something they had never had.

Scott himself bought the ingredients. Then he cooked up old-fashioned American hamburgers with all the toppings, fried potatoes on the side. And unlike Russians who tend to overcook meat, Scott grilled his hamburgers only medium well, just like I barbecue them at home here. When his Russian sister protested that the meat needed to be cooked “ten more minutes”, Scott assured her that’s the way hamburgers are cooked back home.

I asked Scott if perhaps Russians cook their meat longer to kill all the germs, knowing the butchering, meat packing and meat inspection in Russia has a long way to go. He pondered that for a second, then admitted, “Possibly.” Well, no worries. His Russian host family were all alive and well when he left them.

Next stop after Volgograd was Prague in the Czech Republic where Scott bypassed the restaurants in favor of a local pub (his Michigan State University influence kicking in here). Taking a seat by the bar, he used hand signals as he slowly pronounced “Men-U.” The waiter casually tossed him one, saying “Here ya go, buddy.” Prague being an international destination was more likely to have customer service in English than Volgograd.

He ordered the “fried onions”, figuring that a basket of onion rings would hit the spot. But onion rings wasn’t what he got. He got exactly what was on the menu—fried onions. He wasn’t home yet.

Back at home, Scott changed chef’s hats and prepared the classic Russian cold soup okroshka for me, Wendy and my parents. For this, he chopped up boiled eggs, potatoes, cucumbers, sausage, and sauteed onion, flavored it with dill, and served it with Kvass, usually a Russian beverage but which serves here as the soup broth.

Scott bought a bottle of Kvass to bring to the USA, but his Russian mother made it herself. There's a jar of it fermenting in her kitchen window in the picture below. The recipe for it includes rye bread, water, lots of sugar and a little yeast.

The commercial Kvass is carbonated and tasted to me like Coke heavily flavored with rye bread. If anyone would like a taste, we still have half a bottle in the refrigerator.


Blogger Carine said...

sounds as if your son had a wide variety of experiences. Not all good or bad, but very worthwhile. Except for the 1/2 bottle of rye flavored soda. ew

7:22 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I think I'll pass on the Kvass, Dave..if you don't mind! ;)

I'm glad Scott tried the "local" foods, even if he didn't like everything he tried...it's good to have an open mind/taste when traveling like that. Good for him! :)

10:34 PM  
Anonymous enforcer said...

That might be a good place to go if your looking to lose some weight.The Russian Diet. Why did Scott have to go to Russia to study a broad when you can do that anywhere.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

The joys, and other things about different cusine's.

5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Russian info on their way of life. Very interesting.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Gabe said...

Is that Pizza Hut and KFC in that picture? My eyes kept going to the massage salon sign.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Babette said...

Prague was Mozart's favorite city.

Grrrrr regarding your implication about MSU. Go SPARTANS!

Q: Rye must I drink this?
A: Kvass I said so!

12:20 PM  
Blogger Spidey said...

That Okrashna soup sounds like something Popeye would have made!

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Maria said...

Sounds like Scott had a wonderful time and one that he will never forget. Does he speak Russian? I am sure if he didn't, he does now.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Matty said...

Big Dave,
I think I would lose weight there! I had a Russian friend in Toronto...and one day he brought me battered steak which was a minute steak rolled in breading and egg which his mother cooked,,,,,he thought it was great,,,,but I won't try it again.
From what I gather,,Russian cooking is bland.....they don't cook with too many spices.....and vodka seems to be their herb of choice...no wonder the catsup went missing!
I bet Scott lost weight...and gained it back when he got home!
Bet Scott is happy to be home! And I would also bet the 'one' Mcdonald's had a line-up waiting to get in??
I'm sure Scott will be anxious to visit again but with his own supply of catsup and spices.
Did he bring back a lot of pics? Does Scott now have a liking for vodka?
Cheers from Canada! I'm glad Scott made it home safe and sound. Great post.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

MATTY--Surprisingly, Scott didn't lose weight in Russia. Apparently, unlike in the U.S., the Russians still use lots of fat, like real butter, in their cooking. Plus Scott didn't want to offend his hosts by not eating. Scott has lost quite a bit of weight since he returned. He did bring back a lot of pics, but mostly of buildings. I pulled out two of the most interesting pictures to post here.

The one McDonalds there was very popular, Scott said. Scott had a liking for vodka before he left. He brought back four bottles as gifts.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

GABE--Yes, KFC is in the background, Pizza Hut in the foreground. I was distracted by that massage parlor too. I Googled "massage parlor" and "Nevsky St" to see if I could find out more. One of those parlors does "underwater massage."

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Deb said...

Blogger is playing games--hope it lets me post this time.

That's a wonderful post, Dave. It's interesting to know that they have to cook their meat that long.

1:56 PM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Great trip for your son, Big Dave. Oh, and about the Kvass? I'll just make some here, so don't bother sending me your half a jug.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous squirrel said...

So did they like his hamburger dinner? That Russian food sounds yucky!

9:04 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

I can't imagine cuecumber in hot soup....Yek! This waa a good education for Scott and I'm sure he got more than he bargained for... Maybe he could send his host family a case of catsup for Christmas....

12:03 AM  
Blogger simply me said...

Hi Dave - I love hearing about Scott's trip and sharing his experiences.

Is he planning any other travel adventures in the future?

7:17 AM  
Anonymous vicki said...

Hello, kindred spirit! (I keep trying to add that category to your name and thus far, it's not working. But I have a chat coming up with my blog guru soon...) Andywa, I wish all my daughter had on her windowsill was a bottle of Kvass. Instead she has a Russian. From what I hear (and believe me, the grilling has been intense) he's quite a nice fellow, hard working, tidy and "no, mom! He doesn't sit around and drink vodka!"
But he doesn't have a visa...tra-la. All of this has caused me to buy an airline ticket for mid- Sept; I need to go down there to OUR St. Petersburg and interfere.
I enjoyed this report about Scott's time and all the ins and outs of Russian food. I eat my burgers practically on the hoof so I winced a bit thinking about not-so-sanitary packing, etc.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

You didn't tell us the one meal that he secretly disposed of. It must have been BAD. What was it?

1:50 PM  
Anonymous WalterTH3rd said...

Was it 'salow'?(sp?)

8:55 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

I just asked him and he said, "No." Wasn't salow or anything that sounded like that. But he doesn't remember the name of it either.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home