Friday, July 23, 2010

The Food Issue

First of all: WE ARE SO SORRY that we haven't done a post in so long. Midterms suck. The weather in the summer in Russia sucks (actually, in the winter, too). Getting a weird 24-hour stomach flu sucks. But hey, we're here to talk about beets and mayonnaise, so we'll get to the point. Russian food pretty much consists of meat and potatoes and chicken and potatoes and fish and potatoes. And maybe some buckwheat kasha in there. Oh, and the kolbasa. It's everywhere. Luckily, St. Petersburg, being the "Window to Europe" has more than just "Soviet Cuisine" (there are actually restaurants that use this as their tagline). Thus far, we've sampled the infamous sushi bars, Korean food, Georgian food, "American" food, and French food.

Georgian food. What can we say? It fuels cheese-induced dreams. "Cheese-induced?" You ask.

Yes, cheese-induced.

It's called khachipouri, and you should probably sit down for this explanation. It's a "boat" made out of fresh dough, that is filled with CHEESE. Yes, cheese. About a pound. A POUND OF CHEEEEESE. Molten, delicious, gooey, delicately salty Georgian cheese. Words cannot explain the deliciousness. Oh, and there's also a runny egg baked into the center. Oh, and when the waiter (who is usually the cook, owner, and busboy) brings it to you scorchingly hot, fresh out of the oven, there is an ENTIRE STICK of butter melted on top. You just died a little bit, didn't you?

And that's just the beginning; one of the most delicious meat dishes in Georgian cuisine is kutchmachi, which is a small clay pot filled with pork and potatoes, topped by garlic, sliced raw onions, and parsley. The pork and potatoes are cooked in a 600˚ + oven, and the toppings are put on immediately afterward, so that the garlic and the onion sort of cook from the heat of the pork,'s indescribable, the crispy, juicy meat. It can also be made with lamb, which is just as delicious.

One of the most delicious foods you'll ever eat in your life.

Enough about Georgian food; we found the most adorable little French patisserie down the street from school, and we go there sometimes after class to get multicolored macaroons and rye baugette (of all things), and blackcurrant milkshakes (or milk cocktails as they're called in Russia. Yes, go ahead. Get all of the Russian alcohol jokes out of your system).

Nom nom nom.

The truth is, the blackcurrant milkshake discovery was a little bit of a fluke (we have issues ordering in Russian sometimes). It wasn't even really a milkshake--well, in the strictest terms, it was: cold milk blended with blackcurrants and sugar, until it's a frothy purple something. No ice, no ice cream, just reaaally good.

And the sushi bars only bear mention in that they were (are) ridiculous. The most popular in St. Petersburg is a chain called "Dve Palochki" ("Two Chopsticks"), that has an odd theme going on. Picture walking into a sushi bar, very modern looking and sleek. You sit down. The waiter comes over and tells you that you can't drink that bottle of water that you have on the table. You look at your comrades and shrug. It's IS the Motherland, right? He takes your order, seemingly oblivious to the confusion that one member of your party has at the fact that good ol' Two Chopsticks offers a salmon roll, a cucumber roll, an avocado roll, or a selection of all three, plus a tuna roll, but no tuna roll solo. You're waiting for your order to come, and suddenly notice that the entire restaurant is screening the odd mating rituals of this charming fellow:

It was even weirder in motion.

Not only that, above the sushi chefs' stations, there are real, working Arrivals/Departures screens, showing flight times for flights around the world. What is this place? You're all starting to murmur to each other. An hour later, and the food still hasn't arrived. One member of your party, in defiance of The Management, has started to take covert gulps from the forbidden water-bottle, ducking under the table whenever a waiter passes by. Finally, the food comes out, dessert first. You're so hungry, you don't even complain, but wait--there are no utensils, so, desperately, you eat your banana tempura with your hands, then your eel roll, then your cold miso soup. One guy doesn't even get his food. You ask for the check, and a member of your party goes to the bathroom, only to emerge a minute later, laughing confusedly at the two toilets facing each other in one stall. With no divider between them. You decide to get out of Dodge, and pay the check. Filing out of the restaurant, you happen to glance up at the evil sign of the evil restaurant. Two Chopsticks, huh? They think they're so clever...And that's when you realize that they never even gave you your chopsticks.

Thus concluded the end of our sushi-adventures in Russia. Although, we have a birthday tonight in the group, and we're going to eat Korean food (yes, we're daredevils...).

As for the American food, it doesn't even bear mentioning. (Imagine a "Caesar Salad" with parsley instead of lettuce, and almonds instead of chicken. Yeah, we though so, too.)

And the Russian food? The famous blini and caviar? We haven't really had the opportunity to sample this highlight of the Russian cuisine (it's been beets, beets, and more beets), although there's one staple of Russian cuisine that we've taken to quite well:

How could we not?

And now, we have to go eat some ice cream. What?! There's no air-conditioning here!



Friday, July 9, 2010

Buggery (Get Your Mind out of the Gutter)

St. Petersburg is hot. Like, really, really hot. Like, 33˚C hot, remembering lack of air-conditioning, and the proliferation of swamp monsters (aka mosquitoes). In between taking cold showers, eating ice cream, and mortal battles with the enemy (again, mosquitoes), we went to Novgorod last weekend, with the other students on our program. There are actually two Novgorods in Russia--Nizhnii Novgorod, and Velikii Novgorod. We went to Velikii Novgorod, which is about 3 1/2 hours south of St. Petersburg. And there were no mosquitoes. Well, less, anyway.

Not even in this swamp.

Novgorod is a lot smaller than St. Petersburg. A lot cleaner, too. And the cars actually stop for pedestrians. And it has reaaaaally pretty flowers.

See? :)

We visited the Kremlin, which, to clear up various questions, is not exclusive to Moscow. There is a Kremlin in each Russian city, and it's basically the Russian equivalent of the local government building. kind of isn't:

It's a fortress.

The Novgorod Kremlin encompasses government buildings, fountains, monuments, and, of course, too many monasteries to count. One of the monasteries that we went to is in lucky possession of the oldest Russian painting recorded, from the 11th century. Unfortunately, attempts to take pictures were countered by angry babushkas wielding pitchforks, so you'll just have to believe us when we say that the painting was pretty amazing. But never fear, because we got pictures of the interiors of lots of other holy buildings (for a price, of course. Ah, Russia...).

Old paintings, if that's your kind of thing.

We visited a lovely old monastery the second day we were in Novgorod, in the middle of what sounded to be the Sunday service, as we could hear several...angelic voices singing to the masses. The flowers were pretty, though (as usual).

It has to be the water.

Woman lighting a prayer candle.

Ah! We're about to be kicked off of the internet, so we'll leave you with this short blog post before there's no blog post at all. We promise there will be another one on Monday, after we visit Pieterhof this weekend.

PS: There are too many pictures to put up here, but the rest will be uploaded to Facebook, to our respective accounts, so look there if you want to see more picture from Novgorod.