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I write you now from JFK airport in New York City. Yes, that’s right, I’m finally back in the United States! But that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten about the Lowell Bell Ringers. Au contraire! As my time zone-confused body struggles to adjust to the seven-hour difference, I decided to write a small blog post about some of the food that we’ve been eating on our Russia trip.
In general, Russian cuisine is quite a diverse mix. In general, it involves a lot of meat, dairy and potatoes. But it would be unfair to reduce it to that. I’ll give you a quick look at some of the things we ate in the past week, so you can get a sense of it.
(1) Monastery food.
Luckily for us, the Danilov Monastery has a great cafeteria, which I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts. During most of the year, the monastery cafeteria serves up classic Russian favorites, like borscht (beet soup), solyanka (soup with pickles), pelmeni (dumplings), and the classic tomato and cucumber salad. And, of course, everything is served up with heaping helpings of smetana (sour cream), khren (horseradish), and gorchitsa (Russian mustard). The drink of choice is mors, a fruit juice made of different berries.
The major difference between monastery food and typical Russian cuisine is that no meat is served in the monastery; it’s largely replaced by fish. We had fish dumplings, fish cakes, fish soup, fried fish, and even fish jello (in Russian: zalivnoye). All were delicious. During special fasting periods, the monastery basically goes vegan. I liked all of the food, but since I’m such a picky eater I found the fasting food even more tasty. A particular favorite of mine was lentil patties with a carrot and tomato sauce on the side.
(2) Hotel food.
For breakfast each day that we were in Moscow, we ate at the Danilovskaya Hotel. They served up a continental breakfast each morning from 7:30-10am. And this wasn’t just your average cereal and stale muffins affair. I mean, come on, the Danilovskaya Hotel is a classy establishment! We were treated to a small buffet each morning, with everything from pastries and salads, to grechka (buckwheat), potato casserole, and blini (traditional Russian pancakes, similar to crepes).
Regrettably, I didn’t take any photos of our Danilovskaya breakfast, but you can see what grechka looks like from the first photo in the above series. I’m attaching a picture of some big blini I ate in St. Petersburg so you can get an idea of what they look like. The Danilovskaya Hotel blini are smaller and shaped differently, but the idea is the same…
(3) Restaurant food.
In a major metropolis like Moscow, you can find food from all over the world. That said, we didn’t exactly go out for Chinese food and shawarma every other night. Most of the time, we ate at restaurants which serve up traditional Russian cuisine, such as pelmeni (meat dumplings), vareniki (dumplings stuffed with either potatoes or cherries), and various meats, soups and salads. Also popular are plates of pickled vegetables. (These are a particular favorite of Evan, who’s been known to eat full heads of pickled garlic without blinking an eye.)
Shashlik (barbecue/ meat skewers) are also a widespread dish, which we ate at an outdoor cafe in Tsarytsino Park.
Once, we tried out a Georgian restaurant. Georgian food is very popular in Russia, and Father Roman loves it. We sampled all of the Georgian crowd-pleasers: khinkali (big Georgian dumplings), khachapuri (bread stuffed with cheese), and pkhali (an appetizer made of walnut and minced vegetables). And, of course, we washed it down with some delicious Georgian wine. Georgia is said to be the birthplace of wine, which remains an important part of the country’s national identity today. I visited Georgia last summer, and I can say that this restaurant was quite authentic. Father Roman pointed out that the khinkali dough was very thin, which is difficult to achieve.
(4) Tea and snacks.
Tea is another important aspect of Russian culture. Often, we would sit down with Father Roman in his office and just have a cup of tea to relax in the evening. Usually, this tea was accompanied by a plethora of snacks, including dried dates and apricots, cookies, and sushki/ bubliki (hard, donut-shaped cracker snacks; the name depends on the size and texture). Evan described in an earlier post how we sat down one night for tea with bell ringers from across Russia. At that event, we had a veritable feast of snacks, including the ones above, but with the addition of Turkish delight candies and khalva (sunflower seeds prepared in the consistency of astronaut ice cream).
We also got the chance to try many different types of teas, aside from your usual green and black. My favorites were tea with thyme, and oblepikhoviy chai (tea made of “sea buckthorn”; this is a berry we don’t have in the US, so the translation might not say much to you).
While we were training in Moscow, the Danilov Monastery celebrated a feast of blessing honey. We often had honey with our tea, and Father Roman got us each containers to take home to the U.S.
I didn’t take a lot of photos of our tea times, but here’s one of a pot of tea I ordered in a St. Petersburg cafe. You can see a Soviet-style mug, and a plate of sushki.
That’s it for food for now! This was just a small sample of the foods we ate while in Russia, and an even smaller sample of all Russian dishes. I hope it gave you a better idea of Russian cuisine, if you weren’t familiar before!