Saturday, 19 November 2011

Moscow Diary: Food

I really like Russian food, which I’m told is unusual. But soup makes me happy, and I like cabbage and pickles, and I’ve discovered a taste for grietchka, or buckwheat, a Russian staple that you eat with mushrooms.

I enjoy shopping for food here too. Russia has a reputation for being insanely expensive, which isn’t entirely undeserved, but like Geneva, it isn’t too bad once you know where to go. The supermarkets are fine – there’s one near where I lived in Dinamo that’s pretty cheap – and as long as you don’t mind taking the time to check the price of EVERYTHING before you buy it, you can generally come out without bankrupting yourself. All around the city there are little produkti (food shops), that sell salads, generally involving beetroot, and meat and carbs that you can use to put together a lunch – and they do it for reasonable prices. I’ve been rubbish about bringing in my own lunch, because if I can get something good for 75p, why bother.

And there are markets everywhere – one near work most Fridays and some other days on a cycle I can’t figure out, and another near where I’m living at the moment (not sure what days). They sell all sorts of good quality food, and it’s cheaper than the supermarkets (unlike farmers’ markets back home...). And since I love vegetables, it’s a great way to stock up. Best of all is the honey – they have great vats of it, and you can taste it then buy it by the half-kilo. Cheap it isn’t, but I honestly believe honey to be a cure-all, and this is some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted.

Another thing I like about the food is that it’s incredibly seasonal. In the UK, you can get the same stuff year round. One of the things I enjoyed about Geneva was the seasonality – squashes in the autumn, then different types of veggies and different types of fruit gradually appearing in the spring, expensive at first and then the price gradually dropping till they were dirt-cheap, then gradually rising again. It forced me to think more about eating in season and to experiment more with food, and the excitement of new things appearing added to the joy of each new season.

Russia is the same. When I got here, tomatoes and peppers were everywhere and were cheap, so I made enormous amounts of fresh tomato pasta sauces. Now, tomatoes are unaffordable and you can’t find a pepper for love nor money, but potatoes and carrots are cheap, so I’m on to the soup. There are also beetroot everywhere (and cheap) – so I’m experimenting with how to cook beetroot (let me know if you have ideas) – and squashes. The salads on sale in the produkti near work have changed too, so I’ve had to start trying new things. Eating this way makes me feel closer to the land, and more like its ‘real’ food, grown in real places by real people, not halfway around the world or in a greenhouse. This is how I’m supposed to eat. And I like being forced to experiment. I can’t fall back on a pasta sauce, and I’ll get bored of soup soon enough, so I’ll have to figure out something to do with the beetroot, like figuring out how to make borsch.

So what will I miss when I get home? The markets, for sure, although they presumably stop at some point before the babushki freeze to death. The grietchka. The beetroot salads. The honey. The fact that when I buy real food in a market it's cheap, not horribly expensive.

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