Sunday, January 22, 2012

Russian Lunch

I have recently acquired a book by the author Wladimir Kaminer. For those who haven't heard of him, he's a writer in Berlin, with Russian origins (he received his citizenship for some years now in Germany), and he has a funny-sarcastic-ironic but very clever way of telling short stories, many related to the life in the East and contrasts to the Western life...differences between communism, socialism and capitalism etc.

One particular chapter in his book I found appropriate to connect to a really nice lunch I have had with friends and my mother recently. It is the chapter where Kaminer discusses about the thornfish. His neighbour Andrej drags him to the opening of a new Russian food store in Friedrichshain and there the shadows of the past embrace the author while his neighbor buys the thornfish. The thornfish used to be one of the basic and most common fish in the socialistic Russia. You would eat it yourself but also feed the cat. But besides the function of nurture, the thornfish gave a feeling of freedom and of unity with the rest of the world, because it was fished from seas next to Australia.

Yes, indeed, food has more functions. It makes people creative at times (using the same basic ingredient, you have to think of how to transform it each time so that you don't have the same result), it makes them remember the past (taste has a wonderful way of telling stories you thought long forgotten) and it makes people come together.

My mother tells stories about the Russian hospitality and how, if you were a guest in someone's home, you would never have to feel that there was not enough food. People would go borrow from their neighbors what they were missing, only to make the guest feel special and "at home" in their home. It's like making you feel warm around your soul too and not only around your stomach.

If we look at traditional Russian food, its main purpose is to provide a lot of energy and warmth. The weather we now have outside has been blamed on Siberian "winds", so imagine how it has to be there and what you must eat in order to stay fit. Soups are very common, followed by dishes based on meat or cabbage, just like these Pelmeni below (some would say they are similar to tortellinis), which usually contain a mixture of two meat types.

Here you can see the Piragi, a type of buns filled either with a mixture of minced meat with onions or with a mixture of cabbage and eggs. I prefer the second ones. All of these dishes are accompanied by good, fatty, sour cream (smetana), because energy is also built on fat.

My mother picked the dish mix above, a varienty of salads of which many contained cabbage, beans and beetroot (which is a rich source of antioxidants and nutrients and very important for cardiovascular health).

Pickled vegetables and fruit are also a fine way the Russians complete a dish, and I has small wild pickled apples to accompany my venison steak and my elk roast. Below you see a venison roast our friend got. It was so yummy he finished first.

To complete a real meal, one must enjoy a really nice black tea (черный чай) which is served usually in fine glasses in a finely decorated glass-holder.

In the recipient above, the sugar was "served". I loved the presentation in that restaurant and using trays and bowls and dishes with traditional pattern also gave a feeling of belonging, because you could eat like people would have for ages and would be considered part of the "family".

To end the lunch in the most traditional way, the tea is made with the samovar (самовар) and next to it you get some small sweet pretzels (бублики) or some chocolates which contain wafer (generally called конфекты).

But whatever you eat and wherever you are and no matter what nationality you are, it is important to remember that food can unite people for life and that the joy of sharing something with the person you love, be it family or friend, can never be taken away from you. Nor can your memories be stolen...I can still see the way my mother was traveling in time with every bite she took from that lunch.

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