Friday, August 13, 2010

Russia, food and hospitality

 much has been happening, it’s impossible to know where to start, there’s been no time to blog the last two days, so first – the food  & hospitality!

Breakfast at hotel- food is very different, very clean fresh flavours, lots of herbs are part of everyday life infusing things with subtle and strange tastes and smells. Breakfast is cooked things like rice or pasta, eggs ( with herbs ) sausage, also cheese fruit, salads, a bitter yogurt drink, and sometimes thick pancakes. Tea – chai, is usually black, not much use of milk as we know it, but the tea is delicious, not so bitter as ours, vey refreshing.
Lunches, start with a salad, like carrot with sour cream or coleslaw but not so sweet, or cucumber and yogurts, next course is a very watery soup, again fresh subtle flavours very refreshing in hot weather, today lentil & ham stock, yesterday some sort of vegetable and chicken. ( vegetarianism is going to be just too much hassle and the meat isn’t meaty meat- when in Rome do as ... )next course is a small plate ( by our standards ) or rice, or mashed potato, or pasta, with a meat and meal type burger or a strong tasting type of salmon cooked in flour, with a carrot sauce. There is also available piarajok ( sp? ) small pasties, with mashed potatoes, and or cabbage, sour cream, meat etc in- delicious ! next comes the tea, and the pancakes and a very runny jam or sour cream. It’s all wonderful, you never feel too full or too hungry. Nobody here is overweight. The tea we have at the museum theatre building is flavoured with blackcurrant leaves, so subtle. The herb that is mostly in the food is horseradish, but the leaves as well as the roots, a strange flavour, hints of mint or fennel or something else!
Thursday night after supper and our bus journey to the hotel we were very honoured to be the guests of Alex and his family to his flat, we walked a long walk through Yelabuga new part of the city to his apartment- it seemed everyone was out that hot evening, walking with their families, sitting by the fountain, playing with the children, watching the world go by, safe and relaxed despite the imposing concrete tower blocks. A world where crime and health & safety seem a million miles away. The hospitality at Alex, Luda’s ( sp? ) and Yorgies/George’s was wonderful. The flat is small by UK standards, but the warmth , friendship and generosity so much bigger.  I know it sounds like a cliché, but until you meet the open, relaxed, friendly hospitality of the Russians, words cannot do it justice.  We were offered a second supper, salads, caviar, vodka ( So much tastier than what we have in UK ), chai, homemade beer, wine, juice, chocolate...the table full with beautifully presented items, served in beautiful  glass and enamelled folk art cups. The air was hot and humid, everyone dripping with sweat, so Luda offered us ‘Russian  air conditioning’ – paper fans, which kind of sums this place, the paint may be peeling in places but the heart is all there. I hope one day we can return the generosity back in Scotland !

Then today, Friday, a special supper for everyone, all the artists after the formal meeting and speeches. Tonight a beautiful array of pickles, salad and vegetables, with salt herring, we got stuck in thinking this was the whole meal, but there was another course of rice and salmon to come, served with a red berry? juice, and green horseradish vodka. There were many speeches and toasts, all requiring more vodka, much pressure was put on us the international visitors to down the vodka in one... you can imagine the rest, dancing on the streets and general mayhem! Some of our colleagues will have sore heads tomorrow !
( the main supper to Open the event properly- yet another toast )

( a display at the museum of medicine, showing traditional herbs used in old medicine- most are the same as ours, but still in regular use )

( Vodka, the creator of international friendships ! )

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