Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Grill the Foodie: Russia

Our regular series “Grill the Foodie” is all about getting inside a country’s food and eating experiences from the perspective of travellers as well as expats living abroad. Why travellers and not locals? Well sometimes locals don’t know what makes their country’s cuisine so unique and wonderful they may not have any other points of reference as their own food is all they have experienced. We will delve into what makes world cuisine great and why travellers love to eat so much. We want you to be inspired by what is happening around the world, how others enjoy their food and how food can unite cultures.

Originally from Sydney, Mike has lived in Hong Kong, Macau and Moscow before settling back in Hong Kong.

The move to Macau gave him a chance to explore Chinese, Portuguese and fusion dishes. His attempts to spice up Russian soup resulted in the Thai/Russian fusion dish ‘Tom Yum Borscht’. He now lives in Hong Kong where all cuisines, and fiery chillies are available, but he always finds space in his suitcase for new and exotic ingredients wherever he travels.

With Mike's love of food and experiences around the world I think we will have to re-visit for an interview on Asian food as well but here are his views from Russia.


Where is your home country?

Hong Kong SAR (China) is my home, though to avoid confusion I am originally from Australia.

How long did you live in Russia for and where in Russia were you located?

Two years. I lived in the Centre of Moscow.


What inspired you to move to Russia?

Another interesting work project (start-up airline).


Did you find yourself eating out or cooking at home whilst living in Russia?

 I prefer spicy Asian dishes, basically the antithesis of Russian food, so I imported ingredients and ate mostly home cooked food.


What are your favourite local dishes when eating out?

While most Russian food is rather bland, there are a couple of diamonds in the rough. A good Borscht (originally from Ukraine) can warm the soul during the long, cold Winter season. Caesar Salad anywhere in Moscow is surprisingly good (only lacking anchovies). Generally served at lunch time, various side salads such as Dressed Herring or Olivier Salad can add a little more interest to the main course. Pelmeni and Pierogi (dumplings stuffed with meat, mushrooms or potatoes), best served with sour cream, can be delicious. In the warmer months, summer soups based on Kvass (non-alcoholic beer) and yoghurt are delicious and refreshing. I realize that it is stretching the term "local" but there are many Georgian restaurants in Moscow, all of which have a repertoire which is generally more interesting than traditional Russian cuisine. I realize that it's a bit off topic, however I should mention that Russians enjoy flavored yoghurt and yoghurt drinks, all very good. Russian fruit juices are also first class, especially a blended cranberry juice called "mors".


What are your favourite local food haunts?

I found a great little bar and restaurant in the Ulitsa 1905 Goda district called Phoenicia, which serves many delicious dishes including the best Borscht in Russia (the Chef cleverly combines a little ox tongue into the soup and tops the whole affair with a fresh baked pie crust). Molly Gwynn's on Noviy Arbat does a great pork knuckle roast, which goes down great with the decent range of draft beers they serve. My favorite Georgian restaurants are Tiflis on Ostozhenka Street and Genatsvale which is nestled between Noviy Arbat and Stariy Arbat. Both restaurants have excellent food, good service and great atmosphere, with interiors laid out like a miniature Georgian village.


 Are there any particular Russian dishes you like to cook yourself?

Pelmeni and Pierogi dumplings are easy to prepare at home, cooking time 3 to 5 minutes, so were always popular for a quick meal. My partner and I accidentally invented Tom Yum Borscht, obviously a fusion of Thai and Russian flavours, which is a little more tedious to prepare but sensational to eat!


What surprises you most about Russian food?

Not many surprises really, it generally is as bland and stodgy as you would expect!


As an expat are there any Russian foods that you have a total disconnect with e.g. don’t understand or outright hate?

Yes ... sometimes when sharing a drink with a large group of friends, dishes of sliced salami, cheese and dried fish will be served. While the salami and cheese are OK with a beer or vodka, the fish is horrible!


What is your favourite food memory or food story from your time in Russia?

When my partner (originally from Thailand) visited, she prepared a Thai feast for a group of friends and colleagues. Determined to give my friends and authentic experience, she gave absolutely no consideration for their sensitive little Russian palates while combining fresh chillies into the various dishes. They loved the food but it almost killed them! That was a fun night for people watching!


For tourists, what local foods would you say are must haves on their trip to Russia?

Sirok, a chocolate coated yoghurt and fruit snack, found in the refrigerated section in supermarkets. And tahun (nearest English spelling), a very refreshing green colored herb based soda drink, which is also available in some supermarkets (primarily in Georgian community areas).

Are there any Russian foods or experiences that make you feel close to home?

Not really, Russian food has as much in common with Asian food as does the relative weather.

Now that you have left Russia are there any foods or food experiences will you miss most?

I do miss the long Sunday lunches in Molly Gwynn's in winter time, enjoying a few beers with friends while watching the snow outside, then later walking home with the feeling that I am inside a postcard!
Originally posted on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 by

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