my struggle with the Russian table

my struggle with the Russian table

In the past twenty-four hours, I have been chased by a pack of wild dogs, helped slaughter a cow, stood knee-deep in said cow’s intestines, peed in public (twice), and climbed over a ten-foot fence at 2 o’clock in the morning. Russia is wonderful.

russian table

Trying to eat healthily in Russia has proven to be an exercise in futility. We start each day with green tea, with of sprigs of mint picked straight from our herb garden; two eggs over easy, slathered with butter, onion and caraway seeds, with runny orange yolks. This is followed by sour cream that puts the one we have back home to shame. I’m pretty sure it’s just cream. I’m honestly not sure what separates it from actual cream, but it’s so good that I don’t even care. Breakfast includes sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, sprinkled with salt and sliced garlic, pickles, fresh ramps, mustard greens, and a healthy slab (or five) of bread.

When I can’t eat any more, my grandmother insists that I have one of her crepes, doesn’t take no for an answer (and indeed it would be quite insulting to refuse), and loads one up with the ‘sour’ cream and local honey, forcing it down my throat, but at that point I have pretty much resigned myself to the crepe.

We continue drinking tea. My grandmother laments howI take my tea straight, pushing jars of jam, honey, and pickled lemons closer to my cup. I insist on drinking it black. Each time that I ask for tea after that, people assume that I will want to have sweets, and more often than not, refuse to take no for an answer. I know there is a cake in the refrigerator asking to be eaten, but it’s still breakfast and eating cake somehow seems just a tad too decadent.

My grandmother eats garlic like it’s a national pastime. We fried young squash today and I cut up almost eight cloves of garlic for a squash about the size of an ambitious cucumber. At one o’clock, promptly, we eat lunch. She fills my plate with mustard greens and about the right amount of mashed potatoes to kill a grown man. My grandmother scoffs as I scoop a majority of the plate back (but I see her smiling a little out of the corner of her mouth, happy that her granddaughter has resolved not to let herself get fat). The mashed potatoes are mixed with dill, parsley, more mustard greens, two onions, and (of course) more garlic. She insists that I try some meat or even a slice of bread, and when I refuse, scoops more mashed potatoes onto my plate (the thought that mixing carbs with carbs is fattening does not even remotely occur to her).

Dinner starts with cabbage —  pickled with carrots and caraway seed — and the monstrosity that Russians somehow still insist on calling ‘salad’ — imitation crab meat, potatoes, canned peas, canned corn, onions, and a healthy dose of mayonnaise to top it all off. My arteries cry for sweet release, eyeing the long-forgotten cucumber and tomato (and the garlic, you can’t forget the garlic) plate longingly. Dinner consists of buckwheat, cooked down with lentils, onions and carrots. I look at my grandmother suspiciously, sending her signals to ignore her natural instincts to fill my plate to the brim. Naturally, she doesn’t get the message. Instead, she plops a pickled tomato on my plate and asks me when I’ll be having cake.

Oh kale salads, how I miss thee.

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