You know how I said I’d post this on Monday? Well, I lied. I’ve had a cold all week, starting Saturday actually, a nasty sinus one. Since I’m not a person to bravely soldier on when sick, I generally turn into a baby and medicate, sleep and shower my days away. I didn’t even go to work one day, when I was so high on Tylenol Cold I thought watching the news was enlightening. But it’s starting to fade and I can function like more of a human being now, so without further ado, let’s continue exploring the mysteries of the Russian store.
Inevitably somewhere in the store you will come upon a large fridge. This fridge will contain a number of indispensable items dear to the Russian soul. A number of them will have been fermented. This is THE place to come for real sauerkraut. Lightly fermented, crispy and delicious it should be used within a week of purchasing. Try it next time you’re making a German supper or eat as a side dish with a thin drizzle of sunflower oil. No it’s not pretty, but it’s real kraut and it sells fast. You can serve it as a side or make them amazing German meals with bratwurst or go French with choucroute garnie.
If you’ve ever been to Montreal and had the pleasure of eating at Schwartz’s, you will fondly remember the barrel pickles served with the mountains of tender brisket. You can find those pickles here, also in a barrel (or pail as the case may be), and they will be just as good as you remember them. Simply ask the nice people behind the counter for ‘solyonie ogurtsy’. To write the name phonetically is difficult as the Russian language has a few indispensable extra letters. You can specify regular or low salt pickles, and while both are delicious, low salt pickles are my personal favorite. Crunchy, dilly, and with a perfect flavor they accompany half of my dinners and make a great snack. They are called ‘malossolnye ogurtsy’ and even if you just copy and paste the name onto a piece of paper, they’ll sort you out. (This photo did not turn out, so I’m borrowing from http://www.domsovetof.ru/publ/29-1-0-979).
You can see the liberal borrowing of foods from other cultures in these stuffed eggplant slices and halvah on the counter. And speaking of foods borrowed from other cultures, if you happen to spot a container of what look like julienned carrots in the fridge – grab them. They are indeed julienned carrots, but marinated in a mixture of oil and spices. The recipe hails from Korea, brought over by their many immigrants and renders the carrots fragrant, spicy and wonderful. It’s one of my favorite side dishes of all time, and given the fact that the store was sold out, I am not alone.
Russians love their fish. There is a veritable love affair with all sorts of fish – freshwater fish goes into a simple soup called ‘uha’ which is delicious if prepared carefully, ocean fish gets canned, made into savoury pies or smoked, and sprats are considered veritable picnic food. Salmon gets made into a sort of gravlax and tiny fishes are smoked and eaten as a substitute for beer nuts. If you’re not opposed to very rich fish, buy a smoked mackerel below. They are sliced across into thick slices and served with a bland side, like potatoes sprinkled with dill. The fish is tender and very smoky, but delicious. You’ll also see jars of salmon caviar and less often black caviar.
For a single serving snack try a tiny smoked fish – they are literally nibbled on with beer after removing the fins and head (yes with your hands), kind of like peeling a shrimp.
A huge draw for me, a person relatively disinterested in dessert, is the sweets section of the store. Call it nostalgia, or simply a call for quality, but I am so bitterly unimpressed with all commercial baked goods and desserts that I typically abstain from them completely. You know the stuff I’m talking about – the gross overly sweet cakes with gobs of fake frosting, the dense heavy pastries that hit your stomach like a brick, the fillings that are thick with gelatin and can pull out tooth fillings. I love quality desserts in small portions, something you can eat one bite at a time and lose yourself in contemplation of life’s goodness. Many Russian desserts fit the bill.
These small ‘walnuts’ are cookies filled with dulce de leche.
This is a honey cake – layers of honey dough and real cream filling in between. The trimmed layer crumbs cover the cake in a fluffy pillow. This version had raisins in it and was not my favorite.
This is my favorite cake of all time – the Napoleon. (I don’t know what’s up with the name….) It’s a layered cake also, with thin crumbly phyllo-like pastry and an amazing cream layered gently in between. It’s texturally a bit similar to baklava which I also adore, if that helps to explain it. It’s usually light, delicious and addictive.
Most homemade cakes in the store are sold by the slice, and some are boxed up and professionally decorated for parties and more formal events.
The pies below need little introduction, they are simply fruit pies with a variety of fillings in tender dough with a sprinkling of icing sugar. These were cherry which are not my favorite flavor and they were still pretty good.
Well folks, this concludes our edition of the Russian store tour, I hope this helps to lift the veil of mystery of the store and entices someone, anyone to venture in and try something new.