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The Flavours of Moscow

Russia’s culinary reputation centres on warming stews, full of wintery vegetables such as cabbage, beetroot and potatoes. Yet Moscow was once the capital of a vast empire stretching from Poland to the Pacific and this is reflected in the variety of food on offer in the city. Aubergines (eggplants) and toma toes, imported from the Caucasus in the south, bring the flavours of the Mediterranean, while spices from Central Asia lend an exotic touch. On the stalls of th city’s Central Market, crayfish and caviar sit alongsid honey from Siberia and melons and peaches from Georgia.


Many Muscovites have small country houses within easy reach of the city, and spend weekends from spring to early winter lovingly tending their immaculate vegetable gardens, or combing the countryside for wild berries and mushrooms. Much of this bountiful harvest is made into preserves and pickles. There is a refreshing soup, solianka, in which pickled cucumbers impart a delicious salty taste. Pickled mushrooms in sour cream make a regular appearance on restaurant menus, as do a variety of fresh berry juices. In a country where food shortages are a fairly recent memory, very little is wasted. Kvas, a popular, mildly alcoholic drink is frequently made at home by fermenting stale bread with sugar and a scattering of fruit. Summer visitors should make a point of trying the delicious cold soup okroshka, which is based on kvas. Russia is also a land with hundreds of rivers and lakes, and has a long tradition of fish cookery. Dishes range from simple soups, such as ukha, to caviar and sturgeon, and salmon cooked in a bewildering variety of ways


Borscht (beetroot soup) and blinis (buttery pancakes) with caviar are perhaps two of the most famous Russian dishes – one a peasant dish which varies with the availability of ingredients and the other a staple for the week leading up to Lent, when rich food would be eaten to fatten up before the fast. Much of Russia’s cuisine is designed to make use of what is readily to hand or is warming and filling. A popular main course is kulebiaka, a hearty fish pie, larded with eggs, rice, dill and onion and encased in a buttery crust. Another is beef stroganoff with its creamy mushroom sauce, created in 18th-century St Petersburg by the chef of the wealthy Stroganoff family.


The former Soviet states of the Caucasus – Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – are renowned for their legendary banquets, where the tables are laden with an enormous quantity and variety of food and drink. These regions still supply Russia’s cities with a tempting range of fine subtropical produce. Limes, lemons, oranges, walnuts, figs, pomegranates, peaches, beans, salty cheeses and herbs are all shipped in season to Moscow’s markets and its many Georgian restaurants. The cuisine of Georgia, with its focus on freshly grilled meats, pulses, vegetables, yogurt, herbs and nut sauces – including the hallmark walnut sauce, satsivi – is famously healthy and Georgians are particularly known for their longevity


From the Central Asian republics of the old Soviet Union, which include Freshly picked lingonberries from Russia’s bumper autumn harvest Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, come a range of culinary traditions based on the nomadic lifestyles of Russia’s one-time overlords, the Mongol or Tartar Hordes. The meat of fat-tailed sheep, which thrive in the desert air, is used to make communal piles of plov (pilaf) around which guests sit, eating in the traditional manner with their hands. Served in Moscow’s Uzbek restaurants, it shares the menu with delicious flat breads, spicy noodle soups, manti (tasty dumplings reminiscent of Chinese cuisine) and a variety of melons and grapes, which proliferate in the desert oases, and apricots and nuts, grown in the mountains.


 A traditional Russian meal generally begins with zakuski, a selection of cold appetizers. These may include pickled mushrooms (gribi), gherkins (ogurtsi), salted herrings (seliodka), an assortment of smoked fish, blinis topped with caviar, various vegetable pâtés (sometimes known as vegetable caviars), stuffed eggs (yaitsa farshirovanniye), spiced feta cheese (brinza), beetroot salad (salat iz svyokla) and small meat pies (pirozhki), accompanied by rye bread and washed down with shots of vodka. A bowl of steaming soup often follows, before the main course reaches the table

The Flavours of Moscow The Flavours of Moscow Reviewed by MELANIE INFINITY on January 10, 2020 Rating: 5

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