Friday, January 27, 2012

4. Feasting, Ukraine Style (Travel food essay)

In Septemberr 2007 we were in Russia and had this intriguing experience

Everyone on the bus was excited.  We had been dragging our feet and butts around half the restored Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow all morning.  Now we were promised a wonderful group lunch.  It would be at a Ukrainian restaurant and the Program Director kept reassuring us that Ukrainians love to eat, and that we would eat very well when we finally got to Kiev tomorrow.  But today this lunch would be a preview of the delicious food to come.
          We wearily straggled off the bus, dodging cars on the crowded Moscow street in front of Zarushka’s, the promised food heaven.  But we perked up as we saw the building housing the restaurant.   It looked like a darling cottage in the woods.  It seemed to be made of brown logs, and the dark green shutters on the second floor had heart cut-outs.  There was a huge wooden statue of an upright bear next to the entrance.  Everything looked charming. The smiling, blond hostess, wearing a brightly embroidered costume, stood in the doorway.  She welcomed us in and up the rustic cedar stairs to a loft with ancient cooking utensils and colorful woven rugs hung on the walls.   The tables were set with pretty red and white embroidered table cloths and thick pottery style dishware.  We all sighed with pleasure anticipating the mouthwatering dishes to come.
          We ordered beer, we had been told not to drink tap water in Moscow.  When it came everyone merrily toasted each other.  Za Vast!   Then the waitresses scurried around setting down our first course.
          A brown earthenware bowl filled with raw shredded cabbage.  I stirred it around to see if there was anything else in the bowl, or any dressing on the cabbage.  Nothing.   Hmmm.  Well I happen to like raw cabbage but this seemed a little, well, primitive? 
         We continued drinking our beer as the first course was whisked away and the soup course was set in front of us.  Another earthenware bowl filled this time with a clear beef broth.  It had a good flavor not much spoiled by the two tiny pieces of beef and 2 carrot slices that floated on top.  OK, we don’t want too filling of a soup course, because we still have an entrée and a dessert to go.
         They did keep encouraging us to order more beer while we waited in hungry anticipation.  The entrée arrived in another, but larger, earthenware bowl.  We looked in amazement at its contents and were too shocked to do more than spoon it up.  Stew!  The entrée was stew.  It seemed to be the same beef broth only thickened with flour or semolina, and with a few more pieces of beef, carrot and the addition of potato and onion.  My God is this how they eat in the Ukraine?  The people must be skin and bones if they think this is good eating.  Perhaps they never recovered from World War II or the Russian occupation.
         But wait, all these Slavic countries have wonderful, rich pastries.   The kitchen was probably just preparing us for a cream filled calorie laden delight.  With hope in our hearts and stomachs, we patiently awaited our last course.  No bowl this time.  That seemed promising.  The dessert arrived on a plate.  Sweet, fruity aromas arose from...a baked apple with its top sliced off and replaced at a jaunty angle, with a little sugar on top—no sauce, no cream.  It was good, but sparse.
         What a meal and tomorrow we were heading to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, where we   would spend 3 days enjoying the best food in this part of the world.  We shuddered in anticipation.

                                                                     The End

1 comment:

  1. In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.