Food & Drink: Give me the old taste of Russia

I have before me, courtesy of its food correspondent, a copy of the Moscow Times, founded in 1992. It is one of those papers for expatriates - a growing colony wherever there is a buck to be made - that reveal the foreigners' fascination with the absorbing puzzle in which they are supposedly living.

What is particular about the Moscow Times is that Russia is not merely 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma', as Churchill called it; it is distressingly alien, yet pretends to be something like ourselves. We should be able to find our way about it - though I suspect the task was easier when it was a monolith with well established, if horrible, rules. Today it is an impenetrable society.

How, for instance, am I to interpret the advertisement of Moshaisk (TM), a 'Russian-German joint venture'? 'Maintaining the highest standards of service,' its copy runs, 'is of critical importance to hotels . . . Of particular concern is the reliability of supplies . . . Our assortment includes over 3,000 of the finest international . . . products'. What does the picture show? Tins, bottles, boxes. Yes, you too can partake of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes of Corn (dollars 8), Red Raspberry Preserves (dollars 10) and Arizona Pistachios (dollars 25). It is enough to make one weep.

Is this what the new generation of Russian dollar- millionaires is fed on? And have we not a photograph of Tolstoy seated outdoors at Yasnaya Polyana (which the Moscow Times mislabels Krasnaya Polyana) with his stiffly starched family facing a huge array of jams? Are not jams, sickly sweet, from the immense variety of Russian berries, part of the Russian experience?

We should forget nostalgia and see just how exotic we must appear to Russians (penetrate the mysteries of the West - visit an authentic McDonald's).

When it comes to food, the Moscow Times makes it clear - at least to the expats - that Moscow is just like home. The Sadko Arcade ('Eating Out is In') offers Swiss House, Trattoria, Steak House and a Chicken Grill . . .

But do not despair of discovering 'another world'. You can always go to the Praga restaurant. And don't you wish we could have a pair of restaurant reviewers like Tjitske Speckman and Wierd Duk. The former is the paper's distribution and marketing manager, the latter the correspondent for the Dutch weekly Elsevier. They are admirably candid: 'The Praga is sleazy and extremely worn-out. It's much like the other million or so restaurants in the former empire where Soviet service, palm- greasing included, reigns. Among a wide variety of dishes, one was probably meant to be fricassee in aspic but it looked more like bright red meat trifle. The attentive waiter did not forget to serve old bread.'

This is the Moscow I remember, complete with fake gypsies, lugubrious waiters, and much vodka to make you forget where you are.

The point is, as returnees from Moscow tell me, that Russia (by which they mean big-city Russia) is now totally supine. It is not for nothing that the Moscow Times's hotel ads all say 'the best security'. The place belongs to profiteers, native and foreign. Exploitation never helped food. Economic chaos brings the scum to the top. It always has; it always will. What does scum know about food? Let them eat Frosted Flakes of Corn.

In time, all this will (perhaps) sort itself out. Ordinary Russians are hugely hospitable: paradoxically, most so when food was positively scarce. Readers of Gogol's Dead Souls will remember what a true Russian feast is like, and what a panoply of ingredients - from game to fish to mushrooms and berries - that vast country offers.

I only worry that supplies may now belong only to Moshaisk, that Russian- German joint venture; and be tinned; and perpetuate our 'western' idea that Russian food is all caviare.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable