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
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape