Instead of deciding to study a language that I could use on a daily basis (Spanish) or to find a job (Chinese or Arabic) or while traveling (French). Nope, I decided to study Russian, but since I first began in high school, it has come in handy in very convenient moments.
First, it was just so damn weird that it made for some great college admission essays. Secondly, it was a blast to minor in, as Russian literature is the best thing there is and easy to meld in with a history major. Thirdly, Russian humor is the most underrated thing on this earth. Olga, my thesis adviser, and one of the most brilliant people in the world, no hyperbole, is also one of the funniest. Her weird brand of dark humor had the entire class laughing to tears when she described growing up in a communal apartment, which is an impressive feat, considering that it is actually quite wretched. And finally, because it is such an "unusual" language for non-Russians to know, it is great for listening in on elevator/subway/otherwise private conversations in public places.
But what does this have to do with food? Well, I admit this is a bit of a stretch, as Russian food, minus borscht/beet soup, is not really much to write home about (at least what I ate in Russia). However, there was one gastronomical delight I discovered while in the motherland, no mean feat considering that my taste buds were probably all half-dead from late nights and vodka.
This gastronomical delight is called "Shaverma," and it is Russian street meat. The Slavic equivalent of those funny little silver meat carts on every corner of midtown that always smell so damn good but can be of dubious hygiene.
It does not compare to Shaverma. And lord knows what sort of meat is actually IN Shaverma. It could be cat for all I know, but when I was in Russia, I didn't care. The smell wafting off those carts was unreal and the taste, even better. This "meat" is shaved thin, served with grilled onions, lettuce and shredded cabbage, with a special sauce inside a pita. It is unlike anything I have ever tasted before or since, and is no doubt Mediterranean in origin, but something about the Russian interpretation takes it to a whole new greasy level.
Anyway, so here I am in the elevator leaving work for the day, and these three women get in and are talking in Russian. It starts off fairly innocuously, with some family gossip and statements of fatigue, and then one of them sighs and says, "You know what I would kill for right now? Some fucking Shaverma!"
I almost turned around and confronted them, but that would be violating urban elevator code, and also reveal the fact that I was evasdropping and so kept quiet. Plus, I was hoping that maybe they would secretly reveal where I could find some of my own Shaverma here in NYC.
No dice. The women all murmured in assent and the lamented the fact that you couldn't find any in this whole wretched city.
With that, the doors opened and out they went. Anyone up for a trip to St. Petersburg?