Monday, August 30, 2010
За ваше здоровье!
To your health! That's the classic Russian toast and one I plan to be using frequently now that I have finally gotten off my butt and ventured out to Brighton Beach. While За любовь! (to love!) has a bit of a more poetic ring, "to your health" is the real McCoy and I think my journey out to Brighton did much for my health indeed.
I have always know Brighton Beach was a very Russian neighborhood, and I knew it had a beach to match, but it was just one of those things I had always wanted to do, but never got around to, since moving to the city. This Friday though, Vronsky and I decided to play hooky and hopped on the Q train. The beach is fantastic! I can't believe you can take the subway there, lickity split. Easiest trip to the beach I've ever taken. Yeah, there is a bit of trash and the seagulls are uber aggressive, but the beach is wide, the water calm and there's random guys and one babuska (Russian for grandmother) walking by and selling ice cold beers. The fact that they yelled out "beer!" in both Russian and English just thrilled me even more. It truly is "Little Russia," as our waiter, Sasha, can attest. He said that though he's lived here ten years, but when his friends back home ask him what it is like to live in America, he says "I wouldn't know...I live in Brighton Beach!"
People watching on the boardwalk, or any boardwalk, for that matter, is always a funendeavor, but it is ten times better when you are drinking an ice cold glass of Baltika (sorry, lush that I am, having vodka at high noon too much even for me) and stuffing your face with smoked herring marinated in vinegar and oil with sliced onions on the side, dark bread, and all the pelmeni you can eat (that's dumplings for you non-Russophiles, vareniki if you're eating someplace Ukrainian). Vronsky got the meet pelmeni but I prefer the potato, which is more typical of Ukrainian cooking. It was too hot for any soup, but shchi, cabbage soup is classic, although I don't particularly care for the big dab of smetana (essentially sour cream) that is added in, preferring borscht.
And then there is glorious shashlyk, meat skewers, where the meat is marinated in a combination of spices I have yet to find anyplace else. The combination of the slight heat from the shashlyk and the salty herring just make you want to suck down as many Baltika's as possible in preparation for a quick "sober-up" dip in the water. There were also blinis and pirogis, and an amalgam of side dishes, but by that point Vronsky and I were way to stuffed to eat another bite.
We waddled our way back to the beach and from there on to the subway, thrilled with our new discovery. Until the weather turns, you can find me in my crazy creek out on the sand within a stone's throw of Tatiana's, the Ocean View Cafe, and Primorski's, which is a must-hit on my next trip.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of "traditional" Russian food because to be perfectly frank, there is no such thing! Russia is so huge and filled with so many different cultures, from Siberian to Crimean to the "urbanites" in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Preparation of even the most basic foods like kasha or borscht or blini will vary region by region, and if you'd like some recipes, http://www.traditional-russian-food.com/ is a great place to start. Vronsky and I are contemplating going to Russia for our honeymoon, and getting out into the countryside to get a glimpse (and a taste!) of Russia outside the cities is a must. Until then, до свидания!