Russian expats living in Boston, Bangkok or Brunei rarely reminisce about historical sites like the Kremlin or Red Square: boiled buckwheat, kefir and salo are what their hearts ache for! Even those who are only away for a couple of weeks start missing Russian food, so imagine how it must feel for those that stay away from their homeland for years.
When eaten fresh, these sour berries may seem like nothing much, but Russian expats do miss delicious cowberry pies and the subtle wine flavour of cowberry juice. Alas, cowberries normally grow much farther north than in the countries Russians prefer to live when they leave their homeland.
Making pelmeni, or meat dumplings, has the same meditative effect as drawing mandalas. You wrap and wrap pieces of dough around ground meat until your fingers hurt. Then, once you sit down to eat, the mountain of dumplings you thought could have fed your family for six months vanishes five minutes after it appears on the table. Pelmeni remind you that everything in this world is finite and nothing lasts forever. You have to make them yourselves if you move abroad since frozen, ready-to-cook pelmeni are not available in supermarkets outside of Russia.
In Europe, buckwheat is regarded as an unusual food only available in hip, organic shops where it comes in 200-gram packets made from hand-printed craft paper and is in the same price range as a second-hand Lamborghini. In Asia, the situation is even worse, so Russians moving to Vietnam or Thailand for the winter will bring this staple from home. Information about restaurants that make the best buckwheat spreads among the Russian expat community like wildfire.
One such place is the Brave Lion Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand, which is famous for its borscht, Russian salad and boiled buckwheat as well as Thai curry. This is one of the few hotels in Thailand that has an elevator, so you can get to the restaurant serving the longed-for buckwheat without having to catch your breath after climbing the stairs.
It’s a pity that no nation in the world shares Russia’s love for this herb, although the Finns come close! Only dill can make the wholesome but boring cucumber-and-tomato salad halfway eatable or give pickled cucumbers that delicate flavour. Without dill, chicken broth is nowhere near as great.
If someone tells you that kefir is the same as yoghurt, don't believe them. Also, don’t be tricked by “Bulgarian yoghurt" in the dairy aisle, which has neither the refreshing notes nor the rich texture of real kefir. The only place you can find the right kind of Kefir outside of Russia is in the Slavic Balkan countries.
Few countries in the world know what good bread is. Everywhere else, the word “bread” is used to describe a substance that tastes like damp polystyrene. Real rye bread is dense, heavy and has a luscious aroma that makes it a meal in itself. For Russians, nostalgia looks and smells like Borodinsky bread. Never mind the proverbial birch trees – unlike good rye bread, these trees can be found around the globe.
Yes, the German wurst or Italian salsiccia are better than Russian sausages and they are made from high-quality meat. They are perfect in their own right, yet they lack that papery taste that makes every Russian think back to his or her childhood and the school cooking lessons in which students learned to boil sausages for themselves.
Hundreds of nations have thousands of ways to prepare fish, especially herring, which can be served smoked, salted, fried or ground into powder. However, no recipe can compete with the fatty Russian pickled herring that simply melts in your mouth.
Essentially, salo is raw, salted pork fat with garlic and pepper. To most people of non-Russian origin, this product appears as weird and disgusting as rotten shark meat from Iceland. However, passion for salo-and-rye sandwiches is seemingly part of the Russian character. It would be hard to count how many Russian expats have mastered the arcane art of salo curing because no supermarket in their new country of residence could supply this delicacy.