Saturday, September 5, 2015

Squash Caviar, Why Russia is Awesome, Etc.

In perhaps my laziest blog post to date, I sit at home on a rainy Saturday morning and write about the comments from a previous post.

Truth is, after my recent post about "Things you CAN buy in Russia but NOT in America", I did expect some folks to add to my list, but I did not expect the additions to be well, so spectacular.

Here are a few of my favorites (somehow all related to food/drink):

1) David mentioned: "Ketchup in flavors":  That comment deserves its own book.  I was planning to go to the store to write down all the ketchup flavors, but since this is a lazy blog post, I just went to the local online grocery delivery service, The Platypus, and here are some of the ketchup flavors that I found:  Ketchup flavored Ketchup, Ketchup for the Grill and Shashlik, Garlic Ketchup, Lecho Ketchup, Bavarian Ketchup with Green Onion, Tomato Ketchup with Chunks of Tomato, Spicy Brazilian Ketchup, Mexican Ketchup with Tabasco Pepper, Admiral Ketchup, Tatar Ketchup (NOT Tartar), Spanish Ketchup with Cayenne Pepper, Curry Ketchup, Neapolitan Ketchup with Basil, and Ketchup with Sugar Cane.  To name a few. I should also mention that said Ketchup usually comes in a squeeze bag, much like its arch-rival, The Miraculous Mayonnaise of Mother Russia.  Makes you wonder why we put a thick liquid in a glass bottle and then are perennially baffled at why extraction reaches such levels of complexity.

Curry Ketchup In A Squeeze Bag.  It's a thing, you see.

2) Alert Planet Russia subscriber Christina wrote: "19% Alcohol Beer".  I'm guessing that's a thing.  I honestly don't know.  And surprisingly, on The Platypus site, there were actually fewer types of beer than ketchup.  Just shows you where things are headed.  I reckon 19% beer is for the same type of people who drink espresso.  "Let's keep our kidneys unencumbered from fluid and get straight to the point".  What I would personally add to "19% Alcohol Beer" is "2 Liter Plastic Bottles of Beer".  If there ever was at any time in human history any level of culture or romance related to drinking beer, I'm fairly certain it has been effectively destroyed by those two items.  And here's to hoping that those two items forever remain exclusive of each other.

3) Attentive reader Yuliya noted this gem: "Cabbage spread", but if I understand correctly, she was actually referring to: "Squash Caviar".  Not sure if I got that right, but if blindfolded and offered cabbage spread and squash caviar, I would not be able to distinguish between the two.  You see, you in the West think you have everything, but you don't.  Your paltry store shelves are not graced with the presence of Squash Caviar.  I must admit there has been a time or two when I was at the store and was hoodwinked by the Squash Caviar Caper.  You see, the very desirable word "CAVIAR" is written in large letters on the bottle and the less desirable word "squash", is written in smaller letters.  It is with a certain level of bitterness that I say that this sad vegetable masquerading with its enticing price tag as the Golden Fruit Of The Sea will bamboozle even the most shrewd shopper into a procurement of defraud in a jar.  You go home thinking, "Well, it says CAVIAR, so it's got to be good, right?".

The 4-Star Squash Caviar rating has me speechless this morning.

Honorable Mentions:  

Ways That Russia Tortures Its Milk:  Tvorog, Kefir, Ryazhenka.  Um, it's milk that has been, um processed into, er, milk based products.  That taste like perhaps they were originally milk.  Although they are now thick and yoghurty or perhaps chunky, etc.

Russian Cars:  Yep, don't think you can buy those in America.  That is all.

Chocolate Butter:  Really?  You don't have that?  What a sad person you must be.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

5 Things You Can Buy In Russia But NOT In America

Just when you thought being an American meant you owned everything in the world, I will prove you wrong.

Following my recent post on Things You Can NOT Buy in Russia, it is within international principles  of justice that I now pen the reciprocal column on Things You CAN Buy In Russia But NOT In America.

We will not waste any precious time discussing why these items are not available on your local supermarket's shelves and let's not nitpick about such "market principles" such as "supply" and "demand". And I am not interested to hear about some exotic web-site such as "Amazon" where you can order the items on my list.  And please save us all and resist the urge to tell us about the Slavic Market you went to one time.  That doesn't count.

Without further ado, as I fight the urge to write "driver's licenses", here is my list of 5 Things You Can Buy In Russia But NOT In America:

1.  Fish Jerky:  They don't sell that in America.  But they do in Russia.  It's on the end of the beer aisle.  Russians love fish in every possible form.  Americans like beef.  And we wonder why we can't understand each other on less important issues.

A Fine Piece Of Fish Photography.  

2. Sundry Beverages:  Namely:  Kvass, Kisel, and Kompot.  This Triumvirate of Beverage Bafflement has left many a foreigner in a Liquid State of Perplex.  I don't have time to research what they are made of, except to say that, much like "Kholodets", they are an acquired taste.  I personally enjoy them all.  Kvass is the King of Summer and can also double as the broth in a cold soup that is basically potato salad in a bowl with Kvass poured over the top and then some sour cream or mayonnaise.  My basic understanding is that kvass is made out of bread mold, but I have never seriously looked into the subject.  Kisel is a sweet thick fluid that is pink.  Now close your eyes and imagine you are drinking a sweet thick fluid that is pink.  There you go!  That's what it tastes like.  Kompot really threw me for a loop when I first came to Russia in early 1995.  I looked at it and said, "The fruit has died and now they put water on top of it".  Now I drink the water and then apologize to my fellow expats for using my spoon to fish out the dead fruit for immediate consumption.

3.  Individual Cups Of Pickle Juice:  Yes, it is another beverage.  But this particular beverage also contains medicinal qualities as it will overcome the worst instances of the malady known in the vernacular as "hangover".  Some time ago, I wrote a widely read and award winning piece, "The Clever Commuter Commerce Of The Capital City", which was a wide reaching and in depth masterpiece discussing the entrepreneurial spirit on display in the local commuter trains.   The zenith of this mobile commercial exhibition was a man with a jar of pickle juice and some plastic cups, plying his wares for the morning traveler.

4.  Trips To The Water Closet:  Capitalizing on another's need to empty their bladder is certainly a niche business, but it seems to have gained a certain foothold, particularly in the train stations and even some shopping malls.  In the 1993 cinema classic "About the Businessman Foma", the tale is told of a villager who visits the big city for the first time and witnesses for the very first time this delightful form of merchantry and decides to take it to his home village.  Of course, not all of the locals were equally impressed and one particular gentleman took it upon himself to perform a sit down strike.  You can watch here as they try to negotiate him out of the stall:

5.  Kinder Surprise:   Not Kinder as in "Nicer", but Kinder as in "Kindergarten". This egg shaped piece of plastic is coated in an insanely mediocre chocolate.  But inside there is a toy for children.  Thus, the name "Kinder Surprise".  Our Russian friends will be Kinder Surprised to learn that this seemingly docile treat for the younger generation is forbidden in the United States as according to a 1938 FDA (Fun Death of America) ordinance that inexplicably disallows non-edible joy to be lodged inside edible delight.  I know a guy who once took a whole bag of this lethal contraband for some friends, not knowing that they could summon a fine of $2,500 per egg.  I suppose if he would have been caught, the term "Kinder Surprise" would have taken on a whole new meaning in his life.

Somehow, I miss most of these things in those rare instances that I'm in America.  Illogical, I know, but I guess it's about the same as craving peanut butter or Hershey's chocolate over here.  I guess you just don't know what you have until you can't get it anymore.

What else can you buy in Russia, but NOT in America?  Comment below.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Things You Can NOT Buy In Russia

When the sanctions hit, I panicked and ran down to our local supermarket and quickly bought the last ten jars of peanut butter.  Then I realized I don't eat peanut butter really, so hopefully the amount I bought would outlast the political sparring of our day.

At the same time, with sanctions aside, together with their shockingly small effect on the local market's shelves, there are certain items that you can NOT buy in Russia.  Okay, maybe you can, but I can't, because I have no idea where they are sold.  So, if you see I listed something that you CAN buy in Russia, be sure to gloat/teach in the comments.  This list is getting smaller and smaller with time as the revelation of various marvelous inventions of the West will all eventually make their way to our shores, such as Twinkies.

I'm sure you will read the list and wonder how I survive here, together with my fellow 140 million residents.  But somehow we carve out our hardscrabble existence even without these basic staples.

Without further ado, "Top 8 Things You Can NOT Buy In Russia":

8.  Round Bobbers:  To be fair, you can buy them, but at the fishing store, they said, "Round bobbers?"  "Those run about 180 rubles apiece and are Chinese made, always breaking, so we just don't keep them in stock."  I had a whole list of questions related to that particular statement, but since they weren't in stock, I decided to leave the rhetorical aside and simply go with the practical: a purchase of the more oblong variation with pointy ends that requires more threading and knotting than my weak sailing background can afford.

7.  Mike & Ike's:  I never recall eating a Mike & Ike's anywhere ever while living in the land of purple mountain majesty above the fruity plain.  But somehow, whenever anyone writes us and says "I'm coming over, can I bring anything", the first thing my life partner, my lawful wife, my soulmate, if you will, writes back is, "Can you bring us some Mike & Ike's?".  And here we are, eating something we can't buy at the store here, sort of feeling we beat the system.  Also, no Jolly Ranchers, which explains the lack of smiling on the streets among the local cow herders.

6.  Chocolate:  Hershey's.  There's none of that here*.  Also, no Butterfingers, Heath bars, or 3 Musketeers.  One time I was in checkout at a Wal-Mart (in America) with a Russian friend and bought them a Hershey's and then watched them take their first bite with a huge amount of expectancy that they would burst out with the chorus of "The Stars and Stripes Forever".  But instead, they flatly inquired, "Hm, what do you like about that chocolate?".  Also, it pains me to say this, but I don't remember what a 3 Musketeers tastes/looks like.   But then I get over it because I remember that most of the chocolate here is pretty much better than anything they sell over there.

5.  Beef Jerky:  They don't sell that here.  Instead, they let the fish dry up, salt it, and then sell it whole, head and all, inside a plastic bag in the beer aisle.  It's empty eye sockets straining, as you push your cart by.  Because that's sort of like beef jerky, except it's fish, not beef.  Well, and I guess the part that beef jerky is not the entire cow dried and salted in an enormous plastic bag.

Russia's version of beef jerky

4.  Root Beer:  We don't have root beer, but we do have kvass, which is nothing like root beer.  My dear wife makes root beer from a concentrate that she mixes with bubbly water.  It tastes like root beer until it gets warm and loses all the bubbles, towards the end of the party, and that's when I usually get to try a cup.  I guess I'm usually disappointed because I'm hoping to somehow relive my childhood through each and every cup of root beer, and somehow it never happens.  Sad, really.

3. Netflix, Hulu, etc.:  Not available here.  Except I hear from a friend that perhaps there is a way to get it here.

2.  Stove Top Stuffing and Ranch Dressing:  Basically what I'm saying is that we can't celebrate anything.  And we have nothing to dip our pizza in.  Until (LIFEHACK ALERT) my wife breaks out her secret stash of ranch dressing mix that she hand-carried in and the fiesta begins.

1.  Marshmallows:  Yup, that's right kids.  Less s'more's here.  There is the laughable charade of marshmallows, known as zefir, which is kind of like if you took a marshmallow and it was a petrified marshmallow.  If you roll the word "marshmallow" around in your mouth a few times, you will intuitively understand that the victual in question must also be soft, not crunchy, like zefir usually is. As a matter of fact, roll the word "zefir" around in your mouth a few times.  Now you have experienced both its consistency and flavor.

Honorable Mention:  Not for sale, but basically nonexistent:  drinking fountains.  I thought they didn't exist, but then I saw one the other day, so I took a picture:

Yup, gone are the days when you had to pack your TP and shampoo before flying on over.  As a matter of fact, I feel a post coming on about "Things you can buy in Russia but NOT in America".  Because that list will be much longer.

*Was just informed that you can, in fact, purchase Hershey's at a certain overpriced specialty store.  So, whatever.  Also, same store offers overpriced root beer.  So, again.  Whatever.