Russians huge eaters

Posted on September 5, 2012
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(2002 update of 1972 article)

Many Canadians got the impression from fans returning from Moscow that Russian food is terrible. This is not true. It is certainly different, it gave Canadian digestive systems quite a shock and we soon began to pine for what we were used to. I think the same thing would apply with the finest French cuisine. It is strange though that the things we all craved most were the very simplest things at home — hamburgers, Coca Cola and milk.

Pickle Breakfast

In Russia, breakfast consisted of hard sliced cheese, poached or soft-boiled eggs (the yolks were always too runny and the poached had a greenish tinge) dill pickles, delicious sweet rolls, thick coffee or delicate tea.

Lunch was the big meal. This usually started off with a sort of salad usually incorporating cabbage and having a pickle flavour. There were usually a couple of hard-boiled eggs with a cream sauce. There was always some horrible looking soup made up of various weird colours of vegetables and meat and topped with a big dollop of cream. It was usually delicious although rarely more than lukewarm.

We had steak almost every day although most of the flavour was gone as though it had been boiled for a day or so before being heated up. No salt. Dessert was either ice cream (just like Canadian) or pastries (excellent).

Breaded anything

Supper started off with hard-to identify appetizers like smoked chicken or usually some strange fish dish. The main course might be anything that could be breaded,

— veal, fish, rabbit, chicken or God alone knows what. Dessert would be fruit or pastries.

It all tasted fine to me except that it was like institutional food in Canada. Things could have been warmer, spicier and cooked for a shorter time. The butter and bread were excellent and kept many of us going although it seemed that baking was only done once a week and Monday’s rolls got a little tough by Saturday .

Bottles of carbonated fruit juice (plum, apple, strawberry, pear) were served with breakfast and lunch and beer with supper. The beer was terrible by our tastes and the fruit juice all began to taste like prune soda pop after a few days. There weren’t any ice cubes . except in the bars.

I suppose the overall feeling after a week was that we were on a constant diet of smoked or pickled fish salad.

In the second week we found a bar where they served a really excellent steak. It would beat most steaks in Canadian steak houses – charred on the outside, tender and

juicy pink on the inside and salty! It cost $2.50 and was wildly popular.

Drink On Street

The Russian working people lunched on various kinds of meat pies deep fried like fish and chips and sold from stands in a napkin. Excellent ice cream bars, pastries, chocolates and candies were sold everywhere you turned. It was not unusual to see a few men meet on the street, whip out small glasses, pour a shot of vodka all around and proceed on their way. It wasn’t that common either but I saw it happen three times during my visit.

Russians have a reputation, especially among themselves, for being huge eaters. I wouldn’t argue with that. I would say their choice of diet is even worse than ours and we’re among the worst in the world.

Almost everyone over 40 was much overweight. Many of the older citizens are also extremely short or look as though they have really been through hard times. This is hardly surprising in view of the mass starvation during World War II when 26 million Russians lost their lives.

1,000 For Dinner

We had most of our meals in one of the huge restaurants in the hotel. There were over 400 of us eating there at one time and we only comfortably filled the ground floor leaving a good large area for dancing. There were often wedding parties going on in the balconies while we ate. Another large dining room adjoined ours separated by a folding door. I would guess that 1,000 people could eat in this one restaurant at once. There were seven restaurants in the hotel.

In addition to the restaurants there were a couple of small bars and snack bars scattered around lest a visitor starve on a journey to a restaurant.

Tanya, our guide told us that when the hotel first opened, groups of tourists were occasionally found weeping in the halls having gotten thoroughly lost inside the hotel. This definitely would be possible.

While we were there, there was a constant stream of tours from all over the world. I couldn’t list all of the countries because it would be easier to list the ones not represented but suffice to say that the first couple we met were Australian. Aussies seem to turn up everywhere.

Many tours stay longer in Russia than we did but not usually in the same place. Tanya said that many Intourist guides quit because they cannot stand meeting a group, getting to know them, forming deep friendships and then saying goodbye forever all in the space of a couple of weeks.

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