For every Indian who has lived in the eighties, Russia is love without any doubts…the love – love relationship between the two countries is one of a friendship with different genres…the most talked about being at the political level which percolated down the ranks to culture, literature, sports, films, economics and also the Russian circuses of yore…say circus to an eighties child and be sure you get Russian as a prompt response…these circuses had the funniest clowns, the lithe trapeze artists and the most adorable animals doing all the tricks possible….the animal welfare teams were obscure then!!!
Politically, they had the Tashkent where our Prime Minister of yore Lal Bahadur Shastri breathed his last while sealing the friendship with India’s Indira and her country….Shastri’s death remained shrouded in mystery of the Russian kind! But don’t think that the Indo Russian relation is as new…it started way back in the year 1468 when Afnasay Nikitin, a traveller from Russia visited India and wrote a travelogue named “The journey beyond three seas.” Thereafter the relationship took many twists and turns before being sealed for life with the advent of the Cold War. Although India feigned to be non aligned, a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union was known to all and we as the eighties child still remember those “Life” and “Sputnik” magazines which came into our households with the morning newspapers and other Indian dailies.
As a school going student, some memories of the Russian kind that remains etched in my mind is of those photographs of Russian cities with rows of buildings with spires…the architecture, the lithe bodies of the Russian gymnasts and the finesse that they exhibited in the sport…the mouth watering recipes of Russian cuisine and the profuse use of “dil” which was locally used in our kitchens as “saunf”…the heartwarming Russian love stories set in those “stolovaya cafes”….and of course the untouchable…the unimaginable food in our households…the “beef stroganoff”…the food which made the Russians what they were…strong…solid…tall…fair and handsome!!!
Dill – Ukrop
Dill is a hardy plant grown all over Russia, it’s actually a weed but for the Russians it’s an addiction. They add “dill” to everything they eat be it Russian cuisine or otherwise, so if you order a gazpacho, hummus or even a pizza in Moscow, be sure it comes laden with “dill.” According to surveys carried out in the country, a Russian on an average consumes 1.6 kg of “dill” per year!! The findings also say that there is no export market for the “dill”, they just grow it and then eat it. Non Russians residing in the country have even referred to this profusion of “dil” in the food as a “dill plague” and one has even started a Facebook page uploading pictures of food with inappropriate use of the herb. Whatever may be the case the Russian swears by his “dill” and loves it in all that he eats!!!
Cafes – Stolovaya
In the Russian language, Stolovaya simply means a canteen. It’s the idealistic leftover of the Communist era of providing equal means of survival to the masses. This concept of a Stolovaya started in the 1920s mainly to nourish the factory workers to increase production by making them work for long hours. Within a decade there were more than 38,000 such eating joints throughout the country.
In recent times, Stolovayas are spread through out the country and provide healthy adequate meals at budget prices. Some have even evolved as a chain business having several eateries under a single ownership. The fundamental concept though remains the same in terms of pricing and the quality and quantity of food served. In these modern day Stolovayas, the meal basically compromises of a first course like soup or fish, a meat dish, salad and a fruit compote. Coffee of course come default with all meals!!
Although after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, there has been a huge infiltration of multinational food chains into the market, but these Stolovayas still reign supreme in the towns of Russia…if you are looking for an authentic Russian meal then these are the places to visit. It’s not only about the food…it’s the feel and the legacy that these eating houses carry of an era that used to be!!!
Beef Stroganoff – Bef Stroganov
Though the name sounds a tad bit fancy, beef stroganoff is just a dish of sautéed beef slices served with sour cream. Historically it has been stated that this dish has a Russian origin and was created for the affluent Strogonav clan so that the beef pieces could be chewed easily by the old Count of the family!!! Whatever maybe the legend, the first recipe of the beef stroganoff appeared in the cook book “A Gift to Young Housewives” written by Elena Molokhovet. Thereafter the recipe has evolved around the world with each country having their own version of the same…..
- Beef : 500 gms
- Potatoes : 1 kg
- Sour Cream : 3/4 cup
- Onion : 2 Nos
- Flour : 1 Tbsp
- Butter : 3 Tbsp
- Wash and trim the meat and cut into small pieces while beating the meat pieces with a rolling pin.
- Cut the onion into small pieces and fry it in the butter. Once browned, add the sliced meat, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and cook for 5-6 minutes.
- Sprinkle the meat with flour and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Then add the sour cream and boil for 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Serve with fried potatoes as a side dish. Sprinkle the meat and potatoes with finely chopped dill.
The love that India as a country shares with Russia is not one sided…as I mentioned earlier it’s always been a love love relationship between the two. We all know of the Russian love for our very own Raj Kapoor with his “sar pe lal topi rusi” song from Mera Naam Joker…and in later years Mithunda too creates ripples in their country….what with Shahrukh enacting Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” in the 1991 Hindi film and Rabindranath Tagore’s translation of Maxim Gorky’s “Mother”…it’s always been a love love relationship that has stood the test of times!!!