Doing SPB, Bourdain style
Today, Amanda and I decided to experience St. Petersburg Anthony Bourdain-style and headed to a local market. Food – what we eat, where we buy and eat it, how we prepare it, who we share it with and when — offers an intimate view of what sustains us as individual human beings, and as distinct cultures. I was bound to learn something new, and enjoy it in the process!
We started with pickles. Crispy, bright green, delicious. After putting 10 of them into a plastic bag for us, the saleswoman proceeded to pour a cup full of the garlicky liquid in which they were pickling into the bag too. Great for flavor she said, but I only imagined that garlicky liquid spilling on the one pair of jeans I have with me. Next stall: small delicious salads, and a generous saleswoman (you might say aggressive since she was, after all, trying to sell her wares) who kept tempting us with small samples of different dishes. In the end, we purchased two different eggplant items (one was small, thin slices of eggplant rolled and stuffed with carrots, the other was an eggplant and pepper salad that was both sweet and savory and truly unlike any eggplant I had ever eaten). She offered us bites of several more salads and insisted that the cashew and coriander sauce in a small flimsy plastic container would travel quite well on an airplane (yea, right). But she was all smiles, and we had a lovely time tasting so many things.
Next there were several vendors selling dried fruits and nuts; of the 4 or 5 different varieties of apricots we chose one to try. Delicious!!! The saleswoman also talked us into purchasing a special Uzbek treat that was described as dried apple juice, hardened, around a string of walnuts. It looked weird, so we bought it (tried later at home, the verdict: meh).
Though I know it is an acquired taste, smoked fish is something I have loved since I was little, and I was excited to see a vendor selling all sorts of varieties of it. We found these funny-looking “salmon-strips;” again, because they looked a bit weird, we bought them. Delicious! REALLY delicious. That said, the folks who sit next to us on the plane home might not be happy with our purchase as Amanda and I realized we likely would still smell like salmon.
But perhaps our favorite interaction at the market was with the honey-lady. She had large dishes of several kinds of honey and spooned out generous tastes of each one for us. Wow, it was truly delicious and Amanda and I each purchased a kilo to bring home (uh oh, just gave away one of the presents I am bringing home for my husband). I asked her if she was surprised that Amanda spoke such good Russian (well, more accurately, I asked Amanda to ask her that!). No, she said, there are folks from many different countries who can speak Russian, so it doesn’t surprise her. Huh, what do you know! We have heard a great deal more English here in St. Petersburg than we heard in Moscow, and know that several cruise ships make day stops here, so I would have thought that tourists speaking Russian would be fairly uncommon. Additionally, in the U.S. we don’t typically think of Russian as a common second language, but our conversation with the honey lady reminded me that there is a different reality in other parts of the world.