St. Petersburg’s Sokos Hotel Vasilyevsky provided a one sheet international news summary in English at its buffet breakfast. Headlined GOOD MORNING USA, it contained a section called “United States in BRIEF”. One morning it reported on a cockroach & worm eating contest in Florida in which a man died after winning. This made we curious for 2 reasons: why did Russians think this was significant U.S news, and what was a Russian supermarket like?”
Later that day I had the answer to the second question. Back to our hotel an hour before the ship shuttle, Ruth and I walked a couple of blocks to the nearest grocery store.
Under Communism food was often in short supply and shoppers had to stand in long lines to speak to a sales assistant who would show them current produkty. That clearly has changed, but I still felt I was being watched, maybe because I wasn’t buying anything and clandestinely taking pictures, which was surely forbidden.
I was fascinated by the store’s available produkty. The meat department offered mostly sausage type items. There was lots of processed seafood in tins & plastic tubs, but the most expansive department was frozen food which contained a surprising number of what looked like, and were, pasta items with a Russian twist. Candy & cookies were in huge supply and being put in many baskets. Fresh produce was the smallest section in the store, about 5 half-filled boxes of potatoes, wrinkled apples, etc. The dairy section was large, the beer and vodka section even larger.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I read this week that on the first day of 2013 a new law went into effect all over Russia forbidding street kiosks to sell beer. It will still be available in markets of about 500 feet and larger. Beer will now be classified as an alcoholic beverage rather than a food, and it can’t be sold in stores from 11 pm until 8 am.
On the way out I grabbed the store’s sale-items booklet and could easily identify only about 90% of its contents. The ones I couldn’t include what looked like a dessert but was jam smothered cottage cheese. Among vegetable drinks was one that looked like a urine sample. It turned out to be a potato-celery-carrot combo that Russians drink for upset stomachs. A plastic container that looked like an entry for an American weird food eating contest turned out to be unspecified seafood in oil. The bag of frozen, oblong balls that looked like scallops, Cam Cambl4, turned out to be extremely popular boiled dumplings, pelmeni, a beef/ravioli treat from Siberia, not Salerno. XpeH was horseradish. Kpyna nweHo looked like alien food from a cheap sci-fi flick but was wheat couscous.
Traditional Russian fare includes blini–pancakes stuffed with ham, caviar, etc.–salads heavy on the mayo, delicious beet and beef broth borscht, and liberal use of dill for flavoring. Most Americans would recognize pirogi (meat pies). St. Petersburg inyourpocket mentions a salad combo of herring, boiled potatoes, and beets literally translated as “herring under a fur coat”. Yum.