If you’ve been staring at this page since February, wondering when my next post would come, I have good news for you: there are tons of new posts, you just need to look for them in the right place! www.foodperestroika.com
For some strange reason, traffic to this page has been increasing in the past few months. Back in February, I moved my blog out of wordpress.com and onto a dedicated WordPress server, and the new server contains both my old posts and the new ones. So please update your bookmarks, and see you there!
If you find yourself in Canada, you might try the impossibly sweet yet addictive maple syrup pies. In New York City, Momofuku Milk Bar has the infamous crack pie, which isn’t all that different, except it’s made with cane sugar and a funkier crust. As a birch syrup lover, I wanted to come up with a similar dish for the other side of the Iron Curtain. Siberia being a little to Western Russian what Canada is to the United States, I decided to create a Siberian birch syrup pie.
One may ask: do people really eat custard pies in Siberia? Aren’t Siberians just a bunch of alcoholics who push frozen planes along their airport tarmacs while dodging meteorites? (Tupolev-134, no less.) It’s time to shake off clichés! Let it be known that modern Siberians do eat all kinds of pies. And starting from now, add birch syrup pie with kefir ice cream to the list!
The Siberian pedigree is reinforced by the presence of pine nuts, which are found all over Siberia — more on this at siberianpinenuts.com. Once toasted, they add a nice bitterness to the dish. Compared to some Canadian recipes, I’m keeping the sugar level in check, and to balance the flavors from the birch syrup, I’m making a tangy kefir ice cream, topped with a piece of crispy bacon to add a salty note.
Ah, the good old days of Aerosvit! New York-Kiev non-stop in a mere 10 hours, on a plane with nearly non-existent entertainment but at a reasonable price. I’ve used Kiev as a stopover on many trips, spending anywhere from a few hours to a few days there before heading on to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, or just some other part of Ukraine. Back in August 2012, I was there for about 10 hours, on my way to Tashkent…
Being roughly 4 times less busy than Moscow’s Sheremetyovo and 6 times less busy than New York’s JFK, Borispol was a reasonably efficient airport. A mere 30 minutes after landing, I had already cleared security and picked up my suitcase. Once I’d stashed said suitcase in the baggage room, I hopped in a taxi. Another 30 minutes and I was in central Kiev, cool as a cucumber and ready for lunch.
In addition to my New York restaurant reviews, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on random Eastern European restaurants I visit during my various trips. These posts may not always have the depth of my traditional reviews, so I won’t provide any ratings. I’m also unlikely to write about a place if it’s not noteworthy in some capacity.
Once upon a time during the Cold War, Paris had a fair number of Russian restaurants, selling the image of an early-20th century White Russia gorging on caviar and vodka while singing and dancing. The collapse of the U.S.S.R., however, was followed by a progressive loss of interest in (and a brutal update on the reality of) Russian culture, and most of these restaurants eventually closed. At the same time, the mass exodus from Eastern Europe to the West brought a variety of nationalities to Paris and elsewhere. Which is probably how we end up today with a place like Resto Ukraine, a restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, with a Ukrainian chef and an Uzbek waiter.
Call it my resolution for 2015: I’ve decided to extend (complete?) my collection of national dishes this year. I’ve already covered Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, maybe a couple more, so I’ve got, what, a mere 20 countries left? Today is Bosnia’s turn, with Bosanski Lonac.
Bosanski Lonac simply means “Bosnian pot”, which makes me wonder if locals really call it that. After all, French fries are simply called fries in France, and Belgian waffles are just waffles in Belgium. Anyway, this is essentially a stew prepared by alternating layers of large pieces of meat and vegetables into a deep pot, and covering the whole thing with water.
In Alija Lakišić’s Bosanski kuhar, a lengthy tome dedicated to the cuisine of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one can learn more about the origins of the dish. Bosnia has long been a mining area, and lonac was created in the Middle Ages by coal miners for practical reasons. The miners had to prepare their own meals, so while they were working they would leave a ceramic pot filled with a simple but hearty affair of meat chunks, potatoes, and a few vegetables, thrown in in layers, to cook slowly over a fire hearth, until lunch break. Pots were typically prepared for a group of people, and each pot was marked with the name of the group to avoid confusion. Later on, the dish spread beyond coal miners, and people started bringing their pots to bakeries, where they could be cooked slowly in the bread ovens once the baking was done.
I can’t believe I reviewed only six restaurants this year! That’s four less than last year, even though I still feel like I spent all my time eating Eastern European food. However, I can comfort myself by saying that my reviews are getting more thorough, and by looking at all of the many shorter restaurant reports and Red Alerts.
As a reminder, I rate the food on a scale from 0 to 10, and eateries are grouped into three categories: Recommended (rating > 6), Not worth a special visit (rating between 5 and 6), and Avoid (rating < 5). But this year, all the restaurants I’ve visited scored above 6! No disasters like Nasha Rasha (which is now closed, by the way), so I’m definitely not complaining.
Drawing by G. Valk
Before heading to France and Czech Republic for the next two weeks, I’d like to wish you all happy holidays! I plan to come back with enthusiastic (I hope!) reports on modern Czech cuisine, but in the meantime, if you’re still looking for ideas for your dinner parties, here’s a small selection of some of the finest recipes I posted this year.
A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!
When I reviewed Hospoda over three years ago, it got the best rating I ever gave on this blog. Unfortunately, the high quality of the food wasn’t enough to draw crowds, and the restaurant closed its doors last spring. It could have been the strange combination of fine dining, beer, and lack of white tablecloths. Or maybe the less than ideal location on a quiet street on the Upper East Side. But I think the most likely cause is that the phrase “Czech cuisine” conjures in New Yorkers minds’ images of afternoons in the boroughs at beer gardens, eating greasy sausages or bad goulash with their serial pitchers of brew.
Now Hospoda, still a part of Ambiente‘s Czech restaurant empire, has re-opened with a new model that meshes more closely with the local low standards. Chichi potato variations and obscure beef oyster blades are out; sausages and burgers are in. Will the beer grub have New York foaming at the mouth?
I have not yet started writing stories about my recent trip to Albania, but one of my surprising discoveries there was definitely the food. Albanian cuisine reflects the country’s geographical variety (from sea to mountain) and the cultural influences of its neighbors (Greece, former Yugoslavia, and Italy, just across the Straight of Otranto).
Today’s recipe is inspired by a dinner I had in Gjirokastra, at the restaurant Kujtimi. Although Gjirokastra is situated in a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino River in southern Albania, it’s only an hour away from the sea line, and the menu at Kujtimi offers grilled meats, as well as fried mussels, trout, and frogs’ legs. There are also a few local specialties, such as qifqi, rice balls with egg and herbs. Since most of these dishes are prepared very simply and served without garnish, I chose to combine several of them on a single plate, with a few personal additions.
OK, OK, I promise I won’t bug you with my off-topic work stuff for a while after this, but I just published a piece about Chef Watson on MUNCHIES: I’m Happy to Have a Computer Help Me Cook Better. The article focuses on the history of cookbooks, which you might find interesting even if you don’t care about Cognitive Cooking. (Reminder: you can request access to the app here.)