Just one lesson and a consultation today, I tried to catch up on paperwork but my shiny new laptop with its 8MB RAM once more decided I was asking it to do too much at once and shut down on me. Oh, for a decent desktop!
Anyway, I bought some more meat to make another ragu, and I thought I would talk about food. Being a picky eater this was a big concern when I made the decision to come out here, but by and large I’m finding varying sources of nutrition, and avoiding the fast food trap.
Of course I am still drinking lots of Pepsi (especially now I have the capability to make ice for it!). In the Ice Cold War between Coke and Pepsi, Pepsi famously conquered the old USSR by depicting itself as the plucky underdog challenging the huge capitalist empire (probably not mentioning their own annual profits too much). And it is the dominant soft drink here – every street stall has a refrigerated cabinet emblazoned with the blue corporate colours of PepsiCo. It has the effect of making me feel permanently thirsty for an iced cola drink.
But a funny thing happened today, I stopped in at a supermarket in a mall called Superman (no… really!), to pick up a fresh bottle – and they had none. Not in the chilled drinks cabinet, not in the soft drinks aisle, not in the promotional displays next to the till. The only cola they stocked was Coke. Now this isn’t too weird, you might say, different stores have different contracts with different drinks company – but this was the same store (Okay!) as my local supermarket which seems to only sell Pepsi. Perhaps it is a franchise thing – the branding is unconnected to the ownership and each supermarket can arrange its own stockists – I don’t know, but it was annoying. I couldn’t bring myself to buy Coke, I knew I would be passing another supermarket later!
The supermarkets sell packaged meat cuts, ground beef, and chicken fillets just like UK and US supermarkets. But I can’t imagine walking into Tesco or Sainsbury and seeing a tank full of live shrimp, or huge pike* floating vertically. You don’t see frozen fruit and pasta open for scooping and bagging like a pick-and-mix. You don’t see piles of loose frozen fish and shrimp just sitting on shelves, their dead eyes somehow meeting yours.
The cereal aisle consists mostly of Russian oats and muesli, and equally alien American cereals, all bright colours and leaking sugar. I found something very like UK Sugar Puffs called Svietwiet. They have canned fruit and canned meat, even canned beans, but I couldn’t see any canned pasta or soup which in the UK has an aisle to itself. They have a huge range of tomato pastes, tomato sauces, tomato ketchups and stir-in sauces (including Jamie Oliver’s range, and the international brand Dolmio). They have an aisle for biscuits and for candy and chocolate, you can find Mars Bars and Milky Ways but whether they are the American or UK versions, I have not yet ascertained.
I have found a product I quite like (I remember eating something similar in Montenegro in the 80s) called Suhari – it is a sweet, dried fried bread, but very hard. And I found a form of bread I liked at the weekend – wide, round and flat. I will probably experiment a bit more when my confidence with Russian and the names of food increases, but for now I’m operating on a safety first basis.
One last observation, there is a little produce market on the way to the entrance to Superman. The produce is displayed on very low tables, and the producers (I presume it is grown on local dachas) sit on low chairs beside them enticing people to buy. They are all at least 65 years old, many much older. Many of the them have only one product – maybe grapes, or apples, or blackberries in a cup. Some have two or three. You can get mushrooms, chillis, garlic, plums, strawberries, raspberries, other things I don’t even recognise. I bought some garlic off one of the larger stalls but I’ve not yet been tempted to try and buy from the little old dacha people. The fruit in the supermarket seems so much more appetising, but it is probably more expensive too.
*they probably weren’t pike but they looked very pikey