Being a Brit in Russia is challenging. Being a picky Brit with a very limited diet is a recipe for disaster. I have not taken to Russian food at all, not the confectionary, the bakery or the cookery. I don’t care for the milk here, which is essentially skimmed milk. I don’t eat sausage or cheese, or fish or shawarma. I dislike cabbage and beets. There’s not really a lot left.
And yet… I have eaten at KFC only once, despite several opportunities. I actually prefer the local fast food outlet Jar-Pizza, but I’ve only been there a couple of times. In my first flat I got through a great many pepperoni pizzas from the supermarket – very tasty – but in my new place, I don’t have a working oven, so it is off the menu. Pasta – penne ragu – is another former staple which I find myself avoiding, because for some reason my stomach is very noisy when digesting it, which is not ideal when I’m teaching schoolchildren.
I can buy frozen chips and my self-assembled chip pan has been in regular use, but chips have been an integral part of my diet for too many year of my life, I am trying to eat more healthily so far as possible. So I make myself cook fajitas – basically chicken, onion and a fresh pepper cooked together in a pan and eaten in a wrap.
I used to make fajitas regularly using the Old El Paso seasoning mix, and I bought a few sachets with me, in the hope (thankfully realised) that I would be able to find tortilla wraps in the shops here. But I used them up pretty quickly. Then I started making them with tabasco sauce and a variety of salsas, all of which were way too sweet. In the end I found a taco sauce which does an adequate job as a salsa-substitute.
The other thing I have tried making is curry. You can get curry powder here, and when cooked with the chicken, onion and peppers, it makes an edible, if unexciting curry. I love Indian food, particularly jal frezi and Balti, but there are no Indian restaurants in Volgograd, and no Indian food products in the supermarkets. There are lots of Indians here – mainly students -so I am surprised at the lack of Indian cuisine.
It got me thinking whether I could make my own curry from scratch. A little research on the internet suggests what you need is turmeric, ginger, garlic and garam masala. Some preliminary reconnaissance indicated the first three were no problem, but even the little Thai spice shop in the SuperMan market couldn’t hook me up with any garam masala. I would have to make my own. Again, the ingredients are easy to find out – cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and coriander.
So far I have found everything except cardamom. Now my problem is how to grind the seeds. I need a re-usable mill, or a pestle and mortar, perhaps – I’ve tried bashing cumin seeds inside a plastic bag with a heavy glass jar but those things are indestructible.
While researching curry spices I got to wondering whether I could recreate my favourite fajita seasoning using similar spices. It turns out the answer is no, but I’ve made a pretty interesting new flavour which is much tastier than the Tabasco version. I used cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, black peppercorns and salt. Maybe if I play around with the quantities I can make it even tastier! Certainly worth the preparation time every day, and still healthier than chips.
Snack-wise the thing that keeps me going is bacon-flavoured Lays crisps, those things are delicious and addictive! But bacon is not the best flavour to eat after a spicy meal – back home I would usually follow a hot meal with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. You cannot get such a thing here, the closest I had found was a flavour cream cheese and onion (you could barely taste the cheese) – from a company called Estrella. For some reason, in the last couple of weeks this brand has totally vanished from all the shops. You can take nothing for granted here. But I have found a nice-tasting plain (salt-flavoured) crisp from a Russian company that will do the job.
There’s a paragraph on my breakfast choices too. I used to have crumpets and a glass of milk back in England. No crumpets here, and no proper milk, so I take my vitamin C fix with a glass of strawberry juice. As for toast, I had been toasting a thick loaf from the Volgograd bread factory called Peklavenni (or something like that) which, back home, I would have called brown bread. The only white bread in most shops is a sliced baguette that is too small to toast. But I have found one shop (near the central school office) that sells a brand of bread called “Donskoi” (which I think means from the Don river region) which is very white, with a nice thick crust, and toasts up beautifully! I have to keep remembering to buy it because it comes in very short packets – only about 10 slices.
School is keeping me busy – this week I have had 2 new students on multiple days, so it has been a struggle to find time to get all my lessons prepared and keep up to date with writing the post-lesson reports. One of my new students is a very young boy – only 5 – whose home tutor thought he might benefit from contact with a native speaker. Preparing these lessons has been challenging for me, his reading ability is negligible so I have to make everything visual, entertaining and still have some educational value. On the one hand I am not tied to a programme so I can do pretty much anything I think will help him, but on the other hand I need some kind of structure otherwise I’m just tying together random exercises without any purpose.
I have not been out socially since New Years Eve, I have seen very little of Stephen or Peter this year, and even John crosses my path only once a week when we have sequential Russian lessons. I have heard nothing about any new teachers. I’m told there is a holiday in 3 weeks – I have asked for time off but I notice the school is printing leaflets advertising a Viking Weekend at which there will be teachers from the USA, Russia and England. As the only teacher who can correctly be described as being from England, it looks like someone has plans for me…
And just a little bit of history to finish off with today – 2nd February is the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. 74 years ago today, the German 6th Army surrendered – marking the beginning of the end for the Nazis.