Friday, April 27, 2012

Russia’s Superpowered Soup Solyanka

Moscow is a city where fusion isn’t just a style of cuisine, but the leitmotif of local gastronomy. Even fast-food chains sell a range of sushi, Thai, Chinese, and Italian dishes to tempt Muscovites. This “mix and match” approach might seem new, but it goes back centuries – as does the Russian love of soup – and the two combine in solyanka, a soup that can feature almost anything .

Conspicuous consumption is the credo of this city, which revolves around power and money, and sees excess as a virtue. The global recession may have halted the construction of the world’s tallest skyscraper, but menus still feature dubious exotica such as endangered species smuggled out of African war zones. From historic Red Square to the fashionable malls of the Garden Ring road, this febrile city has re-created and reimagined itself to become “the new New York.” Radiating in concentric circles from its medieval hilltop citadel, or Kremlin, Moscow exemplifies the best and worst of Russia. Its beauty and ugliness are inseparable, its sentimentality the obverse of a brutality rooted in centuries of despotism and fear of anarchy. Private and cultural life is as passionate as business and politics are cynical.

Above : Worker and Collective Farmer (1937) is aniconic Soviet-era sculpture that is now located at an entrance to the All-Russian Exhibition Center

Eating well has always been not only an affirmation of success but also a way of fortifying oneself for the hardships that may befall even the richest. As illustrated by the fate of Bolshevik leaders in Stalin’s day, even the greatest can end up in Siberia – so it’s important to enjoy life while you can. Traditionally, the main meal of the day has been obyed (lunch), with supper limited to leftover zakuski – Russian hors d’oeuvres . Even today, when slimmed-down business lunches are widely available, many Muscovites expect to eat a hearty four-course lunch of zakuski, soup, a main dish, and a dessert, washed down with beer or vodka.
Soup has always been the mainstay of Russian cuisine; spoons appeared on Russian tables 400 years before forks did. Peasants subsisted on cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge, with flavorings limited to sour cream, garlic, honey, vinegar, dill, and a few other fresh herbs. These tastes – salty, sweet, sour, and pickled – remained the norm even among the nobility until Peter the Great introduced French chefs to his court. Solyanka is a rich jumble of a soup that combines indigenous with foreign ingredients. Its name derives from the Russian word for salt (sol), but it also means “mixed” due to the wide variety of possible ingredients. The soup is prepared by cooking salted cucumbers, before adding the main ingredient: meat, mushrooms, or fish. The core ingredient dictates what else goes in, from allspice and dill to cabbage and breadcrumbs. Like a Dostoevskian fictional hero, cast aside any doubts and throw yourself wholeheartedly into the dish and into Moscow itself – you’re sure to leave poorer but wiser.
Best Places to Eat Solyanka
Café Pushkin expensive

Solyanka is a rich mix of vegetables andmeat or fish, enriched with a dash of sour cream

Named after the Romantic poet, whose ill-starred wedding occurred in the vicinity, this establishment would have delighted him.
People gape as they enter the building, a former pharmacy with huge windows and rich, Biedermeier-style fittings; its upper floors formed part of an aristocrat’s home in the 1820s. The apothecary prepared drugs in the cellar, which is now furnished like a mad scientist’s laboratory, with Bunsen burners, a Morse telegraph, and other retro gadgetry.
The first floor is grander, with a sumptuously paneled library of rare editions and a ballroom built for an ancestor of the composer Rimsky- Korsakov, which now serves as the VIP dining room. During the summer, there’s also a rooftop terrace café. Each floor has a different menu – though all feature a rich meat solyanka that leaves just enough room for a main course.
You can choose between medieval specialties such as baked sterlet (a small sturgeon) in caviar sauce or pike head stuffed with fish and apple confit, or Frenchified dishes such as crab salad with quail eggs and basil-and-raspberry mayonnaise. As befits the clientele of oligarchs, movie stars, and politicians, the wine list is princely.
Tverskoy bulvar 26A, Moscow; open 24 hours daily;
Also in Moscow
Solyanka can be found in the humblest cafés, but visitors to Moscow usually prefer somewhere with a touch of style or sheer oddity. Shield and Sword (+7 495 222 4446; inexpensive) is a KGB-themed place whose dining room contains a replica of the statue of “Iron Felix” Dzerzhinsky that once stood outside the Lubyanka headquarters of the secret police, which he founded. Its Soviet-style menu includes solyanka, pelmeni (Russian ravioli), and chicken Kiev. Many dishes come with a shot of vodka. Alternatively, check out Solyanka (; moderate), a hip restaurant, bar, club, and boutique, named after the street on which it stands (which once led to the Royal Salt Yard) rather than the dish (which only features on its lunchtime menu on Wednesdays). Solyanka offers plenty of alternatives to Russian food, from tom yam soup and chicken curry to Mediterranean salads and pasta dishes. There are lines outside on weekends, when DJs play hip-hop until 6:00 AM.
Also in Russia
In St. Petersburg, you can enjoy solyanka at the Café Sunduk (; inexpensive), a funky art-café that has live Spanish, blues, or jazz music.
A Day in Moscow
Be sure to travel between sights on Moscow’s metro, deservedly famous for the lavish decor of its stations. Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Komsomolskaya, Park Kultury, and Mayakovskaya are among the best examples of the grandiose, High Stalinist style.
Visit Red Square, whose iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin Mausoleum symbolize Russia’s tumultuous past, as does the Kremlin. See the crown jewels in the Armory Museum, the colossal Czar Cannon, and the world’s largest bell before lunch at the nearby Shield and Sword restaurant .
Take a cruise on the Moskva River, past the fairy-tale Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the 300-ft- (91-m-) high Monument to Peter the Great, bestriding a galleon. Disembark at the Novodevichy Convent to visit the cemetery where Gogol, Shostakovich, and other luminaries are buried beneath quirky effigies.
See what’s happening on the scene at Garage, a wonderful Constructivist bus depot turned art space, like the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London.
Getting to Moscow
Domodedovo International airport is 22 miles (34 km) from the center of the city; there are regular Aeroexpress trains to the downtown.
Where to stay in Moscow
Alfa (inexpensive) is a 3-star giant 20 minutes from downtown.
Akvarel (moderate) is very central, located off chic Tverskaya Ulitsa.
Savoy (expensive) is a historic 4-star hotel with an Art Nouveau restaurant and a sauna, extensively restored in 2005.
Russian Vodka
“Drinking is the joy of the Russians. We cannot live without it.” So said the 10th-century Prince Vladimir, rejecting Islam as the state religion in favor of Christianity, which allowed the drinking of vodka. Over a millennium later, vodka remains central to Russian life – as much a curse as a joy, being the prime cause of falling life expectancy in Russian men. Russians seldom go for mixers, but never drink vodka without eating (if only bread). Vodka may be infused with lemon (limonnaya), hot peppers (pertsovka), bison-grass (zubrovka), juniper berries, cloves (okhotnitchaya), or other flavorings.
Russians adore elaborate toasts, but you can get by with “Za zdrovyie!” (“To health!”).

No comments:

Post a Comment