Memoirs of Russia

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Would you like a menu with that?

With the World Cup starting in three days (thanks to work I’ve been counting down for a year) I thought it highly apt to dig back into my Russia files. I’ve raved about the Georgian food in Russia and a brilliant cooking class in Moscow, but what else did I take away from visiting the world’s largest (and often most provocative) country? Well mainly food of course…

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

A snapshot of Russian history told through vodka.

Vodka
And vodka obviously. Vodka is drunk like water in Russia. So it’s no surprise when you learn that the name stems from the Russian word for water, ‘voda’. It’s everywhere, and I was warned not to buy the dodgy cheap stuff, i.e. 1/2 litre for anything less than 200 Rubles (or about AUD$4.50!). That stuff can actually kill you. The ‘good stuff’ is still a quarter of the price you pay in Australia so what the Russians regard as expensive was still a bargain for me.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

And even more vodka…

Naturally I had to check out the Vodka Museum which was a shrine to the stuff and told of its history and the role it has played in society and history. Take the tour and you get a complimentary shot of vodka (for research purposes only of course).

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Choose your poison and your fridge.

And it wasn’t uncommon to find a vodka fridge next to a soft drink fridge. Even the Russians need to stay hydrated.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Picking pickles leaves me pickled pink

Pickles
I do love myself a pickle. I took great joy in fishing out pickles from salty brine while in Estonia and was happy to see a similar attitude to pickles in Russia, i.e. bring them out for every meal and feel free to snack on them in between. The pickles always hit the right balance of tartness and sweetness with me, and I even enjoyed the rogue dill fronds that would inevitable be wrapped around each one.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

My favourite cranky Russian stall holder and her pickles.

There were entire pickle counters at the food markets where I managed to extract a couple of samples from a perpetually cross looking matron. Then of course there were plenty of tubs filled with homemade pickles lining the streets in smaller towns. I loved how it was entirely acceptable to buy a couple of pickles and eat them as you went about your day. Read More

6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

the fidgety foodie_6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

The table is set in a typical Northern Swedish household

Salmon. Check
Meatballs. Check
Cinammon buns. Check.

If you’ve come this far then you’ve certaintly sampled the obvious highlights of Swedish food.

But this cuisine gets so much better, and more creative, the more you delve.

On my last trip to Sweden I veered north and stumbled across some particularly unique delicacies which were most entertaining.

the fidgety foodie_6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

Freshly opened surströmming – strategically opened outside on the grass.

Surströmming – fermented herring

My adopted Swedish mother Ing-mari made me feel like her third child the moment I stepped through her door and had a suite of Northern Swedish delicacies lined up for me to try, starting with the extremely polarising surströmming. Now some say this fermented Baltic Sea herring is the smelliest food in the world but I know that isn’t true because that honour goes to Icelandic fermented shark which I can guarantee you will have you retching from 50m away.

the fidgety foodie_6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

Ing-mari shows me how it’s done

The Baltic herring used in surströmming is fermented for six months then stuffed in a tin to give the salty fish a sharp sour flavour. The smell is so pungent that there’s an unwritten law that a can must only be opened outdoors and far away from neighbours. When I arrived in Hemmanet outside of Sundsvall the said can was already ‘resting’ on the grass in preparation for our meal.

the fidgety foodie_6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

The combination of flavours and textures on this rye bread make the surströmming sing!

Ing-Mari served the surströmming on crisp rye bread with butter, slices of boiled potatoes, sliced red onion, caviar and sour cream. I found it delicious! And not just because it caved under the weight of the accoutrements – I tried some solo and really relished the tangy taste washed down with aquavit.

the fidgety foodie_6 crazy (but delicious) things to eat in Sweden

The curious creature that is the smörgåstårta

Smörgåstårta – sandwich cake

When I see something edible for the first time my eyes go wide, I get really excited and MUST TRY IT IMMEDIATELY. No one knows this better than my dear Swedish friend Joakim who has patiently indulged my foodie obsessions over many Swedish road trips.

It was on the latest that I spotted a strange construction in a supermarket. It was embellished like a cake but appeared to be made of savoury ingredients.

‘Oh yes’ said Joakim casually. ‘That’s a sandwich cake. They were very big in the 80s, my mum used to buy them’. Read More

9 more reasons to love cloudberries

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Fresh cloudberries in the flesh

It’s been almost two years since I announced to the world that cloudberries are my crack. Since then my dependency has grown worse, exacerbated by a recent trip to the northern hemisphere where I had more access to the goods than I could handle. I’m literally on a cloudberry high as I write this.

I’ve waxed lyrical about these babies before. Their rarity. Their delicacy. Their sweet, sweet, but tart taste that has my eyes lolling in my head. My habit started with cloudberry jam in London and peaked with fresh berries in Helsinki. I’m too far gone to stop now.

But this year I took it to a whole new level. Cloudberry yoghurt? Yep. Cloudberries and fried cheese? All over it. Cloudberry soap? Absolutely (but only topically mind you – even I have limits). Cloudberries found their way into my world no less than nine times this July.

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Delicious yoghurt flavoured with Swedish cloudberries

Cloudberry yoghurt

Clouberries are called hjortron in Sweden, pronounced ‘you-tron’. I don’t even have to hint to my Swedish friends anymore, they know how much I love them. On my first morning in the northern Swedish city of Sundsvall, I was greeted with a delicious breakfast spread by my adopted Swedish mother, Ing-Mari. Amongst the crisp rye bread and västerbotten cheese was a carton of hjortron fjäll – a thin rich yoghurt flavoured with my favourite berries. What a way to start the day!

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Cloudberry jam is where my addiction started

Cloudberry Jam

This is how is all began for me and is probably the most well known and well travelled cloudberry product. If you’re lucky you can even find it at IKEA (if you live in Sydney don’t even bother trying the Tempe store, I generally clean them out). It’s ubiquitous in Sweden and I had to start restricting my purchases as it’s not very practical to transport around the world.

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the fidgety foodie_9 more reasons to love cloudberries

The unbelievably tasty combo of fried camembert and cloudberry jam

Cloudberry jam… with cheese!

Cheese and jam is a winning combination, nothing makes me go weak at the knees like a hunk of blue cheese stacked with quince jam. That was until the day I discovered fried camembert with cloudberry jam at a street market in Skelleftea, up in Swedish Lapland. The fried cheese had a crispy exterior, gooey cheesy interior, and worked delightfully with the heady sweetness of cloudberries.

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Cloudberries are a cornerstone of Swedish dessert menus

Cloudberry dessert

It’s not uncommon to see cloudberry jam or sauce featured on Swedish dessert menus. The ante was upped, however, on a dining experience in Umeå, where I came across rullrån with mascarpone and cloudberries. Crispy cigar wafers were filled with mascarpone and served on a bed of macerated cloudberries and it was a sensational combination. Can’t wait to recreate this one at home. Read More

7 reasons why you need to know about Georgian food

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Georgian food stand at the Dorogomilovskiy market

How much do you know about Georgia?

The country nestled under Russia in the Caucasus that is, not the US state.

In all truth I previously knew only one thing about Georgia. In 2007 a little Georgian lass came fourth in Junior Eurovision (for under 15s), and on her return to Georgia she was welcomed like royalty. The Prime Minister even came to meet her at the airport, such was the enormity of this occasion.

Any country that treats its fourth place Eurovision winner like a god is solid in my book.

the fidgety foodie_ 7 reasons why you need to know about Georgian food

Pelamushi is a typical Georgian dessert

At this point I have to fess up and make it clear that I haven’t been to Georgia. BUT, I have just spent two weeks in Russia, in which Georgian food takes a starring role.

There seems to be a few reasons for the proliferation of Georgian cuisine. Firstly, it’s damn good. The benefit of sitting smack in the middle of the ancient East-West trade routes was being able to take your pick at the best of what was passing by, be it pillowy Turkish-style bread or Mediterranean salads. I’d argue that the cuisine is far more sophisticated than Russian food, which is hearty but more rudimentary in its approach to flavours.

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Making Georgian khinkali is serious business

There’s also the Stalin factor. His influence can still be felt across the country, despite the momentous changes since his death in 1953. Just visit the Moscow metro which he designed as an interconnected web of museums ‘for the people’, which features his face at every opportunity. Stalin was from Georgia, so this undoubtedly influenced this prevalence of Georgian restaurants throughout the 20th century.

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Perfectly folded Georgian soup dumplings known as khinkali

Therefore it’s not at all hard to find a Georgian restaurant in the main Russian cities and you’d be wise to seek one out at least once. I did just this on my first night in Moscow and subsequent nights in Saint Petersburg. It’s possible that I ate at more Georgian restaurants than Russian restaurants. Don’t tell Putin okay?

I narrowed down my favourite dishes to seven – and to be honest I didn’t even really go to town on some of the meat dishes the cuisine offers. And have I mentioned how much I liked the wine? There’s no question that I need a trip to the source to explore this delicious cuisine even further.

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Khachapuri made with sulguni cheese and butter

Khachapuri

My first thought when this molten cacophony of bread and cheese was presented was its likeness to Turkish pide. This version was topped with the crumbly brined Georgian cheese called sulguni, along with chunks of another cheese.

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LOTS of butter

But wait a minute. I gulped and soon realised that the giant yellowy chunks weren’t cheese, they were butter. Meant for swirling through the cheese, just in case you weren’t already in the throes of a dairy overload. Butter, cheese and carbs – does it get any better? Read More

Marvellous Market #3: Great Market Hall, Budapest

Great Market Hall - Budapest

The Great Market Hall in Budapest

You know a city is serious about food when it builds a giant, purpose built market smack in the middle of the city (Sydney are you listening? Take note please).

Great Market Hall - Budapest

The market’s beautiful interior, looking down on the ground floor

That’s what the Hungarians did in the late 19th century when they built the Great Market Hall. Despite some knocks during the World Wars, a renovation has kept it looking sharp as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Rows of immaculately displayed local products adorn the food stalls

But it’s what’s inside that is really exciting. While the first floor features local handicrafts including traditional Magyar dress and collectables, the ground floor and basement are dedicated to food. Rows and rows of glistening fresh produce, endless stands of paprika and chilli and plenty of local delicacies are enjoyed by locals and tourists.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Paprika and pepper in every possible form

The paprika stands are works of art – sachets, tubs and tubes of the stuff (spicy or sweet) are carefully arranged in colourful rows along with strings of dried peppers and garlic.

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How can you not smile at the Smiley Shop?

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Owls, ghosts, cats, mushrooms and other random pickle shapes

One thing Hungarians LOVE are pickles. Pickles and sauerkraut. They have their own dedicated area – ‘pickle alley’ in the basement floor. What I especially love is the creativity involved, with jars displaying cute messages and smiley faces made from the pickles, plus a massive array of sauerkraut-stuffed pickled vegetables.

Great Market Hall - Budapest

Sauerkraut is measured by the pitchfork

Read More

A mile of wine (literally)

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The Saale-Unstrut wein region

This time last year I was preparing for a challenging aerobic goal.

Not it wasn’t a half marathon or the City2Surf. I was training to walk a mile.

But not just any mile. A wine mile. Or Weinmeile to be precise (and Germans are always precise).

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The pretty town of Naumburg

Tucked away in Saxony is the town of Naumburg (not to be confused with Nuremberg), which sits in Germany’s northernmost wine region of Saale-Unstrut. Naumburg is a picturesque medieval town, filled with castles and architectural ruins from its heyday as an important fair and trade centre.

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A typical house with a terraced vineyard for a backyard

Many people live along the Saale river which runs through the town and most houses have a little vineyard tucked away on the steep slope of their backyard. Once a year in June, every household along the river bands together to celebrate the local wine industry by hosting the Saale Weinmeile – a day of walking, drinking and feasting in the sunshine.

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The Saale river

I was staying with friends Marc and Kathleen in nearby Leipzig when they casually mentioned they’d be taking me to a fun wine event about an hour away. I didn’t realise just how much fun we would end up having (or how much wine we’d end up drinking!).

Willkommen to the Weinmeile!

We joined the throngs of people at the starting point, draped with a welcoming banner. Every house along the river participated in some way – usually with a stand selling glasses and bottles of their homemade wine and food.

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One of the many stands spruiking local wine

As a group of six we decided early on that bottles would be our currency and we picked one up every few stands. Someone had the clever idea to also kick off with a bratwurst or two to provide some ballast for what lay ahead.

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Grüner Silvaner was another of my favourites wine varieties

It was a scorching hot summer’s day in June so the locally grown crisp white wines that we encountered at every step were an ideal refreshment. The mild climate that comes from the river valley is perfect for cultivating dry white wines with a fruity flavour.

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A snapshot of one wine menu

Initially I didn’t recognise a single grape variety but I learnt quickly that Kerner and Müller-Thurgau, followed closely by Grüner Silvaner, were my favourite grape varieties, reminiscent of my perennial favourites Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

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Hand-knitted wine holders – genius!

My friends Bjorn and Antonia were such professionals, they brought their own woollen wine glass holders. I was so jealous. Read More

Drinking food that’s so wrong but oh so right

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Cheesy, greasy, salty poutine

I last wrote about lovely Greek Easter family traditions and cooking sessions with my yiayias. Honest, good clean fun.

Which is precisely why I’m now compelled to write about something down and dirty. To keep the balance.

Today it’s all about outrageous, positively indecent (and calorie-defying) drinking food. This idea came to me recently while I was drinking (alcoholic) ginger beer with a Canadian friend in a Canadian bar. There was only one thing to order in that situation.

‘One poutine please’.

If you think poutine sounds French, that’s because it is – or at least it hails from French speaking Quebec. Chunky fries are topped with brown gravy and cheese curds so the whole thing is a greasy, salty, cheesy mess. A pretty tasty mess to be fair.

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Ginger beer to cut through the grease

According to my sidekick Ving, this was not poutine in its true form – partly because we just don’t make cheese curds in the same way the Canadians do. But he felt the sentiment was there. Apparently McDonald’s does a version in Canada – I’m not entirely confident about how that might taste.

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Chips topped with gooey melted cheese

Poutine is pretty closely related to the cheesy chips that you see on pub menus far and wide throughout the UK. My favourite was a version I came across in Tresco (while snacking on scotch eggs naturally). Good old fashioned chips are drowned with melted cheese so there’s nothing sophisticated going on there but they certainly go down well when you’re drinking copious amounts of local cider.

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Crispy, crunchy, chicharrones

While we’re on the topic of fried foods, it doesn’t get much more debaucherous that chicharrónes or fried pork rinds. That’s where they take something already extremely fatty and proceed to deep fry it to really amp up the fat factor. Sounds like something Homer Simpson would eat. Read More

How The Fidgety Foodie became kind of a big deal in Estonia

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Tallinn old town

Something really cool recently happened to The Fidgety Foodie.

It all started with my first Fidgety Foodie post, back in October 2014, about Tallinn Airport. I was so taken by my experience there that I felt compelled to write about it. At that stage I had roughly two followers (thanks mum and dad) so the post came and went without much of a ripple.

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The cosiest airport I’ve ever seen

Until a few weeks ago when Tallinn Airport itself picked up on the post and shared it through their social media channels. Next thing I knew Estonia Tourism was promoting it. Then the Estonian Embassy joined the party. Before long my web traffic increased by 3000%. That’s pretty extraordinary for a neophyte like me. Not only was half of Estonia reading my post, but I was getting lovely comments and feedback about the blog. This welcoming reception is what compelled me to write about Tallinn in the first place.

I only wish I’d spent more time in Estonia to have experienced more of this beguiling hospitality. I had a mere 24 hours while travelling between Helsinki and Paris with my stoic Swedish friend Joakim.

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Tallinn old town

Estonia is a bit of a quiet achiever. Nestled by fellow Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, it was the birthplace of Kazaa and Skype, is home to world champion wife-carriers (yes it’s a real sport) and was the first country to win Eurovision with a black singer in 2001.

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Helsinki – Tallinn ferry

So what do you do with just 24 hours in one city? It wasn’t long enough to scope out the city like a foodie in my usual depth so I had to prioritise; food markets, supermarket and a wander through the old town were on the agenda once we stepped off the ferry from Helsinki.

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Choose a gravestone when you pick up your groceries

We headed to one of the food markets tucked away outside the walls of Tallinn old town. It was a mash up of fresh produce, antiques, Soviet war memorabilia and quite randomly, personalised granite gravestones.

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Fresh wild strawberries

Being summer, the berries were in top form and I especially loved the freshly picked wild strawberries.  Don’t be fooled by the size; each specimen offered a perfectly concentrated ball of intense strawberry goodness.

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Pretty pastel eggs

I really wanted to buy a carton of these gorgeous pastel coloured eggs but knew that wasn’t the most practical decision while on the road.

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Pickle pick-and-mix

My favourite find was this barrel of pickles. I love pickles at the best of times but being able to scoop them out of salty brine at my leisure was strangely thrilling. Read More