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Tickling Russian palates

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Dishing out hits Chef Suresh, second from right, with his friends at the restaurant, 5Spice in Moscow
Dishing out hits Chef Suresh, second from right, with his friends at the restaurant, 5Spice in Moscow

Being a chef in Russia is different, says S. Suresh. One has to battle the cold and cook everything sans chillies. He narrates the changes taking place in Moscow to Suresh Kumar

A plate of ‘Kleb’ or ‘Reece’ with side dishes of pork, beef or mutton steamed is what people usually order out there. “Due to extremely cold weather during the entire year, the Russians can’t survive without meat and eat very little of vegetables. They do not relish chilli, masala or oily food. Pork, beef, mutton stuffed salads are their favourite dishes. Drinking ‘vodka’ is also part of their food habits”, says S. Suresh, Chef, ‘5Spice’ a restaurant in Moscow. Suresh was back home for a holiday at Vazhakkala, Kochi. Suresh left for Moscow in 2004 and comes home once a year. It was through his friend Santhosh Das that he got a chance to reach Moscow. The 5Spice restaurant was run by Santhosh Das and later sold to a local Russian.

Coffee preferred

‘Kleb’ is the Russian name for our naan/roti. ‘Reece’ is rice which they serve as fried rice and its varieties. Our coffee and tea sounds similar like ‘Kaapi’ and ‘Chai’ in Russian. They prefer ‘kaapi’ to ‘chai’. The Russians are addicted to sweets and meat. Sweets like ice-creams and chocolates are favourable for them. They usually don’t over eat and the people are very strong. Fish and egg are also on the Russians menu but not as much as meat. They like Chinese food like noodles and fried rice (without chilli), says Suresh.

The ‘5Spice’ restaurant has gourmet food known as ‘business lunch’ served from Monday to Friday since Russian offices follow a 5-day week. It consists of rice/noodles, side dishes of pork/beef/mutton steamed (without chilli or masala) salad and a dessert item. The ‘business lunch’ is served from 12 noon to 4pm. It costs 150 roubles. One rouble is equivalent to Rs1.5.

“In fact chilli and masala are unavailable there. We (Indians) take these spices back after our vaca tion here. Foreigners who come to our restaurant want a bit of chilly in their food. Our food is also prepared with chilli,” adds Suresh. The Russians like sweet and sour tastes as well.

Road side outlets, like our ‘thattukadas’ selling chicken shewarmas can be seen in Moscow, Suresh observes. The Russians seem very fond of India and our culture. Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty are household names in Russia.

They sing their favourite Hindi songs. Mithun’s famous disco number in the film ‘Disco Dancer’ is very popular among the Russians. “There are 15 Indian restaurants in Moscow which serve vegetarian food like idli, dosa, sambar, chutney etc. ‘Taj; ‘Guru’, ‘Durbar’, ‘Maharaja’ are the prominent Indian hotels. ‘The chef called ‘Vasuvettan’ at Durbar hotel hailing from Mala, Thrissur is popular among the Indian circle. Apart from us Engineering, medical students from India studying at Moscow assemble at Durbar hotel to taste the homely dishes prepared by Vasuvettan”, adds Suresh.

At 5Spice, Suresh is the only Keralite. Among the four Indians, two are from Tamil Nadu and the other chef is from Uttharkhand.

Extreme cold

Except for the summer season from June-August, the Russians reel under -30 to - 45degree Celsius during the other seasons. It may go up to -70 in regions like Siberia. The summer season shows (+10 to +15 degree Celsius).

They can’t go out without wearing sweaters as the entire region is covered with snow fall. (Even though the climate is extremely cold, Russians don’t mind having ice-creams. Mechanised snow removing is done round the clock.)

Life in Russia is very different and their priorities also differ from ours. Suresh says the changes that are happening in Russia are good for the people, they believe. From an obscurantist, suppressive regime, the Russians now breathe easy. Workers are even getting paid in dollars. A chef normally receives a monthly salary of $1000 in Moscow.

Women have equal role as men in jobs. Women work as waitresses in bars and hotels in Moscow. The Russians who were earlier known as chauvinists for their language and culture have now started learning English.

Moscow so far has no skyscrapers and high rise buildings, but now, such structures are fast coming up and the underground metro rail system in Moscow is one among the best in the world.

The engineering marvel built in the early 1970’s is widely acclaimed. Trains pass through the system once in every two minutes.

Boards, banners and most of the communication are in Russian. “Even Information Technology field, language used in Internet and Websites are in Russian language. It takes nearly an hour to convert e-mail messages to English in the internet cafes. So we (Indians) depend on Indian medical and engineering students who have brought their computers from home. Using internet cafes is also expensive. For a half-hour duration, the browsing charge goes up to Rs.100,” explains Suresh. He understands and speak Russian but can’t read or write the language.

The Indians depend on ‘Moscow Times’, the only English daily published from Moscow and cable television like Asianet, Sun etc. to get the news. The daily is published six days a week with Sunday as a holiday!

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