Conversations with someone who has just returned from abroad are always awkward. You want to find out about their trip, and maybe they want to tell you about it, but getting there is difficult. “How was it?” “Oh, great.” “What did you do?” “Lots of things.” So some time ago I decided on the golden question to kick-start real conversation: “What is the weirdest thing you ate?” This works equally well with friends returning from Tunisia, Thailand, or Texas. Even Rome will turn up an odd dish every now and then.
Anyhow, I’m going to preempt you all from stealing my golden question by answering it now, 8 months early. I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of all the weird culinary phenomena I will encounter in Ukhta, but if I outdo these, I will be surprised by myself (and probably also sick to my stomach).
- Spicy pickles. It seems like everybody in Russia makes their own pickles, and they add all sorts of things to make the flavor more interesting, or something. The first pickles I ever enjoyed were in Russia, so I carried on with the naive assumption that Russian pickles just taste better than American ones… not true, Miss Katie, not true. And sometimes you need to wash them down with rice and/or milk.
- Baked milk. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how it works. All I know is that the taste was weirdly sweet and the temperature was weirdly warm, and there was something slimy floating in it.
- Russian sushi. It’s not bad, it’s just all really full of cream cheese. I like cheese as much as (read: more than) the next person, but… overboard, Russia. Overboard. (I still enjoyed it. Ginger is amazing.)
- Holodets. Guys, I can’t even. I have avoided the stuff for years, but when a professor gave us some as a gift (it’s apparently good for bone health), I had to give in and try it. If you’re wondering what it is, it’s basically meat jello with pieces of meat in it. The taste was tolerable, but the texture was not. View picture at your own risk.
- Herring under a fur coat. Doesn’t that sound appetizing? It’s salad. Doesn’t it look like salad? It has veggies in it, at least, some beets and onions. But really, 30% of it is fish/potatoes, and 30% is mayonnaise.
Don’t worry. Mostly I eat very well here. Later I will regale you with tales of all the delicacies I feast on daily, not the weird things I try once. Just for now… I won’t tell you to beware all of these foods, but definitely be aware of them.