With James phoning in foodism from Budapest and Stephen operating as a Spain mainstay, I’ve been feeling a little abroad-sick myself, thinking about my adventures in Russia and all of the culinary misadventures I had without the proper photo documentation.
Fortunately, a comrade of mine with whom I shared many of those adventures is spending the summer back in Moscow. Natalia is a photography student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and while she’s fairly new to the world of food art, she graciously agreed to extend her photo mongering to include mealtime in Mother Russia. During her summer stay, she will be sending me pictures of our old haunts. I look forward to sharing her photos and my fond memories of Russian edible life with The Eaten Path – starting today.
If you like her style, please visit Natalia Melikova’s virtual portfolio on behance.net.
Teremok is a popular chain of blini restaurants and a favorite snack source for anyone with a starchy sweet tooth (Natasha the photographer not excluded). The blin – or blintz – is Eastern Europe’s answer to France’s crepe, a permanent culinary prisoner of the Napoleonic War and a Russian staple. While blini are easy to make at home, Teremok has managed to successfully market the fast food blin to rushin’ Russians everywhere.
Teremok’s success is no surprise to me. During my stay in Moscow, I quickly learned what it meant to be a full-time pedestrian. Central Moscow is a continuous street fair; metro stations and high traffic streets are infested by kiosks like barnacles during low tide. Wherever I happened to be heading, beverages, snacks, newspapers and cigarettes were always a few steps and a few rubles away. This meant I always had a Baltika beer in my hand, but it also meant that half of my meals were street food, and while my favorite was Moscow-style shawarma and I made too many drunken, homebound stops at Stardog!s, Teremok was the breakfast treat that never failed to interrupt my brisk morning stride.
The orange-dominant Teremok kiosks and restaurants are visually similar to Sixties architecture and Soviet cartoons. I remember peering up into the caged boxes on Tverskaya, making eye contact with the scowling blond women who are sometimes 16 and sometimes 90, and nervously trying to pronounce “with smoked salmon” correctly to avoid the rolling of their pretty blue eyes. Then, once my order was finally translated, I would count out exact change (to avoid further eye rolling), pay and watch my blin cook on the non-stick helicopter pad.
I remember those mornings well. After stopping at Teremok by the Belorusskaya metro station, I still had a long way to class, so I often walked those next few blocks holding the blin, wrapped in foil and wax paper, with one corner exposed, waiting for it to cool down enough to eat while dodging stern, quick-stepping Muscovites. It was not unlike returning to my seat after visiting the concession stands at a ballgame, if the ballgame was a soccer match on the verge of a riot in zero degree weather.
They’re delicious. Thinner than pancakes and thicker than most blintzes, one Teremok blin fills you up but doesn’t overwhelm you with starchiness. The menu offers sweet and savory choices, from chocolate or jam to ham and cheese or mushroom, such sides as kasha or salad, and such beverages as coffee or kvass. My favorite order at Teremok was a sour cream blin and a plastic bottle of Medovukha, Russian mead with 5% alcohol content.
The sour cream blin has a distinctly Russian taste (as do all things covered in sour cream that don’t involve tortillas or beans). Other menu items like caviar and zelyonie (dill mixed with other herbs) drive home the point that Teremok is a Russian institution. In a country where the three largest fast food chains – KFC, McDonalds and Sbarro – aren’t local, Teremok is Russia’s corporate champion. Fortunately, business is booming and the Teremok brand is strengthening. The product of Russia’s Pepsi Generation is racing to catch up with the rest of the capitalist world, slapping a singular logo to an everyday breakfast comfort and finding very little competition in the post-Soviet market vacuum. In 2009’s Moscow, Teremok is becoming less of a sidewalk snack, popping up more as a restaurant and food court option at malls and subterranean hubs. In the coming years, who knows: Maybe the Teremok logo will find its way to America one day. I hope so; after all, I am a fan.