Mike and Yulia visit “Life in Russia”


reflections of an expat

When I asked Yulia to be a guest blogger on “Life in Russia” it was because she’s so passionate about what she writes. Yulia and her husband met in Novosibirsk and have been able to travel to many different places around the globe. I was ecstatic when she agreed to write about her home and her experiences here. Sit back and relax as she shares with you the things she misses about Russia. Don’t be surprised if you smell fresh baked pirozhki or other pleasant aromas coming back from your past. Enjoy.

3 Things I Miss about Russia

An expat blog, by default, is about your new country. I now wish I had blogged about Russia, but I was born there and lived there for most of my life so far, so at the time I felt like it didn’t need blogging about. My husband is from the US, so for 6 years he lived the life of an expat as he worked as an English teacher in the city where we met and fell in love and got married – Novosibirsk, and his writing is amazing so hopefully one day he`ll write about all those years living in Siberia.
I started this blog when my husband and I went to live in New Zealand for 6 months and I just had to describe the wonder of the world that is New Zealand. Little did I know that it was only the beginning of our adventure. Two years on, we find ourselves living in a conservative Turkish city called Kayseri that no one outside of Turkey has ever heard about. There were many wonderful and not so wonderful discoveries to be made about living here, which I described here, here and here:

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Kelebek Special Cave Hotel

As a rule, we try and look at the positive side of things as much as we can (lovely people, amazingly cheap and delicious fruit and vegetables all year round, being able to communicate with people using our elementary Turkish, a new car) and not dwell on the bad things (insanely loud and possibly insane neighbors, crazy drivers, coal smoke in the air all winter long). However, when we were living in Russia, there were many things we grumbled about. My husband and I would settle into a good whining session about how rude the shop assistants were and how people thought we were crazy for opening windows in the middle of the winter and how the plumber we called to fix the kitchen sink turned up drunk and broke more things than he fixed. Now that we don’t live there I can afford to be mellow and forgiving and nostalgic and think about all the things I miss about living there (my family notwithstanding – that goes without saying).

Missing the “Food”

I almost feel bad for putting food at number 1 and not something more sophisticated, like the ballet (did you know that Novosibirsk, my home town is home to the biggest opera and ballet theatre in all of Russia? Watching Swan Lake or the Nutcracker there is an unforgettable experience).

Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre

But yes, food. Definitely pork – because they don’t eat or sell pork here in Kayseri and the only time you eat it is when people bring you some from forays abroad. Not that we ate much pork when we lived in Russia but it was nice to know we could. I would happily devour some smoked ham, still on a bone, bought at a market and wrapped in a linen cloth. Or some salo. How do I explain salo? Think bacon fat without the bacon. Salted or smoked pork belly. You usually keep it in the freezer to help it preserve its firm texture. Slice it real thin, put it on a slice of dark rye bread. Yum! Many people have it with vodka – the fat coats your stomach and you can drink more. I realize that I`m singing praise to eating salted pork fat but seriously, if you ever go to Russia, try it.

Salo on Dark Rye

Food item number two – pirozhki. Baked or fried pastries with sweet or savory filling. Oh, how inadequate this definition is. It does not cover the smell that permeats the apartment when your grandmother makes pirozhki, or the burning in your hands and your mouth when you snatch a pirozhok hot out of the oven and your grandma yells at you to wait until it’s cool or ‘you`ll ruin your stomach with hot dough’ (Don’t ask me! You aren’t supposed to eat hot blini either!). There are thousands variations on dough recipes and filling ideas, but the most basic are mashed potatoes, fried cabbage, green onions and hard boiled eggs or minced meat. When I last visited Russia in February of last year, my grandma made a huge batch of potato pirozhki for me to take back so that my husband could have some. I ate as many as I could and I still had about a dozen in my suitcase. When I was checking in, I was informed that my suitcase was over the limit. I really really didn’t want to pay the exorbitant excess luggage prices, so I came up with an idea. My lower lip trembling, I said in a stoic voice, “My grandma baked me some pirozhki to take bake to Turkey. But I guess I don’t really need them. Just give me a minute and I`ll take them out”. The check-in lady wordlessly put a label on my suitcase and waved me on. Pirozhki, the magical word!

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Hot Pirozhki out of the Oven

Last but not least – Russian salads. Don’t be surprised if you ask a Russian what their favorite food to eat is for a speacial occason and they say salad. In Russia, salads aren’t a health food. Quite the opposite. Take a bunch of ingredients that you would never think to put together, cut into small cubes and pour mayonnaise on top. A lot of mayonnaise. One salad that comes to mind is ‘herring under fur’, or ‘seledka pod shuboy’, a.k.a. just ‘shuba’. The fur refers to the layers of vegetables and mayonnaise covering the herring. Basically, it’s chopped up salted herring under layers of grated or chopped boiled potatoes, carrots, beets, fresh onions and sometimes hard-boiled eggs. Because of the beets and the layers the salad looks very festive and many a foreigner have mistaken it for a dessert! Look at the photo below and you`ll see why. I, for one, would eat this salad any time of night and day, but I know that not a lot of foreigners are as inspired by the combination of herring and beets as Russians are.
For more on Russian food check out my post about my trip to my Siberian hometown last winter

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Missing our Dacha

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Dacha is one of those words that are hard to translate. Basically, it’s as summer house. In Soviet times, dachas were means of obtaining food – you planted a large vegetable garden and then in the lean winter months you had reserved of potatoes, carrots and onions and all kinds of preserves – from strawberry jam to pickled tomatoes and cucumbers. Houses were typacally made of wood and weren’t suitable for living there in the winter.
The dacha was also an excellent place to put all of your junk – from beat-up furniture to sweat pants with stretched-out knees. In fact, as soon as you arrive to the dacha you change into old clothes. It’s always funny to see the transformatoion. My father, who owns his own company, wears smart shirts in the city, but as soon as he gets to the dacha, out come the Soviet-era tracksuits and a 40-year old Finnish jacket with holes under the armpits and the lining hanging out. To show you what I mean, here is a photo on my family in normal clothes vs dacha clothes. I`ll leave it to you to figure out which is which. But note that clothes are usually interchangeble – we often fight over the comfy 80s sweatshirt.

Now that there are lots of wealthy people in Russia, dachas come in all shapes and sizes – from 3-storey villas with a swimming pool and pristine green lawns to a ramshakle building with an outhouse. Ours definitely falls into the latter category, and I love it all the more for not being perfect. When I say ours I mean my parents’ of course, as in my opinion, having a dacha is the ultimate sign of being grown up and settled.

 

So what do you do at the dacha? First of all, tend to the vegetables, although after weeding our 4 rows of carrots and leaving all the weeds intact (me) and cutting down a huge buckthorn berry bush instead of a sick old maple(Michael) we aren’t trusted to do much actual gardening.

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And, then, of course, there is grilling out which involves a metal grill (mangal) where you put wood or coals, and large quantities of meat, usually pork, marinated and put on skewers. This is my favorite part of the dacha, and not just for the food, but for the experience of sitting outside by a rickety table, swatting yourself like a demented person in attempts to kill the insatiable Siberian mosquitos, crunching on a freshly-picked cucumber and greeting neigbours over the fence. Come rain or sunshine, my dad is in charge of the meat. I`ve been looking through dacha photos for this blog post and in every batch, there’s at least one photo of him standing in the same place, just in front of the shed, griling meat.

Missing – All the parties

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Russians love to party. They heartily embrace foreign holidays, just so that they have an excuse to get together and celebrate. Chinese New Year? Definitely! Halloween? Yes, please! But the most important special occasion is probably New Year. If you live in a country where Christmas is celebrated, then imagine all the fuss surrounding it –crowded shops, festive street lights, all the advertising, all bars/clubs/restaurants booked for corporate parties, and last, but not least, decorated fir trees – and you`ll be able to come close to understanding how important New Year is for Russians. For some people, it’s a holiday celebrated with the family, but for most people New Year is major party time which lasts around 10 days. You see, Russians also get a nice long public holiday lasting approximately 10 days, so there’s no need to stop celebrating on January, 1. Oh, and what do people eat? See part 1 item 3 – Russian salads!

New Year traditions also include drinking copious amounts of champagne and watching the president’s address just before midnight (always showing Kremlin at the background) and then listening to the Kremlin clock striking midnight, followed by the anthem of Russia. Having lived in several countries, I somewhat pompously consider myself to be a citizen of the world, but wherever I am, I am unable to usher the New Year in without listening to that clock. I`ve tuned in to a Russian channel while living in London, and watched an Internet broadcast from New Zealand and Turkey. Incidentally, it was during such a New Year’s address on December 31, 1999 that the president Boris Yeltsin made his shocking announcement, resigning from the office and leaving the presidency in the hands of Vladimir Putin, who was the prime-minister at the time.

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To see what I`m talking about with the Kremlin clock, watch this

About Mike and Julia

We are a married couple. Mike is from the US, Yulia is from Russia.
This is us getting married in Siberia in winter – notice the temperature outside.

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We started this blog when we went to New Zealand 2 years ago. Now we are living in Kayseri, Turkey, where we are both working as English Instructors at English Prep Programs, although in two different universities. One reason for this blog is to keep in touch with friends and family and tell them about what life is like here (wherever here might be) , but even if you don`t know us, it might give you some insight into life in New Zealand, Russia and Turkey (and our future destinations!)

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11 thoughts on “Mike and Yulia visit “Life in Russia”

  1. I used to love to eat pirozhki. I was able to get them in a Russian restaurant in London, along with many other Russian delicacies. Unfortunately, there are not so many restaurants serving this food in Norfolk, but I have found one called ‘Rasputin’ in a town 12 miles away, so I am looking forward to revisiting those tastes.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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