I am on a mission to eat authentic food from every country in the world, right here in Toronto! You can find all past recaps here.
It’s Russia time!
I have been itching to eat Russia, mainly to cross that puppy off my list and fill that sucker in on my map. Look how complete my map looks now! I’m getting somewhere.
Fun fact: people sometimes think I’m Russian because of my last name (Evanoff, which is Bulgarian, although my grandpa changed it from Dimitroff when he moved to Canada to sound “less foreign” – pretty sure he should have dropped the ‘off’ to achieve that but I am seriously digressing). Anyway, I’ve told this story before but I’m telling you again because it’s relevant and I think it’s funny. When I was working at Dairy Queen in high school, once a week the guy would come with all the frozen food and drop it off. I would hurry to put everything away so I could check it and sign off on the delivery while the guy was still there. I eventually signed the paper, and he looked at my last name and said “Are you Russian?” I misunderstood and asked “…Rushin’ to put stuff away?” (because I was rushin’) and he said “No, like…from Russia.” It turned into this huge inside joke with my colleagues. No, I am not Russian.
Additional fun fact: we had a Russian neighbour when I was growing up who would hang sausages from her trees for the birds. Don’t ask, because I don’t know. So my dog would sneak over there and eat the sausages because OBVIOUSLY. Sausage trees! Tell me your dog wouldn’t be planning his life around sneaking out for those. Our neighbour would get very angry about this and come over and yell at my mom in Russian (I think this might have to be a cartoon post at some point).
Okay, onto Russia. The tl;dr is – I won’t be Russian to go back. But a disclaimer which most of you should know if you’ve been following my eating the world journey, I am pretty much the least pickiest person. I’ll try anything, and I like almost everything.
Unfortunately, eating Russia was not the best experience. In fact, it was the worst experience since I have started this mission (though, all my other eating experiences have been pretty fantastic). Before this I did not know a lot about Russian food. I had always assumed it was similar to Ukraine and Poland (I think because that same Russian neighbour would bring us borscht when she wasn’t angry about our dog eating her tree sausages). I’m not sure if we just picked a dud restaurant, or if Russian food maybe isn’t the greatest, and I would like to understand. So if you are Russian and know about delicious Russian food, or delicious Russian restaurants, let me know ’cause I’d try it again. I want to like it.
(Edit: I tried Russia again and it was SO MUCH BETTER! Find that recap here)
For our Russian adventure, Evan and I went to Kiev Restaurant at Steeles and Dufferin.
Even though Kiev is the capital of Ukraine, it is authentic Russian. Or claims to be, anyway.
The decor was…well, I’ll let this photo speak for itself.
It was definitely interesting. When we walked in I asked the server if they were even open for business because it looked like a reception was about to take place in there. Nope, just looks like that all the time. Though they do have a lot of receptions and banquets there. The Russian news was on and Putin was all over that screen, so I was thinking YUP! This is Mother Russia!
The place was empty (and stayed empty the entire time we were there) so we had our pick of tables.
Our server immediately brought over dense Russian Black Bread, apparently a Russian staple on every table.
No butter though, and I’m not sure if that is a Russian thing or a restaurant thing. Otherwise, it was bread, so it was fine.
Apparently Russia is sort of known for weird fruit drinks, so we ordered the homemade cranberry juice. This is where things started to go downhill.
Not that it was bad, exactly, but it certainly did not taste like any cranberry juice I’ve ever had. Evan and I took a sip at the same time, looked at each other, and Evan said “Well I hope this isn’t foreshadowing…” I hoped so too, because up until that first sip of cranberry juice I was excited. I started Googling afterwards and I saw that sometimes birch bark juice can be in the cranberry juice? It tasted like a possibility. We still drank it.
There were certain dishes on the menu that I could not bring myself to try, like the calf tongue in mushroom cream sauce (I have no regrets), but we tried to order all the authentic Russian dishes. We started with Pelmeni (meat dumplings) and beef Blintzes (Russian crepes filled with anything from meat to sour cherry).
Something you should know about Russia is they are obsessed with dill. It’s the national herb and they apparently put it on everything from pizza to sushi (just google Russia dill, you’ll see). Our experience was definitely in line with this, as fresh dill covered three of our four dishes.
I love that most countries have their own version of dumplings. I was just saying when I was eating Poland (or was it Georgia?) that you can never go wrong with dumplings and I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like, so I was excited to try Russia’s. And they looked delicious!
So I was extremely disappointed to not like the dumplings. The dough was fine, but the meat inside was sort of…gamey? That’s the only way I can describe it. Evan and I both aggressively did not like them. I have now met a dumpling I didn’t like. I couldn’t get down more than two and usually I would have been able to eat that entire plate. It was a weird taste and if all beef tasted like that I would never eat it again.
Next we have the blintzes, Russian crepes.
Despite the mushroom sauce on these not looking the most appetizing (Russia is also known for its mushrooms) they were pretty good. Unfortunately I tried the dumplings first so I was still recovering from my shock and anger of not enjoying those. The dill was kind of an odd flavour addition, but had I ordered these on their own I would have liked.
The best dish we ordered was the Draniki, potato pancakes served with sour cream.
But these potato pancakes aren’t even Russian, Draniki is the national dish of Belarus. You can’t go wrong with deep fried potato though (something I previously would have said about dumplings). If I had those as a stand alone dish, I would have said they were delicious.
Finally, we have the beef stroganoff. Widely known around the world as an authentic Russian dish. Again with dill.
I am not beef stroganoff savvy but I have never heard of a stroganoff served with multigrain spiral noodles. I thought beef stroganoff was flat egg noodles, or even rice. So I don’t know what was going on there. And the beef had this weird reddish tinge. It didn’t have the same gamey taste as the pelmeni dumplings, but it was still not quite right. Evan said it tasted like it came in a ration box from Russia and that is actually a pretty good way to describe it. We were not impressed.
Those were the reddest and juiciest tomatoes I’ve ever had though, on the upside.
So that’s Russia. I hope it was just a bad example of Russian food because overall a large disappointment and I wish I ate it along with a lot of vodka. But I am happy to have it done with. Onto the next!