RUSSIAN DELICACIES IN ZAGREB
Girls, I suggest we start this off with a shot of birch buds vodka – says young entrepreneur Anastasija Knežević and serves this great idea, which won me over even before we began. The vodka – unlike the one we remember from our first hungover experiences – is kept in the freezer and it’s slightly crystalized (the glasses are chilled, of course, as they should be). You drink it bottoms up, and after you’re done, you should slowly breathe out of your nostrils, not through your mouth, to make the experience complete.
No, we didn’t decide to quit mid-work week and hop off to Moscow – our gastronomic trip to Russia began and ended in Zagreb – at the Ruske delicije (“Russian Delicacies”) store, which somewhat unassumingly found its home in the hallway of Vlaška ulica 19.
Anastasija, the owner and manager of the store, was born in Siberia and moved to Croatia with her mother more than 20 years ago. Even though you can notice the charming accent while she talks, she speaks Croatian as if she were native; apart from business endeavors, Zagreb is the place where she created her family nest as well. She did visit Siberia a few years ago, but she admits she couldn’t see herself going back again. At least not permanently. It’s too rough, she says after seeing it with adult eyes, and you can’t find the sweet little life she’s built for herself in Zagreb. But her heart and her habits are still Russian.
-Russian cuisine is a combination of French and Asian cuisine. We eat a lot of sea algae salads, which is one of the secrets to the beauty of Russian women – algae supply the thyroid gland with a dose of iodine, which makes your skin shine – she explains while we sip on Russian sparkling wine and the rain is slowly subsiding.
To prevent us from looking as if we keep boozing away during working hours since it’s not even 4 p.m., Anastasija serves some of the Russian delicacies she has been selling to Zagrebians at the eponymous store.
-Try these canapes. These are made of smoked sturgeon, one of the most famous Russian fish, which is used to make black caviar, priced up to 100 EUR for 100 grams, and we also sell it here. Sturgeon is dried with it skin on so it keeps a full flavor – Ana slowly lets us in on the secrets of Russian gastronomy. In our lack of ideas money, us Croats (what a phrase :D) usually stick to pork as the easiest solution, whereas the Russians base their cuisine on fish. We also try caviar, which is an absolute hit here, since the prices are more than reasonable (80 HRK).
What is the profile of the buyers that come to her delicacies store (which has been making the Zagreb gastronomical offer less drab at the same location since 2014), I wondered. Everyone from chance passers-by, retired people, her fellow Russians residing in Zagreb, students, and gastronomy lovers. Everyone will find something here.
Fresh stock comes in every Friday from Germany, since it’s quicker that way, and the products are undoubtedly fresh.
After salty treats, it was time to hit the sweets – we try zephyr, the famed Russian sweet treat made of egg whites, apple puree, and sea algae, covered with chocolate.
Halva, whose Turkish version we’ve met before, is made of sunflower seeds in the Russian version and it isn’t as sweet, but works like a charm with the sparkling wine. On the table, we also find Russian honey biscuits, but we are drawn to sgushenka – sweet condensed milk kept in small tin cans – which tastes like the finest white chocolate (it might be the bubbly at work, I can’t tell, but my palate is t-h-r-i-l-l-e-d). Anastasija calls it honey milk – it’s dehydrated whole milk (8% fat) boiled with sugar and Russian women use it mostly as pancake spread. Our girls buy it to make cakes whereas true Russians would never go for such DIY pastry making at home (there are so many wonderful pastry shops anyway). I have to admit, I like this place more by the minute.
Speaking of sweet treats, the store also offers different types of chocolate, but Russian chocolate is special for its percentage of cocoa. Whereas local chocolate bars have 5 percent of cocoa and more, Russian chocolate can’t be called chocolate unless it has at least 50 percent of cocoa! Interesting.
And what goes best with chocolate? Tea. Black, naturally, which the Russians drink three times a day – right after they wake up, in the afternoon, and in the evening, always with a drop of milk. They rarely drink coffee, only in cafes and in the last ten years or so, since coffee became a way of life.
There’s a shelf with Baltic beers and the manufacturing process is a special story; the vodkas are the easiest to notice since they’re right behind the cashier (my gaze stops at chili vodka with honey, mmm).
But we have to leave something for our next visit to Anastasia and her Russian delicacies, which will become a staple of your gastronomy as well. Don’t miss them – it would be a shame!
Photo: Lidija Šeatović for MLZ
Translation: Nevena Erak