Home Cooked Meals

8 Sep

If you want to start cooking at home more often, I recommend moving to a place where you do not speak the language.

Before leaving the United States, I blogged about acknowledging the upcoming changes to our eating habits. Since arriving I have not seen any vegetarian meat substitutes (that I could recognize, at least) and we also moved into an apartment with a half-sized refrigerator, confirming some of our expectations. In addition to these changes, eating meals out is a bit of a chore. The guesthouse did not have any way to cook food (although it had a much larger refrigerator than our apartment), so we ate the majority of our meals at either the small market on the corner or the large mall nearby. Some of the challenges include:

  • Surprise Meat.  We expected this, but maybe not during the first meal of our first full day. We stopped for coffee and pastries only to find out two bites in that one of the pastries contained ham. The second encounter was a few days later in what appeared to be naan-like bread, but was really filled with pork. When you don’t know the language or the typical food items that you may encounter, you never know what may be stuffed into something.
  • You can only eat at T.G.I.Friday’s and Sbarro’s so much before it’s embarrassing to be “those Americans.” Our server at T.G.I.Friday’s spoke English and it was a pleasant experience, but seeing a young Russian man wear flare and a cowboy hat as representative of American dining made me feel a little ashamed (admittedly, it was exactly what you would also see at a Friday’s IN America, so…).
  • Even if the menu has English on it, most likely your server will still have a question for you in Russian. Some of the menus contain translations which allow for easier point-to-item ordering, but there is almost always a follow up question that cannot be understood. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out using hand gestures (small vs. large) other times it requires the employee to use props (at the sushi restaurant that we went to you have to order and pay separately for soy sauce, ginger and wasabi, so the server had to pull out the items to show us what she wanted to know).
  • You may not get what you (thought that you) ordered. Ben asked for the same espresso drink at the same coffee shop three times, from three different employees, and received three slightly different drinks.

Ultimately, we have been successful in ordering at restaurants without using English, but it really does take more work than eating out normally would and I hate the idea of frustrating the employees by not understanding.

Since moving into our apartment I have eaten every meal at home and I have to say that I have been enjoying it. Ben’s schedule is flexible so we can enjoy our mornings together while having breakfast and I have time to prepare dinner in the evenings before he gets back. In California we ate at home a lot, but many times it was meals that we at least partially pre-made and things were usually thrown together without much advance planning. While I haven’t made anything fancy here, I have been enjoying taking the time to make things with a little extra thought. For example, the past two nights, I sauteed garlic and oil for the fresh bread I bought to go with pasta and homemade sauce – a small detail that was usually left out when I would make pasta in California. And right now I have twice-baked potatoes waiting to be put into the oven for their second baking and a kidney bean, spinach, onion, and garlic topping keeping warm on the stove top.

I plan to eat at more of the restaurants here eventually – there are so many in our neighborhood – but in the mean time, I will continue to grocery shop (I have mastered that without having to speak to anyone!) and enjoy cooking at home. Now off to put those potatoes back in the oven…

до свидания!

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4 Responses to “Home Cooked Meals”

  1. Anne Hopkinson September 8, 2011 at 20:36 #

    Hi Jessica,

    I just wanted to let you know that I find your adventure fascinating, it’s so interesting to hear your opinions about your new experiences and the cultural differences! I think you’ll be very glad you have taken this chance and will look back on it with appreciation for the opportunity as well as recognizing everything you are “missing” back home, and will certainly gain a new world perspective? I would suggest getting a local vegetarian cookbook to figure out what is usually in various food recipes, if that’s possible, and I’m sure you are doing research online too. Have fun!

  2. John Remy September 8, 2011 at 20:54 #

    Mostly lurking, but just wanted to say that I’m enjoying this window into your adventures. Glad that all is well, and thank you for sharing. 🙂

  3. Kris C September 8, 2011 at 21:38 #

    Glad to hear that you and Ben are doing well. Your experiences with dining out remind me of me and Drew’s experience in Beijing- the mystery meat, not being able to read the menus, and receiving food that’s a little different from what you thought you ordered. I look forward to hearing about more food adventures (and other adventures as well).

  4. Colleen September 8, 2011 at 22:15 #

    Yum! The twice baked potatoes & topping you made sound so good. You wouldn’t get that in a restauant. Love reading of your adventures.

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