… Fish Bread and That’s Not Pasta
Not every culture has the same mealtime delicacies. Enjoy your Thanksgiving feast. Don’t let these Siberian delicacies affect your appetite.
They are from a book — IN THE LAND OF THE BEAR (Siberia) — which you will find fully described elsewhere on this website. The book features the danger and adventure of brown bear hunts in a faraway area and in a different culture. It is a true outdoor adventure story.
One of the strangest culinary items I encountered in Russia was served by a camp cook. We were staying in a small village about 400 miles east of Moscow. Our cook was a kind, grandmotherly lady named Anna. She told us that during our stay she wanted to introduce us to some of the local foods she grew up on during the old Soviet Union days. She wanted us to try things we may not have had a chance to eat back home.
One day, however, she really pushed the envelope. Dmitri and I were sitting at the dining room table having a cup of coffee when Anna walked in with a loaf of fresh bread she had just pulled from the oven. The warm loaf looked and smelled inviting, with its golden brown hue and soft texture. Anna said something to Dmitri as she set the loaf on the table and handed Dmitri a knife. Dmitri got a strange expression and turned to me.
“Anna says this is fish bread, whatever that is.” He gave the bread the evil eye.
“I’ve never heard of fish bread. I don’t know what it is. Maybe she ground up some fish and added it to the flour when she cooked it. A loaf of bread that tastes like fish doesn’t sound good to me,” he added.
“Can’t say I want to eat fish bread, either,” I replied, “but we don’t want to offend Anna. Let’s give it a shot.”
Dmitri took the big knife and cut the bread about a third of the way into the loaf. There, smack in the middle of the loaf, surrounded by baked dough, was an entire fish. Head, tail, fins, scales, and everything! The head poked out of the piece Dmitri had just cut, and the cooked fish stared up at us with glassy eyes.
Dmitri gagged and pushed the bread away, cursing in Russian. I don’t know exactly what he said, but, believe me, he was cursing.
I felt sorry for Anna as she scooped the loaf of bread off the table and rushed out of the room. I swear the fish stuck out its tongue at us as Anna darted to the kitchen.
Later that afternoon, she returned with a fresh loaf of cheese bread. That was more like it! A loaf of fresh, warm bread with cheese baked in the middle of it is much more palatable.
That’s Not Pasta!
One of my most unusual encounters with Russian food occurred in a moose hunting camp. A client had scored on a big bull moose, and the guides had brought some of the meat back to camp for dinner. I was eagerly looking forward to my first taste of moose meat.
At dinner time Dmitri called us to the cook tent. We sat down around a large wooden table, flanked on each side by 2×8 planks of rough sawn wood that stretched from one stump to another and served as benches. The cook placed in front of us a bowl of two- to three-inch by half-inch strips of thin, white pasta in a cheese sauce. It looked like fettuccine.
I ate the bowl of pasta with gusto and waited eagerly for the moose steaks to follow. As I could see, the cook wasn’t quite ready with the steaks, I asked Dmitri if the cook could give me another bowl while we waited.
“That’s a tasty pasta dish he whipped up,” I said, handing my bowl to the cook. “Tell him he did a great job.”
“What pasta?” Dmitri asked.
“The pasta we just ate.”
“That’s not pasta.”
“It’s not?” I said incredulously. “Then what is it?”
“It’s the sinus cavity from the moose,” Dmitri said with a grin. “You want some more?”
“The sinus cavity of a moose? Aaaaaghh! Never mind, I’ll pass.”
“But you said it was tasty,” Dmitri said, still grinning.