May 01, 2004

Kremlin Cookery Secrets

The Rostik Corporation, which owns the popular Rostik’s restaurants (Russia’s answer to KFC) as well as the Patio Pizza and Planet Sushi chains, recently announced that Boris Nemtsov, the former leader of the liberal Union of Rightist Forces, has signed on as a consultant. Nemtsov will undoubtedly put his economic expertise to good use, but his experience in politics, and his connections to power, will surely prove as useful, if not more so. 

Although some may feel that food and politics should never mix, the Russians have long known that food and drink can effectively be used to political ends. As early as 945, Princess Olga avenged the death of her husband, Igor, by inviting his killers, the fierce Derevlians, to a funeral feast in his memory. Invoking the great tradition of Russian hospitality, Olga plied them with vast quantities of mead, and when they were thoroughly drunk, she had them massacred, 5000 in all.

Carefully preserved menus from tsarist times allow us a glimpse of the meals served at court. Things were less open under Soviet rule, the stories of billowing mounds of caviar and endless quaffs of champagne suppressed at a time when the lowest common denominator in food was the national norm. Only in 1998 did a rather quirky volume devoted to Kremlin Cookery appear.  This book, by Galina Krasnaya, presents itself as a gossipy account, with secrets to share. Tellingly, the entries on Yeltsin are mainly about vodka, and about his disdain for Gorbachev’s attempt to limit production. We also learn that Yeltsin loved beer nearly as much as vodka, especially Czech Pilsner. 

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