Anyone who knows me also knows that I am by no means a gourmand. Yes, I can tell homestyle Italian cooking when I smell/taste it, I have a rudimentary knowledge of wine-food pairings, and I can tell when a restaurant masquerading as high class has just overcharged me for a low-quality and ineptly prepared steak. But when my birthday rolls around, I don’t want five-star or usually even anything that could be prefaced with “authentic.” I want to wake up to Reese’s Puffs and Eggos in a lake of syrup. I want a genetically enhanced chicken breast rolled in sugary breakfast cereal and deep fried. I want “Chinese” food glistening with MSG. I want Girl Scout Cookies. I want to dip my Wendy’s french fries in my chocolate frosty.
In other words, I grew up in a middle class American neighborhood that hipsterdom passed by. If you happened to have the same upbringing, or have the same cravings that will eventually lead you to diabetes and/or cardiac arrest, here are a few tidbits of American cuisine that may keep you awake at night in Russia:
-Oreos and milk. I have yet to see Oreos anywhere in Russia, which strikes me as odd given their shelf life and the fact that they were easy enough to find in, oh, the Ecuadorian Amazon provinces. Along with Chips Ahoy, Rice Krispie Treats, Nutter Butters, and other American lunchbox delicacies, you may be able to find them (for a price) at Stockmann’s, a department store on Nevsky Prospekt known for its selection of imported foods.
-Cheeses that you recognize. I was told that Russia had a thing for dairy and that cheeses here were amazing. Once again, I am no connoisseur and maybe I’m shopping in the wrong places, but I’ve experienced a lot of disappointment. I also have my own personal taste in cheese—I like sharper cheeses with a certain degree of firmness, like parmesan, aged cheddars, or smoked gouda. You can get gouda here fora a decent price, but most of the cheeses I’ve had here were bland and mushy (so, like American cheese, but…moist).
-Breakfast cereal. It has kind of started to catch on here, but it’s not really a go-to meal-snack like it is in the U.S. As a result, there are only about 2-5 kinds of cereal at the grocery stores (instead of the bewildering 50-odd you find in America), usually the opposite extremes of granola (muesli), and the junky ones targeted at children. But I won’t complain about the latter.
-Fruit. Due to the long winters and short growing seasons, Russia has to import the vast majority of its fruit almost all year. This makes fruit very expensive, which makes me sad but also makes me realize how disturbing it is that you can get tropical fruit mid-January in Boston for a reasonable price. I suggest bringing some vitamin supplements. Or you could just go through a box of orange juice a day, like I do.
-Maple syrup, and the breakfast foods on which it is poured. I’m reasonably sure that Canada and the U.S.A. are the only countries that appreciate syrup. In any case, breakfast in Russia confuses me. I never see my host family eat (we all leave for school and work at different times, and my host sister is constantly dieting), so without waffles, pancakes, French toast, English muffins, fruit, yogurt, bacon, sausages, eggs, oatmeal, or cereal…I just assume they must eat slices of bread and cheese every day.
-Peanut butter. Actually, I don’t really miss it that much, but everyone else does. I was never a huge sandwich-eater at home, and always preferred cheese and Wheat Thins to peanut butter and Ritz. The prevalence of Nutella here more than compensates for the lack of peanut butter.
-American pizza. Unless you go to Pizza Hut or pay an obscene amount of money at a classier Italian place here (a study in contrasts, I know), the pizza here is not what an American college student would recognize as pizza. A standard Russian pizza at a middle-of-the-road restaurant tends to be flat, dry, and buried beneath a combination of toppings that can at best be described as artistic. When I go home, I am ordering a meat lover’s from Papa John’s to reconnect with my heritage.