Sunday, October 9, 2016

How to drink vodka with caviar in Russia

How to drink vodka with caviar in Russia

At the bar of The Astoria in St. Petersburg
@travelifemagazine.com

This post is about how to drink vodka in Russia. More specifically, how to drink vodka with caviar in Russia -- which is the only way to drink vodka, as far as I am concerned.How to drink vodka properly

I am really just a social drinker whereas every other Russian I have met can down vodka like water. And until my very last day in Russia, which was in St. Petersburg, living a #Travelife, I'd never really known how to drink vodka properly in Russia. 

CAVIAR, THE WESTERN WAY.AND THE TRAVELIFE WAY.

Just one of the many choices
for good Russian vodka

I'd been having tons of caviar as I was in Russia after all, but always, I was having caviar the Western way with the typical condiments and flutes of champagne.

Or else I was having caviar the Travelife way, which was first thing in the morning, spooned over in great amounts over eggs benedict at the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow, considered Moscow's best hotel.


Eggs Benedict with caviar 

But then along came S who met up with me in Moscow.

Interestingly we met up several times but never got around to drinking vodka together in Moscow. I said goodbye to him in Moscow and then I took the high-speed Sapsan train to St. Petersburg, arriving very late at night.

The Sapsan high-speed train between
St. Petersburg and Moscow

A NICE SURPRISE


The next day, I was walking in the beautiful grounds of Tsarskoe Selo admiring the autumn leaves when a message came from him in Moscow: "I'm thinking of going to St. Petersburg tomorrow."

Walking the grounds of Tsarskoe Selo

What a wonderful idea that was, as he is the perfect guide to a city like St. Petersburg.

S is so knowledgeable about architecture and design  and St. Petersburg is a city made for this. So of course I canceled all my other plans to enjoy a tour of St. Petersburg with S, the architecture expert.

WALKING AROUND ST. PETERSBURG



The next day, he arrived as planned on the earliest possible train from Moscow.

I hadn't realized it then but he'd actually booked the sleeper train from Moscow as this offered the earliest arrival into the city, especially as the Sapsan high-speed train still takes four hours. So even if you take a Sapsan at 7 AM (and I doubt if there is one this early) you will still reach St. Petersburg near noon.

Even flying would have added hours to his travel time since the airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg are all so far.

This effort touched me greatly, especially as he'd never even mentioned it. I only figured it out later as there is no other way he could have reached St. Petersburg at 730 AM. And we all know overnight trains aren't exactly the most comfortable in the world.

The entrance to Palace Square
in St. Petersburg

That same morning, we walked around the city, and how convenient it was to have my private tour guide tell me about design and to translate all the Russian signs.

When it started to rain lightly, we headed for lunch and, as it was such a cozy set-up and all, I proposed to order caviar as usual. There really is no such thing as too much caviar in my never-ending #Travelife.


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CAVIAR AND VODKA, RUSSIAN STYLE

But he stopped me from ordering, however. "We're having caviar and vodka tonight," he practically commanded "Russian style."

And this is how I learned to drink vodka with caviar in Russia. He chose a vodka brand I didn't know at all, so obviously it was a local one rather than a famous one with big marketing facilities abroad. Russians sneer at these globally famous brands, by the way, because some of the truly best quality ones are not known abroad.

This bottle of vodka S chose didn't even have English on it. But it was so smooth that I drank it like water, and amazingly with no hangovers the next day in spite of my finishing my half of the bottle. Yes, I'd never had even more than a spoonful of vodka before, and that night I had half a bottle of 40% proof vodka on a cold evening. No getting tipsy and no hangovers.

And this was how I learned how to drink vodka properly in Russia.

THE SECRET TO DRINKING VODKA


The secret to drinking vodka properly and avoiding hangovers is very simple, I learned.

1. You must not scrimp on vodka. No need to get the brands that are famous abroad as a brand is just a marketing thing, as we all know. But every decent Russian can tell a cheap vodka from a good one. The good ones are made with top ingredients and there is little chance of a hangover.

2. You must have caviar with your vodka because something in the caviar neutralises the alcohol of the vodka, which is 40% strong, by the way. In our case, we tried it the real local way, which is with brown rye bread and butter instead of blinis.


3. I'm not sure if there is any relation, but you must get the best quality caviar you can find. 
We actually went shopping for caviar late in the afternoon in St. Petersburg as we both wanted the very fresh kind, and so we visited some very local food markets  in St. Petersburg on Vasilevsky island -- the kind without any tourists poking around.

All the black caviar were in tins, even in this market, but the red caviar were being sold in four or five grades out of plastic tubs so we were sure they were fresh. There was no question which we would get as I didn't want caviar out of a tin. So we got 100 grams each of the best of the red caviar types, resulting in quite a feast.

ONE SIP OF VODKA, ONE SLICE OF CAVIAR



So with every sip of vodka, the trick is to have a piece of rye bread dabbed thick with butter and heavy with caviar. This is the local way of having caviar and it's simply delicious.

Not only is this an absolutely wonderful way to enjoy two wonderful Russian specialties, but neither of us got drunk nor got hangovers the next day, leaving us very ready for another special day in Russia, living a never-ending #Travelife.


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