25 January 2011

Minsk Groceries

Our rental apartment in Minsk was conveniently situated above one of the most impressive supermarkets we've seen yet. Like most places in Belarus, it seemed overstaffed and under-lit, but there are far worse things in life than too many attendants and a lack of fluorescent lighting. Around the entire perimeter of the fairly large space were manned counters. Imported candy and hard alcohol were first, followed by cheese, smoked meats, prepared salads, prepared meals, baked goods, bulk candy, dairy, raw meat, raw fish, smoked fish and, finally, eggs - where an attendant would count out and weight the amount of eggs you wanted and then hand them over in just a plastic bag. I actually was planning on getting eggs (we had a stove) but the idea of getting them home safely sans carton was too frightening.
I waited on line to have the broccoli I picked out weighed and bagged, while Merlin waited on line to procure some blue cheese and gin. Not only was it prime grocery shopping time, but it was a little difficult to figure out which counters necessitated payment right then and there (imported cheese and booze) and which didn't (produce). So, we decided to skip the queues and get the rest of our lunch from the central 'pre-packed' section of the store. We trudged home in the snow with the above feast.
Merlin picked out this container that we dubbed "fish paste." There were other ones that looked the same, but were pink or green, and we assumed that it was some sort of caviar pate. Merlin had already chosen a chunk of deep, deep red smoked meat and I grabbed a packet of imitation crab meat, so we had protein back up plans. All that was left were crackers.
It was hard to tell what sort of cracker was in what sort of box, so I went with the ones I thought were prettiest. The picture on the back showed thin, golden strips which reminded me of Lavasch. When we got home and hungrily opened the box (grocery shopping makes you hunger no matter what country you're in), a dainty, little napkin fell out. The adorable packaging continues! Then, we realized why we may need the napkin. The 'crackers' were actually long potato "wafers" - terminology we decided upon in order to subside our guilty/gross feelings about a meal of cheese spread on potato chips.
And this was the star of the show. The fish paste. At first, we worried that the separated liquid signaled some kind of spoilage, but Merlin was cavalier enough to dig in anyway. It was really, really delicious and went amazingly well with the potato wafers - though spreading it on without breakage was tricky. Every combination that involved the paste was amazing - paste with blue cheese, paste with smoked meat, paste garlicky carrot salad or mayonnaisey beet salad. That's really the best part of having a great market at your disposal. Sure, it's great to get the foreign things you've been craving (soba noodles, over-priced sesame chili oil), but it's really all about discovering that sort of gross thing that resembles cat food and tastes like heaven. It's really nice to be able to make your own drinks, too.

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