February 2005 - Food In Russia and Morocco
It is very easy with the variety of foods available in a British supermarket to forget that in many of the Worlds wild places there is little and sometimes no variety available. Often the local people will have to eat the same type of food day after day with no possibility of variation. This does not mean that the diet available is unpalatable or will lead to malnutrition as this is not the case.
When traveling to remote places the local diet is often sampled and we at Impala Adventures encourage our clients to eat at the places that the locals eat, often well off the beaten track and not at the touristic cafes and hotels that are set up to feed the tourist. This often leads to experiencing some interesting and very different flavours and amazing hospitality.
I have a couple of contrasting experiences one in Russia and the other in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, which will be in next months LRM.
On our recent adventure to the very North of Russia way beyond the Arctic Circle I was traveling with a small group of Land rovers on the road from Murmansk to St Petersburg and around lunchtime came across a roadside café near the mining town of Olengorsk. Here in Russia every building looks as though it has passed through a thousand Arctic winters and has just made it. This particular building was probably not going to make the next one.
The car-lorry park was as big as a Tesco car park but sported only a couple of lorries and a few cars that were scattered in a haphazard fashion over the oiled earth. Windows here are small because the winters are tough; its dark for two months and below freezing for many making every building looks deserted. We walked up some rickety steps and opened the door to be met by a blast of heat and at first sight what appeared to be an empty room only partly finished. My first thoughts that this was not a café at all were dispelled when I became aware of talking from the far third of the room. An old lady came out of what was a kitchen carrying some delicious looking soup. At the far end of the room was a collection of old tables and chairs roughly made and crammed into a small place. Each table had a couple of Russians sat enjoying their midday meal. Attached to the wall near the counter was a television showing a 1920’s comedy with lots of people rushing about hitting other people and blowing trumpets, very surreal?
Now I cannot speak any Russian and none of the Russians spoke English. This is not as much of a problem as you would at first imagine. I smiled at the girl behind the counter that was at least five feet high, the counter that is not the girl. “hello” I said “ I have eight people for lunch, do you have a menu?” the girl looked at me and smiled said something which of course I did not understand so I walked to one the tables apologized to the diners and pointed to the food on the table. We were moving on swiftly now as recognition bounded across the girl’s face which was followed by lots of laughter and smiling from the diners.
The food I pointed to was a plate of mashed potato with some meat for first course while for second we were expecting pancakes with a sauce that looked interesting to say the least. We all sat down and waited. There was some apprehension from my clients with one or two openly asking me if the food would be eatable. My reply of “of course it will, trust me “caused some laughter.
The old lady that I mentioned earlier (she looked just like my gran) drifted out of the kitchen bearing a tray with bowls of soup on. I realized then that when we had ordered the girl was probably telling us that the mash and meat was finished and would we like soup, which we obviously did because of the smiling and nodding of heads that followed her announcement. I must learn Russian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The food, well. It was absolutely delicious. The soup was a meat broth with an egg floating around in a triumphant manner and the pancakes sauce was in fact condensed milk. The one word that I know in Russian is thank you so this I used with abandon which was appreciated by all of the Russians.
There was an air of immense hospitality in this little roadside café and as each Russian group finished their meal they said something to us and smiled as they left. Not understanding the spoken language is not as much of a barrier because the body language is the same worldwide no matter what culture you are sharing.
On the way out after coffee (which incidentally sounds the same in Russian as in English so at least we would be able to ask for coffee anywhere) we discovered one of the clients from the restaurant trying unsuccessfully to open his car door. The key would not turn. Three oil cans of various sizes and colour lay beside the car. While we offered assistance one of my friends Roger Sharp went to his Land Rover and came back with a can of WD40 “ excuse me “ said Roger as the Russian looked up incredulously at Roger and his spray can poised for action. One spray later and the key turned and the car unlocked. WD40 in hand after thanking us the Russian sped away towards Murmansk
Another tale of a part that is strong enough in England, but unable to take the rigors of day after day of off roading occurred in Russia. One of the cars had fitted big anti-roll bars to control body roll from 4tonnes of weight. Not long into one of the tracks that is full of potholes and muddy troughs the driver and passengers became aware of a banging from the back of the vehicle so they radioed me and the group stopped to investigate. Luckily the sun was shining at this point so it made the investigation a pleasurable experience. What we found was that the left hand anti-roll mounting bracket had broken away from the chassis along the welds. We removed the anti-roll bar and lashed it to the roofrack.
Looking into the problem further it became obvious that the mounting bracket should have been strengthened as the twisting effect from the anti-roll bar some2 inches in Diameter is immense. The welds had not been designed to take a roll bar twice as thick as the standard. In England before the adventure the mechanic who services the car told the owner (who questioned whether the mounting was strong enough) that no modification was needed as he had never seen a broken one. It’s not his fault because the loads that you get on an expedition vehicle in 15 days far exceeds the loads a car in England gets in a lifetime. It was just beyond the mechanics envelope of experience.