Our countries — as old neighbours — have managed to intertwine their culture, mentalities and life for centuries. Belarusians can hardly guess the origins of local dishes, knowing where our cuisine comes to end and where that of Russia begins. The fashion for ‘haute cuisine’ — such as sturgeons and caviar — was brought to Belarus by Empress Yekaterina ІІ. She generously distributed newly conquered territories to Russian noblemen, such as to the families of Potemkin, Rumyantsev-Zadunaysky and Pushchin. They then brought their chefs, with their Moscow and Petersburg flavours and tastes.
The simple dishes of villagers were identical everywhere, with filling the belly being the main concern.
Heading to the tundra
Northern Expedition among most popular Russian restaurants in Minsk. Tables in Expedition restaurant are always fully booked; in fact, it’s the only ‘northern cuisine’ establishment in Belarus.
The restaurant aims to create an atmosphere of romantic adventure, as if clientele were polar explorers, geologists or hunters. It appeals not only to ‘macho’ men but to families and to groups of friends.
Expedition creates a whole ambiance, welcoming guests with the infinity symbol at its front door, indicating that ‘there are enough roads for all’. The ground floor features a map of Russia’s northern regions, while skis covered with bearskins sit in the corner, alongside sledges and a toy rabbit — nicknamed Fedor. It sits ‘recuperating’ from children’s hugs.
Cold pole on table
While I am being taken to my little table, I notice a girl in a camouflage jacket and a gun on her shoulder. This is the waitress: the ‘hunting season’ appears each time when guests order ‘Shulyum — a special hunting soup from meat of animals killed this day.
Local menu would please true gourmets: usual pancakes with caviar can be found everywhere while northern venison dishes are not so widely spread. Moreover, almost each dish serving is accompanied by a theatrical show in Expedition; it impresses not less than the taste of northern dishes, exotic for our latitudes. For example, an order can be delivered on a huge ice block or in a deliberately simple aluminium bowl which is, apparently, travelling with a geologist around his taiga expeditions for several years. If someone chooses a certain species of wild fowl, then the cook would open-fire cook it directly in the hall — ‘seasoning’ with interesting stories.
Expedition’s sauces are made from blackberry and cloudberries and its tincture is based on wild-growing herbs from the Siberian taiga. I haven’t dared to order a fried fern-orlyak but decided to taste ‘black ravioli’.
Stroganina is Expedition’s trump. The cook dexterously cuts frozen northern river fish or wild fowl mean with thin slices. No time to talking remains: guests should eat the dish quickly — dipping slices in sauce to avoid stroganina thawing.
I could hardly refuse tasting a jam from pine cones: truly, it seems impossible to eat this anywhere else. I closed eyes while drinking a cup of tea from forest herbs, imagining myself sitting in a taiga forest hut, with snow falling and wolves howling outside…
On opening eyes, civilisation returns. Huge screen on the restaurant’s walls feature videos about travellers’ life during their expeditions. The theme of travelling reigns here: the restaurant was founded as a result of a travel. One of its owners (Expedition also runs restaurants in Moscow and Novosibirsk) crossed Russia on his SUV in less than 20 days. The winter Expedition-Trophy motor rally adventure impressed him so much, that the man’s recollections of Far North transformed into the concept of a restaurant.
Producer Irina Kazakova:
I prepare tours for many Russian artistes in Belarus. Their riders seldom mention anything exotic or specific: Russian artistes prefer an average dietary cuisine. Famous people — who travel much — demonstrate modest food preferences. If they start experimenting with tastes and food, their organisms would fail. Of course, on coming to Belarus for the first time, guests surely want to try something authentic, local. We’ve never had to search for sturgeons or Kamchatka crabs in Minsk; these delicacies are eaten in Astrakhan and Kamchatka. Actor Alexey Maklakov, for example, has his favourite restaurant in Minsk: on coming here, he always goes to Vasilki (Cornflowers).
By Rogneda Yurgel