Friday, May 20, 2011

A Zakuska Moment

As they got dressed for afternoon tea, or zakuska, the women were in high spirits, and ravenous. The immersion in hot and cold  seemed to have kick-started everyone’s adrenalin.  And who knows, perhaps there really was something to the oxygen cocktail. They entered the dining room giggling and chattering like school girls.
The men were already there, sipping champagne and snacking on strawberries The dining table was so full, it looked like it would collapse if one more thing was placed on it.  In the center of the table sat a large silver samovar with rich enamel and lapis lazuli inlay of intricate floral and leaf patterns.  On top, sat a small matching tea pot.  Surrounding the base were the delicate matching tea cups, which looked as though each were crafted to fit comfortably into the curve of your palm.
 Two bowls of bananas, apples and oranges, sat at each end. In between there were smaller bowls of strawberries, cucumber and tomato slices, pickles, cheese cubes, sausage, hard boiled eggs, red-skinned potatoes, red cabbage coleslaw, a plate of thickly sliced roast beef, a tureen of pelmeni, and a plate of baked fish, with the heads still in tact.  Anatoli set his glass down, clapped his hands together and bellowed, “Ladies! Welcome! How deed you enjoy your banya?” He opened a bottle of vodka, poured shot glasses and, as he spoke, Big Valya passed the glasses around.
“A toast!” he said, before anyone could answer his question.  “To our American friends, and fellow tea lovers. Chut chut!”
“Chut chut!” Natasha and the Valyas echoed with glasses raised.
“Chut chut!” The Americans responded, and they all swallowed their vodka in one gulp.
As they sat around the table, Vica came to Anatoli’s side to demonstrate how to prepare one’s tea as he explained.
“The leetle tea pot on top of samovar holds zavarka, ah…”
“Tea concentrate.” Vika supplies for him.
“Yes. Tea concentrate. Very strong. Very strong. Pour just small amount into tea cup. Like so.”
Vika poured just enough zavarka to thoroughly cover the bottom of the cup. She then filled the rest of the cup with boiling water from the samovar, creating a diluted, though perfectly blended tea.
As each tea guest created their own preferred ratio of zavarka to water, Vika and the Valyas began serving them, starting with the cold dishes.

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I'm researching more about zakuska, which has been compared to a Scandanavian smorgasbord. When I was served this type of meal on a couple of different occasions, I didn't realize this was what is was, so I didn't notice the details such as what dishes were served first (apparently there is an order) and the dish sizes and accoutrements that went along with it all. What can I say? I was starving. Has anyone enjoyed a Russian Tea or Zakuska? What foods or accompanying things am I missing? Who served the food and drinks?  Was it  more of an appetizer layout or was it intended to be a full meal. I've had it both ways but would like to hear your thoughts.  Was your experience in someone's home or at restaurant or an event?  All this writing about food has made me hungry...