Don’t throw out that old food-keep it and it just might become an heirloom. Jennifer Weiss takes a look at various foods of varying ages, some edible, some not. While my accompanying video looks at at classic NY institution that uses a very old yogurt culture.
Yonah Schimmel has much more to offer than yogurt. Their speciality is the knish-a huge potato pastry incapsulated in an incredibly thin crust. My favorite is the jalapino and cheese combination-Ellen, the manager, works had to constantly innovate while maintaing the bakery’s 104 year old traditions.
“Foreigners sometimes have a different idea about what Russian food is.” This phrase kept replaying like a skipping record with every step I took in Moscow. It was the reply that Nonna, who had been helping me with the process shipping my video equipment back to New York, had given me when I asked for restaurant recommendation. It was a reply that seemed to sum up my culinary quest in Russia. After spending three weeks in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics and finding absolutely nothing resembling that I thought was Russian cuisine experience, I began to wonder if Russia had forsaken its traditional food in favor of imported genres like Italian, Chinese, and Greek, or, even worse, Subway and McDonalds.
Just when I had about given up, an ex-Pat forum came to the rescue. I found a single line that recommended a small restaurant called Dacha na Pokrovkisy located somewhere in Moscow. I asked Nonna about the restaurant, but she had not heard of it. But she did tell me that “Dache” meant retreat or holiday, and that Pokovksy was a boulevard near my hotel. ( ‘na’ was Russian ‘in.’ I worked that out for myself) A search on Google Maps resulted in nothing except that Pokrovkisy boulevard bordered a park in the Kitay Gorod section of the city. Armed with this information, at about 7:00pm on my last night, I set out into the Moscow winter night to find what my idea about what Russian food was all about.
Finding Pokrovkisy Blvd. was easy, even if I did have to decipher the Cyrillic street sign, which took a bit of time. At this rate, if I were to stop at every sign to try in figure out where the restaurant was located, I would not have made my flight home the next day. I wandered into a car park and asked the two attendants, pointing to the name of the restaurant on a Post-it.
He spoke no english and after looking at the name on the paper, gestured he didn’t know the restaurant. He then turned to the other attendant and asked. After a moment, a smile of realization spread across his face.
“Da da da,” he said “Dacha na Pokrovke,” he corrected in broken english. “I know this place. Come I will take you.” It was a good thing he knew because without him I never would have found the place. We walked another three blocks down the park and around the corner, down a short ally, in the back of a crumbling mansion, we found the restaurant. Expressing my extreme graduated, I shook my guides hand with both my hands.
Dacha na Pokrovke is very much worth the effort. From the moment you walk up the flight of stairs, the atmosphere envelopes you in a cross between someone’s home and a displaced european cafe. At the top of the stairs, the narrow hallway opens up into a dining room with a small dance floor. Vintage recordings of Russian folk music inspired the four or five couples that tangoed across the floor. I was lead through a narrow door into a second dining room where I was seated between a 1930s radios and a Soviet era propaganda poster. The omnipresent scent of tobacco smoke tainted the air. Across from me, two young students studied something on a laptop, one sitting and one standing. Occasionally, the standing guy pointed to something on the screen, suggesting a change or confirming his approval. I like to think that maybe they were planning the next revolution, but most likely , they were two entrepreneurs working on their new business model. A few tables behind me, two other guys sat taking tea and smoking. One of them gestured wildly with all the determination of a playwright trying get his point across to a director.
Like the atmosphere, the food did not disappoint. Of course, for starters, I choose a classic: caviar with lemon and a daub of butter. I could have ended the meal right there and been happy, but the Russian hits just kept on coming. Next another classic: pelmeni. They are dumplings stuffed with a variety of things, but in this case, lamb, served with the ubiquitous sauce in Russia, rich sour creme.
I could go on and on about the meal, but won’t. Let’s just say that it was very good, from the starter to the desert, and as far as I could tell, authentic. The point of this experience was to connivence myself that places like Dacha na Pokrovke still existed in city like Moscow. It can be intimidating and that intimidation can lead you to rely on restaurants that are easy, but in the end unsatisfying. But if you take a little time and energy, you can leave a city like Moscow with hopefully a richer appreciation.
You have probably heard the phrase ‘…and as the sun slowly sets, we say goodbye to the colorful country of…(insert country of choice).” This is one of those trite phrases that has been used as a joke so many times that people don’t even know where it came from.
In fact those words were first strung together by James A. Fitzpatrick, an enigmatic non-fiction filmmaker in the very early 1930’s and he was completely sincere when he used them in his travel documentaries.
My obsession with the golden age of travel began when I saw my first Fitzpatrick Traveltalk. I was and am still fascinated by the Technicolor images showing far away places it Fitzpatrick’s conventional style. His travelogues might have lacked what we consider fines these days, but they are still entertaining and inspirational. I can just imagine watching a travelougue in a small town theater, enthralled by the images from all over the world. Even now, the little child in me longs to be James Fitzpatrick, traveling to exotic locations, my 16mm camera slung over my shoulder like a photographic hobo capturing images never before seen.
The truth is, I don’t know if that really was the way he rolled. I don’t really know anything about him except from what I’ve learned from viewing his films. There is surprising little information about him any where, at least that I have been able to discover. Surprising, because he is considered by many to be a pioneer in the art of the travel film. During his career, Fitzpatrick made over 250 travel films, traveling to the worlds most fascinating places. At a time when most people had to live viciously thru the movies they saw, this must have been a most amazing thing.
This is the information that I have been able to gather, courtesy of IMDB. After he studied dramatics, he spent a little time as a journalist before he started his filmmaking career. It seems that he made a few short fiction films and then just started making travel films. This, for me is the biggest mystery. I could find no information on why he started making films or how he came up with the idea of specializing in travel.
He continued to make travel films under various names for MGM thru the 1930s until well after WWII. His last credited work was “VistaVision Visits Spain” in 1955. This is another mystery. There is a 25 year career gap before his death in 1980. In a quote, Fitzpatrick mentions in passing that he ran a travel agency. But that is all I could find about that.
He was criticized at some point for only showing the good and positive aspects about the places he visited. It is a little vague about when he received this criticism, but I have a feeling it was after he stopped making films.
“How would I have gained admittance to those countries if I had commented on their social problems? Aside from being very rude, it would have been counterproductive. I made my pictures at a time when travel was almost impossible for the average person. I believe I showed people what they would have wanted to see if they could have gone themselves.”
Who are we to say what he should or should not portray in his films? It’s true that by today’s standards, he appears to be politically incorrect, to say the least. His narrative often refers to people as being ‘simple or innocent.’ I think those comments are only non-PC if taken out of the context of their time period. In today’s hypersensitive society, this is always a danger and I think people should keep this in mind as they watch any movie from any era than their own.
What intrigues me about the man was the fact that he traveled the world and brought it home on film to share with everyone. He once estimated that he had traveled over 500,000 miles making his films. This is impressive in a time when the average train ride between countries was 18hrs-if there was a train at all.
If you would like to see a couple of Travel Talks, here ya’ go:
There is a common essence that binds a region together. This subtle feeling is a combination of an areas cultures, weather, dominant industry, what have you. But the point is, it generates an energy that is unique to that part of the world.
These images are from Lufkin, a small town deep east Texas. During my recent stay, I found myself with ample opportunity to wander around with no particular aim. I discovered that Lufkin was very similar to my home town in a lot of ways-a small, close-knit, farming community. Wandering around Lufkin helped to define feeling that had been riding on the edge of my memory for a while. When I was a kid, I dreamed a million schemes while wandering around hot dusty streets like these. Coming back to similar streets I was reminded of all the feelings I had growing up. It was a mixture of nostalgia, hope, resolve, and, to be honest, loss. Loss of a time when I could imagine anything, when a day was filled with making plans for the future. Sometimes I was so filled with making plans, that I really didn’t appreciate the advantages of growing up in a small town.
Life is change for all of us. With every change in life, with every gain, with every move forward, we also lose something, whether it is a dream of childhood, a regret for what you should have done, or even the loss of a loved one, with every minute we move forward, a minute is left behind. The trick for me is to recognize and appreciate that change.
I don’t like to quote other writers, but I’m making an exception in this case because one phrase hit home during these small-town wanderings:
“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
There are images, scents and and sounds that will be with me forever. Such as the smell of diesel mixed with Texas earth that you find while climbing on an old tractor. Feelings like the heat and silence of an August day, accompanied by a chorus of cicadas. These feelings will always be with me and every time I see, hear and smell them, reminding me of what it was like to live and hope in a small Texas town.