RUSSIA – Astrakhan
living with a russian family
The second we enter Alyam and Sonya’s apartment, they sit us down in the kitchen, and Sonya fills the table with a heaping plate of homemade peremech (meat doughnuts) and a beautiful round pirog (meat pie) while Alyam pulls a bottle from the window sill and pours us a shot of vodka. We barely have our jackets off. And it’s nearly 1am – we took a late flight.
Sonya asks if we want sour cream. My mouth’s full, so I nod yes. Instead of placing the tub on the table, she pulls out this delicate bowl and scoops some inside. Alyam pours us another shot and Sonya offers us a homemade pickle. We down the shot and bite into the crunchy pickle. I expect pickles and vodka to be a weird combination, but it’s a perfect pairing, like lime with tequila.
As she’s returning the sour cream to the fridge, she spots a casserole pan filled with of a light brown jello that wiggles as she spreads it on a piece of fresh bread. “It’s called holodets,” Amanda tells me. It’s essentially meat jelly with fragments of beef and bay leaf suspended in the middle. “Kushai (Eat)!” says Sonya as she hands me a slice. I’m a little more apprehensive about this one, but it tastes like you dipped a piece of bread in pan gravy. If you can get over the texture, it’s really good. I mean all of it’s amazing.
Sonya leaves to get clean sheets for the bed, and as we follow her out of the kitchen, Alyam motions for us to come back and we do another shot. With a full belly and three shots, I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight.
day in the life
Our days here go something like this:
Wake up to Sonya or Sonya’s sister, Raya, cooking something from scratch like blini or borscht
Eat breakfast, which consists of a tableful of leftovers, yogurt, fruit, bread, and hot tea
Walk around Astrakhan to make room for lunch
Watch hockey with Alyam – Alyam pours us a shot and a beer when Sonya’s not looking – Sonya catches Alyam pouring the shot and beer from the other room
Eat dinner, which has been cooking since the morning
Skype with Alfiya (Sonya and Alyam’s daughter)
I think I’ve gained 5lbs in 3 days, but Sonya and Alyam are seriously the nicest hosts. We give them a thank you gift, and they give us three in return.