It all started back in 2008 when the Olympics were held in China. Mr. L and I decided to hunker in on that Friday night to watch the spectacle of the opening ceremonies. That meant having food delivered and what else would we have delivered that night but Chinese food. Two years later, when the Olympics were held in Canada, I bought a Canadian cookbook and made Tourtiere Turnovers,and Butter Tarts in Phyllo to celebrate the Vancouver games. And thus really started a tradition. Two years ago I had a blast pulling out some of my own cookbooks (and of course buying some new ones) to cook recipes from England (Individual Beef Wellingtons and Toad-In-The-Hole being my favorites) . Not to mention visiting my local Cost Plus World Market that had a whole section of foods from England for me to try.
Figuring out what dishes to cook for the Olympics in Russia turned out to be a bit of a trial. Just what is Russian food? There are lots of things with Russia in the name that aren't from Russia (think Russian Dressing or the Moscow Mule). Russia today isn't what Russia was many years ago. Certain areas no longer consider themselves a part of Russia and seem to get very offended if you lump them in with "Mother Russia" .
And then there were the actual recipes, and this is what I had a struggle with. I have many cookbooks that list recipes for dishes that supposedly originated in Russia, where the cookbooks weren't exactly what you would call "Russian cuisine". There were Russian recipes sent to me by friends. Not to mention a gazillion versions of Russian recipes online. But which recipe should I use? The one that was handed down from her great grandmother that my neighbor swears is "authentic" but bears no resemblance to the recipe for the same dish in a cookbook of "authentic Russian recipes"? I came across this question when I was checking out recipes for dishes from England too. I guess it all comes back to me...Did I want to spend an inordinate amount of time doing research into an Olympic countries cuisine to try to be "authentic". Or did I just want to cook some good meals?
My mind went back to a recent discussion I came across of folks not buying Cooks Illustrated Cookbooks because the recipes for certain ethnic foods weren't "authentic". How dare they put a recipe in their cookbooks that didn't use traditional ingredients for a regional dish!? With great recipes to be found on the internet and all the strange ingredients called for to be found in ethnic supermarkets these days, not to mention all the availability of hard to find ingredients online, any recipe for an ethnic dish should be true to the same dish you would find should you eat that dish in the country it originated in (at least that was what I was getting out of the discussion). Well I said hogwash. Though I agreed on the tone and how some of these ethic dishes are presented in Cooks, I always go back to my Grandma W who recently passed away. She loved to cook and she had no problem trying a strange sounding recipe in one of her cookbooks that might be a curry from India, a goulash from Hungary, or a national beef dish from Thailand. But there were no ethnic grocery stores near her. She didn't own a computer so checking out recipes or ingredients online where not possible for her. Plus spending a fortune on a spice or other ingredient that she might only use for that one dish wasn't feasible for her. Should that stop her from trying a curry dish from India that might have been in a old cookbook of hers that wasn't exactly authentic? Maybe that dish didn't have the complexities of a traditional Indian Curry nor the unusual ingredients, but maybe that dish was still good! And maybe, just maybe, it inspired her to seek out a bit more complex recipe for Indian Curry next time? I think sometimes those of us who have a gazillion cookbooks and read food blogs and such forget that a vast majority of families don't have the time and resources to spend on thinking/reading/researching/cooking food that some do.
I also thought about my family and the Filipino dish Pancit. My "Aunties" were all born in the Philippines as was my Mom and her Mom*. I've grown up eating Pancit all my life. And not one of my aunties makes Pancit the same way my Grandma did. And my Moms version is different than my Grams. And my version is different too. Are any of them not authentic? And the "authentic" version they had when they were in the Philippines in the 40's looks nothing like the "authentic" version I see cooked there now. So which is best? Well, all of them are pretty tasty and I would never turn down any of them! So I decided to just find some Russian recipes that I liked and just cook them. They may be authentic, they may not, but if they tasted good, that's what mattered to me. Maybe my dishes wouldn't earn any gold medals in the Russian food Olympics, but as long as I was in the game, I was satisfied.
I was disappointed this year that Cost Plus didn't have any Olympic displays with food and drinks from Russia available. I did manage to find a few items that I took home to try. I found a local Russian deli/food shop here in San Jose, called, appropriately "The Russian Cafe and Deli". Mr. L and I had fun going in and trying to figure out what to buy. Who knew that dumplings and chocolate were big in Russia? I probably could have bought half the store up but decided to only buy a few items as I knew that I'd be spending more time watching the Olympics this year than I'd have cooking for it. I also found a small European grocery store in the area but never had a chance to go back to check out what Russian goodies it might offer. But since I've realized I now have a gigantic fondness for Russian dumplings, I have a feeling I will be heading out to my local Russian stores on a regular basis!
*Yeah, those of you that know me will take one look and say "wow, you're Filipino?". I know I don't look it but it is my heritage.