WHAT I ATE IN CRIMEA: Restaurants

Every time I travel I expect to eat or drink at least one thing that blows me away, changes my whole food paradign, and/or becomes forever associated with that place or experience.

Recently, in Florida, it was this cocktail and this dish. Before that it was salmon cream soup in Saint Petersburg and Hellboy pizza with hot honey in Brooklyn. In a couple of weeks I will tell you about how a pork penis and strange neon-yellow liquor redefined Belgium for me this July. You get the idea – and this happens literally in every spot I visit.

Except it did not happen in Crimea. Don’t get me wrong – pretty much everything I ate there was good, and a most of it was very, VERY good. There were many new-to-me dishes, some interesting gastronomic experiments and classic comfort foods for when I wanted the familiar. But I didn’t return from my vacation with many food stories to tell – and trust me, I LOVE to talk about food. Especially pork penis.

So what’s the deal with Crimea? I feel like the place is at culinary cross-roads. The two strongest “authentic” influences are Ukrainian / southern Russian, and Tatar / Central Asian. Yet in many seaside cafes I did not find traditional Tatar or Ukrainian dishes readily available. Instead I was presented with an onslaught of international “family-friendly” favorites like pizza, French fries and Caesar salad, because these dishes play well with finicky children and gastronomically un-adventurous Russian clientele (I’m generalizing, but also it’s true) that vacations in these lands.

A lot of these restaurants also serve more or less traditional but hardly exotic regional dishes, such as shashlyk (kebab), rice pilaf and cheburek (a large flat dough pocket stuffed with some combination of meats, cheeses and vegetables), all of which can easily be found in Moscow and throughout Russia, and have lost their authentic exotic-food cred ages ago. Kind of like a burrito from Taco Bell can hardly be counted as a foray into Mexican food, even if you get it IN Mexico.

Of course I was a woman on a mission, and I am proud to say that I never resorted to either pizza or Caesar salad, instead seeking out more interesting dining options in Crimea. Here is what I found:

Tatar
This was my first foray into Tatar food. The restaurant – in the mountains in the middle of nowhere – catered to tour groups passing through, yet, unexpectedly, had a lot of interesting local dishes to offer. What you see here is: 1) beef lagman, a very flavorful, traditional Tatar “soup” with thick homemade noodles, and 2) an ambiguously named “appetizer salad.” I ordered the salad because I thought it would be a nice, light side dish to the heavier lagman and a pork shashlyk (not pictured). I looks like some thinly sliced cucumber with herbs, pretty refreshing, right? Oh boy, was I in for a surprise! Turns out the salad was stuffed with raw, pureed garlic and scallions, and some other spice, and was one of the hottest (spice-wise) dishes I have ever eaten. I thought my insides were burning and my eyes would pop out! But after I got used to it, it was actually really delicious, and the cucumbers absorbed quite a bit of that hotness.  PS – yes the wine is all mine. And yes both glasses are topped off. That’s how we do it Crimea-style.
tatar
The restaurant itself was pretty epic – inside and out. We stopped here in-between two major hikes to Crimea’s beautiful caves and waterfalls.
Bak
This whimsical Tatar cafe was located on the outskirts of Bakhchisaray, at the bottom of the mountain ridge that houses the Chufut-Kale cave fortress. Here you see Turkish coffee served with sweets alongside sugar cubes.
Manty
Here I had manty – traditional Tatar meat dumplings – kind of by mistake. I saw someone being served a dish that looked really cool, I decided I liked it, but evidently did a poor job describing it to the waitress, because when she asked, “oh, you mean manty?” I enthusiastically nodded “yes.” Anyhow, they were really good, though not sufficient for a full meal (that other thing, whatever it was, was much bigger). 
Sudak
This is the interior of a Tatar restaurant in Sudak. You can see how they like to keep it low-key. So, one of my biggest Crimea regrets, and one I cannot even blame on the rain, is that I didn’t spend more time in Sudak. Sometimes I’d get bored in the charming yet tiny Novy Svet, but I didn’t feel like going “to the city” (6 kilometers away; population – 20,000) while on vacation. Turns out I should have – if only for the food scene, which was much more varied and interesting, and featured plenty of Tatar restaurants. Something I discovered on my second to last day in Crimea.
Sudak
These were the ridiculously tender and delicious stuffed peppers (with rice, beef and pork, served with pickled carrots and cabbage – and a side of sour cream, like all things should be) that made me regret not giving the lively Sudak its due until it was too late.
In Novy Svet
In Novy Svet I spent every evening at what seemed like the only cafe in town to have not just free, but actually working WiFi. I had this fish casserole for dinner one night. Not bad, but way too bony. Interestingly enough, though fish dishes are very popular in the region, most of the fish is driven in from elsewhere. The Black Sea waters off of Novy Svet only carried tiny mackerel – and dolphins (dolphins are not fish, I know).
assolle
In Novy Svet, if I didn’t want or have to be online, I was almost always hanging out at my favorite writing spot, Café Ассоль. This restaurant didn’t really have an ethnic theme, or any other kind of food theme, instead serving well-executed Continental favorites and their own surprising dishes. The stuffed mussels were my first foray into non-fish seafood in ages, and they were absolutely fantastic. I have never had mussels prepared in such a way before – baked with spicy tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese – nor anything close to it. HUGE fan.
Continuing with the seafood theme at Ассоль, here's
Continuing with the seafood theme at Ассоль, here’s salmon and eel sushi roll with avocado and scallions, covered in cucumber. It was way better-made than in most Moscow sushi chains – way more fish, way less rice. And look at the pretty presentation of wasabi and ginger!
One of the things Ассоль did exceptionally well
One of the things Ассоль did exceptionally well was beef. Always fresh and tender, and never overcooked. On the left is a steak salad with grilled vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes), and on the right – another gastronomic highlight of my vacation: filet mignon served on roasted pears with black currant sauce. Can’t find it elsewhere!
Here's a place I DIDN'T
Here’s a place in Novy Svet that I didn’t get to check out, but as you can tell from the photos alone, they were really into playing up the Soviet kitsch. The poster in the top photo says “I am a comrade and not some kind of “sir” – I eat in the Canteen of the USSR!” (it rhymes in Russian). The bottom poster uses a quote from Lenin: “Soviet people won’t build communism on an empty stomach.” 
This was interesting. This is okroshka, a
This was an interesting experience. This is okroshka, a cold soup based on kefir, a kind of fermented milk. In it you can spot boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, diced cucumbers, fresh herbs, and that pink stuff is boiled hot-dog-like sausage. For understandable reasons I was afraid to try this traditional Ukrainian dish (you did just read the description), but decided to throw caution to the wind while in Koktebel, especially after I heard some locals (and from their exchange with the staff – regulars of the place) order it. And you know what? Not bad at all! Kind of like a liquid version of the classic Russian Olivie salad. Also, check out how cute the bowl is, with the traditional Ukrainian flower combination.  
Honey-mustard pork joints in Yalta.
Pork joints in peppercorn-honey glaze, in Yalta. So delicious! So tender, they melt in your mouth! So fattening, because they were pretty much roasted pieces of lard on the bone! Of course I was all over that.
And lastly, the closet I came to having a staple food in Crimea. Yup, the simple fresh vegetable salad.
And lastly, the closet I came to having a staple food in Crimea. Yup, it was a simple fresh vegetable salad. In Crimea I became a Salad Person, because the quality, freshness and flavor of vegetables was like nothing I had ever seen or tasted anywhere in the world. For the most part, whatever I was being served on my salad plate – tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, fresh herbs like parsley and dill, and Yalta’s famous, purple sweet onion – was still on a vine or in the ground that same morning. The smell and taste were like… I don’t know, Nature on steroids – except all natural. So I gorged and gorged, eventually just ordering double portions of salad for dinner (especially the one on the right, with wedges of local feta cheese, served at my WiFi cafe). Those know have known me for years and know how virtually impossible it is to get me to eat any kind of vegetables probably can’t believe what they are reading right now. There you have it, folks: Crimea – it changes people!
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26 thoughts on “WHAT I ATE IN CRIMEA: Restaurants

  1. When you said “food porn,” you weren’t kidding! This looks amazing! And you….vegetables….mindblown! And the shellfish! Who are you?!?! But, then there’s pork penis, and all is right in the world.

    I’d eat almost everything in every photo. Or maybe I’d forget to eat, because the restaurants are so gorgeous, and I’d be too busy staring!

  2. okay the manty were sold to me as a tarditional russian food when Ive visited samara a few years ago…. and they were cooked with catfish feeling…..

  3. Well, you had me at “pork penis”.

    I could go the rest of my life without knowing how that tastes.

    “they were pretty much roasted pieces of lard on the bone! Of course I was all over that.”
    Best food review line ever written!!

  4. I literally recoiled from the screen when I saw the okroshka – urgh! Also, in Kyrgyzstan I was definitely a salat person – the rest was horse meat everything!

    • Have you actually had okroshka? I am still too scared to try the kvas-based one, that’s just weird, it’s a soda-based soup?! But I would definitely have the kefir one again.

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