Saveur does its National Geographic–meets–Alton Brown thing with aplomb this month, flying a writer 6,000 miles and seven time zones east of Moscow to the once forbidden city of Vladivostok. Not only is the story full of culinary quirks (such as kvas, a low-alcohol sparkling rye drink), it benefits from its writer’s 10 years of experience with the city. Not surprisingly, the Russian Far East has changed a lot over the past decade.
The story also features a photo that, for my money, is worth the price of the magazine. “Hospitality,” reads the caption, “is measured in Russian homes by how little tablecloth is showing.” The pictured table is covered by nearly 20 distinct types of dishes and elaborate condiments, all resplendent in vivid hues of red, purple, green, and orange. You gain half a pound just by looking at it.
But the truly gritty aspect that the story misses—and an article by journalist Grigory Pasko manages to capture with rugged elegance—is the simple charm of Vladivostok prison cooking.
I quickly made the acquaintance of my new cellmates, got into the rhythm of things in this cell, and even took part in the making of a New Year’s cake. In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe so you can jot it down for yourselves: one handful of breadcrumbs made from brown or black bread (whatever happens to be at hand), a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk, water, and sugar. If you’ve got some condensed milk or a spoonful of honey, that’s super. Mix it all together, set it out in the winter cold next to the window bars for 20-30 minutes, and voila, your holiday cake is ready. So tasty you’ll be licking your fingers!