Memories of a Russian winter: Part 2 – shopping

Dom Knigi (House of Books) in St Petersburg
CC photo via Flickr: House of Books in St Petersburg, one of my favourite places to visit

Given the 21st-century backlash against consumerism, it might seem contrary to write a post about my experiences of shopping in Russia, but different country, different era.

What’s more, shopping presented one of the best opportunities we had as students to practise our language skills in a ‘real’ environment outside the classroom.

As I mentioned in my first post about living in Russia in the 90s, after morning lectures had finished, we invariably headed off into the city centre of St Petersburg to see what we could find.

Shops in Russia – even a major city like St Petersburg – were an oddity. Not their existence, rather what they sold.

Buying food

There wasn’t much originality in shop names in 1992. For example, there were numerous places called ‘Moloko’ meaning milk. The irony was that milk was almost never on sale in these shops – in fact, the primary product available appeared to be cognac (the Russian version).

Looking for items of food was always a major element of our excursions into town. Certain items were always available: every second shop’s window display was stacked with jars of pickled goods.

Pickling was of course, a necessary way for citizens to preserve a glut of produce before they went bad (although I didn’t properly understand that at the time). Continue reading “Memories of a Russian winter: Part 2 – shopping”

Proof that the human race is not very adventurous

GrainsI’m currently reading Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind, which helps understand how our brain copes with all the information we take in and how to improve our brains.

Then I came across this quote:

Out of 30,000 edible plants thought to exist on earth, just eleven account for 93% of all that humans eat: oats, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, yucca (also called tapioca or cassava), sorghum, millet, beans, barley, and rye.

This figure (originally quoted in Bill Bryson’s At Home: a short history of private life) just goes to show how narrow-minded we are as a race, and also how difficult we find it to break out of the norm.

As an example at the opposite end of the spectrum, research from Nielsen in 2014 showed that despite having – on average – 189 TV channels to choose from, Americans watch only 17.

What’s even more interesting is that this figure (17) hasn’t barely wavered in 5 years, despite a huge leap in the number of available channels.

We cannot cope with any more information!

Introducing the caveman pizza

Domino’s PizzaWhen pizzas were first invented as a way of creating a cheap meal, little did they know what they would be turned into by the might of Dominos.

That beacon of fast food has introduced a new tempting feast to its range, called Domino’s Premiere. A pizza of truly epic proportions.

And what, pray, does the Premiere boast as its topping? A little mushroom and asparagus, perhaps? Maybe some tuna, capers and anchovies? Not a bit of it.

The Premiere is a pizza for the truly unreconstructed. A pizza aimed fair and square at the carnivores of this world.

If you order a Dominos Premiere you get the following quartet of toppings: pepperoni, chorizo, steak and pastrami. Meat, a little more meat, ooh some of that meat and, why not a little bit extra meat just to make it up.

Tell me, please, that people out there don’t really want something like this. Surely…