As a foodie, I do enjoy my cooking shows. I honestly think, to the annoyance of my housemates, that I could watch cooking shows all day, every day. Alas, I have a life with responsibilities outside of food. Last year I decided to watch My Kitchen Rules Australia for the first time (shock, I know) and I absolutely loved it! Dramatic reality cooking show, good job Channel 7.
This season there were contestants from all around Australia and, as Australia is a multicultural country, many with different backgrounds. The most interesting food I had ever seen came from the Russian friends who made foods I never knew existed. Quite intriguing to see how different a culture’s meals can be (and how narrow-minded some people can be when trying new foods!) With a fresh interest in Russian cuisine, the topic came up whilst I was out with my Lithuanian/Russian friend. She invited me to her favourite Russian restaurant in London, Mari Vanna. Of course I went, how could I turn it down?
Well, it was not what I was expecting. I hate to admit it, but I had the stereotypical idea that Russian food consisted of meat, potatoes and other root vegetables. Yes there was some on the menu, but also an array of other interesting dishes. I had an idea of a couple of things I wanted to try based on what I’d seen cooked on My Kitchen Rules, so we went for the Golubtski (minced pork in cabbage parcels) and Kholodetz (jellied chicken), but I left the rest of the ordering to my friend as I wanted to try everything, and she seemed to know what she was doing. My oh my did we feast!
This is what I wanted to try most as the girls made this on the show and it looked really interesting. This is cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, minced pork and veal, and is served in a light tomato sauce. My friend said to eat it traditionally you must eat it with sour cream. It’s almost like eating a healthy version of a sausage roll. I really enjoyed this dish and would definitely go back for more!
The girls on the show described this dish as “meat jelly”. Theirs looked like cat food and not particularly appetising. When watching it I did think that whilst it looked like the cat should have been eating it, I imagined it to be a different experience than to actually taste unpleasant. Apparently the way to eat this is to dip it in vinegar and enjoy! I liked it best with some bread, which did not impress my friend! As strange as the dish sounds, it was actually quite tasty. I struggled to get past the jelly texture, as I don’t like jelly anyway, but it was definitely not cat food!
Herring in a shuba-coat
After the golubtski, this had to be my favourite dish. It’s described as “traditional layered salad with salted herring, beetroot, and potatoes, a light mayonnaise dressing”. It tasted like a fishy potato salad, and it was delicious! Beautiful on the plate, with a rainbow of purple beetroot, orange roe and white potatoes and mayonnaise, this dish was definitely one I would recommend to anyone to try.
These are a little like dumplings, which is probably why I liked them. Again, add some vinegar and some sour cream and enjoy. It was so tasty and more-ish that I almost ate the lot!
I’ve never tried ox tongue before, and to be honest I now don’t need to try it ever again. It wasn’t a bad flavour. It was just a little like overcooked beef I suppose. A rough texture and a bit dry (I added some of the herring in a shuba-coat, which is so not traditional but I enjoyed it more like this).
On my next trip I want to try the seven layer honey cake and the Smetannik (sour cream cake with fresh berries). We couldn’t fit in dessert so it’s a must for next time.
So the food was interesting, some I liked and some not so much. The main part for me was that I tried these new things, and I am so glad I did. I prefer not to judge a food until I’ve tried it, which I now have! I learned that Russian food involves some very interesting flavours, lots of vinegar and sour cream, and it turns out I like it.
Definitely recommend taking a trip to Mari Vanna next time you’re in London, and don’t skip the vodka infusions!
P.S. the decor was out of this world! My friend said it felt like her grandma’s house, and I can completely see how. Be sure to check out the bathrooms… they were playing Russian nursery rhymes! Safe to say it was an all round interesting experience.