Russia : Wake Up with Tchaikovsky
By Shinya Yamamoto,
Representative in Moscow
With a vague image of Russia as the mysterious bad guys in the movies and little else, my desire to learn about this country with a curiosity reserved for peeking at scary things is what prompted me to first step on Russian soil.
I first visited Russia in the autumn of 1989 (at the end of the Soviet era), and ever since then I have been involved in some way with the country. Many years have passed and still there are many things I do not know or understand, but in this time I have been able to see and hear many things, and I have changed to the extent that I now listen to “Swan Lake” every morning before leaving for work. No matter how many times I listen to it, I am always dazzled by that melody that sounds as if it were coming from the depths of outer space.
In literature, too, for a time I was completely devoted to Dostoyevsky (author of many titles including Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Gambler, and The Brothers Karamazov), and even now I agree with the concept that environment creates both good people and criminals.
Russia is a treasure house of arts and culture of which it rightly boasts to the world, but I know no more than the little I just mentioned, and so here I will provide a simple explanation of the relationship between food and work that I experience everyday in Russia.
Famous Borscht and Julien (small mushroom casserole)
Russia was formed following the Grand Duchy of Kiev, and the origin of Russian food is the Ukraine. My pet theory is that food culture was formed in this region together with the distinctive alcohol, but for whatever reason, there is a very rich variety of dishes that match Vodka extremely well, including Salo (pig fat), which is so delicious that you cannot stop once you start eating; Seryodka (herring marinated in vinegar), which is perfect for cleansing the palate after a glass of rich Vodka; oily Shashrik (skewered meat); Rakki (crayfish boiled in salt), with a simple taste that you can never get enough of; and my favorite, Harucho (spicy southern soup). Due to my job, I frequently visit farmers in southern Russia, and the food and drink I enjoy with them is especially delicious.
Moscow in summer
Moscow in winter
As you know, Vodka is a distilled spirit made from the same ingredients as Japanese Shochu (wheat, potatoes) with an alcohol content of generally around 45%. There has been a health boom recently, and Vodka consumption in Russian has consequently declined, but it still plays the starring role at parties. Winter in Russia is extremely cold, and considering a small, inexpensive amount can warm your body in an instant, I have no doubts that this drink is well-loved. It goes without saying that wheat and potato production are exceedingly important in Russia, and we import agricultural chemicals and sell and supply them to producers and distributors to ensure that production of these important crops can be carried out efficiently and without fail. Moreover, we plan to add new agricultural chemicals one after the other as we further expand the sphere of our contribution to agriculture in future.
This season has been impacted immensely by the financial crisis, and the business situation is difficult. However, we are all working together, getting ourselves covered in mud every day so as to achieve a huge leap forward in the future, as well as deepening our exchange with farmers through wonderful food.
All of you in Japan may still feel that Russia is a very far-away country, but I urge you to visit this northern country and enjoy its rich cuisine and exchange with its warm people. The experience is sure to transform your outlook on life.