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5Nov/100

Culinary adventures in the Soviet Urals

A new delicious exposition is opened now in the Museum of History of Yekaterinburg. It's called The Journey of Sverdlovsk Gourmet: culinary adventures in the Soviet Urals. The word gourmet sounded somewhat ironic in the Soviet times of food shortages. Still Soviet cafes and restaurants were interesting and exotic places in terms of ideology and red propaganda.

Factories in the Urals had no canteens until 1930s. Workers went home for a dinner break.      - A good communist must spend all his day working for Mother Russia! - the government said and established a new institution - a canteen where a worker spent 2 minutes of his working time instead of 2 hours. If you think it's impossible to finish a borsch, chicken Kiev and a glass of juice within 2 minutes, you'd better believe it. There was special person who timed you break. At the beginning the factory canteens in Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk those days) were very fancy. They had fountains and even libraries with endless volumes of Marx and Lenin works. After Nikita Khrushchev visited the Uralmash factory, all the canteens lost their glamorous touch - Khrushchev was very stingy with government money and despised luxury. Thus canteens were turned into regular fast food cafes in an American self-service manner with typically unfriendly Soviet service.

Dishes in a canteen neither looked nor smelled delicious but tasted good

Everyone who lived in the USSR remembers that Thursday was a fish day. Fish was cooked in all canteens, cafes and restaurants all over the country. This way the government tried to support and develop fish industry. Thursday was not randomly chosen. Factory workers who never opted for dieting  weren't at all happy about fish days and preferred more substantial meat. Thursday (and that was proved by a careful scientific anlysis) was the least irritating day for serving fish - one day until Friday and the weekend mood was already there.   

Caviar wasn't included into Thursday fish menue but it was easier to buy than today. At the moment Russia doesn't produce black caviar. Black caviar can only be bought from black market

Soviet children enjoyed visiting ice-cream cafes, again thanks to the USA. The first equipment for making ice-cream was bought by the Bolsheviks in America in 1932. Since that time the USSR has been the major ice-cream producer making 25 tons a day!

Ice-cream is tasty and healthy in summer and in winter! - the advertisment says

A restaurant was a dream place for many Soviet citizens. Ordinary people couldn't afford it, but once in a life time a relative of a high rank would invite you to a wedding or birthday celebration. Getting there you got into a different world. Yekaterinburg restaurants like Big Ural or Cosmos were known for a special Unsoviet atmosphere, i.e. no self-service, waitresses in shamelessly short skirts were ready to serve you, a music band could play your favourite song for 3 rubles, more than that some male customers paid a certain some of money to certain people and all of a sudden beautiful women came in and joined their table! 

The exhibition of culinary adventures to the Soviet past is opened until 3d April 2011. Every visitor gets a free icecream - the most popular and delicious plombir! The Museum of History of Yekaterinburg 0n Karla Libknekhta st. 26 open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 except Mondays.  

5Oct/100

Ural rock – discovering the local psyche

Last weekend I chatted to Rick, an Englishman in Yekaterinburg. Rick used to work in the music industry in London and now he teaches English in the Urals. Naturally, we talked about music. It turned out that Rick is a huge fan of the Ural rock bands even though they sing in Russian. So he gave me an idea to share the phenomenon of Ural rock with you. This is a story about the bands that had and still enjoy a huge following all over Russia and former Soviet territories. What's more important, they made Sverdlovsk-Yekaterinburg a leading music scene in 1980s - early 1990s

Rock music in the USSR was a protest against the regime and mainly became a prerogative of engineering intelligentsia. With a large number of technical engineering institutions in Yekaterinburg (those days Sverdlovsk) no wonder so many rock bands sprang up here before Perestroika. Nautilus Pampilius was one of the most prominent bands of that time. Though often criticised for being too pop, this band formed the core of the Soviet rock phenomenon due to their unusual unsoviet style and their lyrics targeted at social problems. A charismatic front man Vyacheslav Butusov disbanded Nautilus in 1997 when the era of Perestroika turmoils came to an end. He moved to St Petersburg and formed a new band there U-Peter. However, the piercing songs of Nautilus Pampilius are still very popular and sound very much up to date. I particularly love their hit Goodbye America. Butusov is singing about the place behind an iron curtain he will never be able to see. In 1988 it seemed a very true imposibility. 

Yekaterinburg music scene of the 90s is connected with the name of Agatha Christie. The post punk band had nothing to do with English detectives though. It was formed by the Samoylovs brothers, the students of the Ural State Technical University (now named after its famous graduate Boris Yeltsin). The brothers didn't get much into politics and sang about love and deception in a gloomy murky manner so natural to the lost generation of the new Russian country. Agatha Christie proved to be a long lasting project. The Samoylovs brothers started in 1988 and broke up only this year. Here is their top hit of 1993 Kak na Voyne (Like at War)

The real dinosaurs or veterans of the Ural rock are Chaif. The name is a combination of the words chai - tea and kaif - feeling high. The thing is that during the rehearsals the Soviet rockers in the Ural Rock Club were drinking liters of ... tea (those were innocent times) Probably, that was the reason why the band formed in 1985 still works in full swing. Chaif are the best representative of the Ural rock as unlike other bands they didn't move to Moscow or St. Petersburg for better career prospects. They live in Yekaterinburg and regularly take part in charities and activities of the local community: volunteer to clean the city parks and speak against the authorities' decision to tear down wooden houses of the last centuries in the city centre, that has recently become a burning issue in Yekateriburg. Chaif plays a mix of rock and roll and blues sometimes with reggae influence as in their son Argentina - Jamaica 5:0 written after World Cup 1998. They can easily gather a crowd of 20 thousand fans as it was in Moscow at their 20th Anniversary. Chaif 1991 hit Oy-yo Nikto ne Uslyshit (Oy-yo, No one will hear) is definitely their trademark song about existential crisis of a Post-Soviet man.