Magazine article Russian Life

Tsar Pea & Other Russian Tales

Magazine article Russian Life

Tsar Pea & Other Russian Tales

Article excerpt

In Russia, there is a joke that goes something like this: Two New Russians walk into a luxurious Moscow restaurant and order pea soup with elephant ears. "From what kind of elephant - Indian or African?" asks the waiter. "Well, give us the African" they decide. After a while, the waiter returns to their table with some bad news: "Unfortunately, sirs, we cannot prepare your order."

"So what's the problem?"

"Our cooks can't find any peas."

Strange as it may seem, pea soup - one of Russia's oldest dishes - is harder to find in Russian restaurants these days than frogs' legs or shark fins, for this dish has passed definitively into the ranks of "home cooking." In spite of its wide public acceptance, pea soup has always been considered a peasant dish, and restaurants tend to scorn it. In general, Russia is one of only a few European countries in which "coarse" foodstuffs such as millet, oats, buckwheat and peas are used in cooking.

Peas have been used in Russian cooking since time immemorial. Ancient Russian lyetopisy (manuscripts) mention a broth made from peas called gorokhovye. It is no coincidence that, when Russians want to say that something happened a long time ago, they use the expression: "It was during the time of Tsar Gorokh" (literally Tsar Pea). Interestingly, since ancient times, Russians have used not fresh green peas in the pod, but hard, dried peas (dishes made with tender green peas appeared only at the end of the 19th century). …

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