Nice place, if you like potatoes

Ice cream is very popular in Easter Europe.  This was in Romania.
Ice cream is very popular in Easter Europe. This was in Romania.

Mmmm, ‘bubblegum & marshmallow’ flavoured ice-cream. Cheap and definitely useful on a warm day.
Ice-cream seems to be quite common across Eastern Europe, although as the above flavour was bought from a park stall on the May Day holiday in a popular park in Bucharest, I’m not sure if the cornucopia of flavours is repeatable elsewhere (say on a cold wet Wednesday night in Minsk).

As far as I’ve found, the ‘standard fayre’ seems to be a variation on ‘meat and two veg’, although the veg in question tends more towards cabbage and polenta rather than peas and carrots. Certainly cabbage has a flexible life in the local cuisine …

Romanian fayre: Stuffed cabbage leaves with polenta
Romanian fayre: Stuffed cabbage leaves with polenta

… as the Eastern Med do with vine leaves, so the Romanians and Ukranians do with cabbage – roll up the leaves and fill with meat or rice, then steam till cooked, and served with polenta.

The potato, however, is ubiquitous, and can be found pretty much everywhere – it’s been so historically important to the culture of Belarus that a museum there devotes a whole floor to an exhibit about them. One of the more common snackfoods involving potatoes is the ‘potato cake’, available in most cafes and eaten the way the Brits might eat ‘baguette and chips’.

When it comes to snack food, the rule seems to be ‘if it’s bread-based and you can deep-fry it, then it works’. Doughnuts and other deep-fried snacks can be bought from roadside stalls for a pittance; sometimes plain but often stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetable, or some combination. Cheap and filling – if I lived in Ukraine for any length of time I’d get fat.

Stuffed pancake (some kind of meat, probably chicken) in Belarus
Stuffed pancake (some kind of meat, probably chicken) in Belarus

Lithuania is slightly different, although still definitely fond of the potato, they seem to have a more Germanic influence, with pork being the most common meat dish. And “kiaulÄ—s ausis”, or pigs’ ears, being quite a delicacy; here served in a kind of pie made predominantly with potatoes:

Pigs' Ears pie in Lithuania
Pigs’ Ears pie in Lithuania

They taste quite smoked, and are a little chewy, but they’re a lot nicer than you’d expect. In the UK we just tend to feed them to dogs.

As for drink, well most areas brew their own beer, and bottle their own spring water (there’s a tendency for a couple of these countries to have slightly suspect drinking water). However, in a couple of countries (ntably Ukraine, but also an extent in Belarus and Transnistria0 they seem to have merged the two, and created Kvas:

A glass of Kvas in Ukraine
A glass of Kvas in Ukraine

Kvas is a malted drink, brewed in the same way as beer, but it ends up with an incredibly low alcohol content (maybe 0.1%). This means it’s treated as a soft drink, and is sold from street stalls and even children can buy it. It’s a bit like the missing link between beer and bread, with the taste and texture of drinking a malted loaf. Refreshing, but slightly strange.

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