The Tsarist way to usher in next week’s Olympic Games would require a magnum of Champagne and jars of caviar. But for local viewers planning a more authentically Russian celebration, Euro Foods sells most of the needed staples.
Sadly, owner Sasha Pavlichenko didn’t have the pickled herring I wanted to make shuba (sometimes called herring under a fur coat) for my Opening Ceremonies party. But had I been willing to undertake the pickling process myself, he had plenty of fresh herring in the cooler. And he sold me the tinned sardines I needed for sardine butter.
The sardine butter is destined for my attempt at zakuska, a pre-meal snack spread that’s possibly an offshoot of the traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord. While zakuska didn’t become popular until the 18th century, Russian food writers now hold up the practice as emblematic of Russian hospitality, the rules of which dictate you should never ask a guest whether he’d like something to eat – because of course he wants something to eat.
As I’ve learned from the cookbooks I’ve consulted — Darra Goldstein’s “A Taste of Russia” and Anya von Bremzen’s “Please to the Table” – Russians are militant about making their guests feel welcome. In peasant cottages, families typically roused the resident matriarch from her sleeping spot so a guest could sit atop the stove. They also had the habit of hiding treats around the house, so they always had a guest-pleasing delicacy within reach. The zakuska table, sometimes compared to tapas or dim sum, evolved from keeping prepared dishes at the ready for impromptu entertaining.
Euro Foods’ shelves are stocked with the green tomato pickles, eggplant spreads, marinated mushrooms and sauced cauliflower considered essential zakuski. Pavlichenko also sells frozen pelmeni; sausages; farmer’s cheese; rye bread; poppy seed cakes and Russian chocolates, for hosts planning extended parties. I picked up a few bottles of Borjomi, the Georgian mineral water so beloved by Stalin that it was poured at every Kremlin event.
Of course, the most important item on any zakuska table is only sold at liquor stores. As Goldstein writes, when Vladimir was on the hunt for a religion to help him control his 10th century subjects, he was on the brink of embracing Islam until he learned the faith forbid alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of Rus’!,” he proclaimed. In other words, don’t forget the vodka.
Euro Foods, 1727 Ashley River Rd., is open every day. For more details, call 571-1451, or visit https://www.facebook.com/EuroFoods.