Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

Acquired Tastes, Part 3

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Несколько лет тому назад у другого   моего соседа в деревне мужик в овине обгорел. (Он так бы и остался в овине,   да заезжий мещанин его полуживого вытащил: окунулся в кадку с водой, да с   разбега и вышиб дверь под пылавшим навесом.) Я зашел к нему в избу. Темно в   избе, душно, дымно. Спрашиваю: где больной? «А вон, батюшка, на лежанке», —   отвечает мне нараспев подгорюнившаяся баба. Подхожу — лежит мужик, тулупом   покрылся, дышит тяжко. «Что, как ты себя чувствуешь?» Завозился больной на   печи, подняться хочет, а весь в ранах, при смерти. «Лежи, лежи, лежи… Ну,   что? как?» — «Вестимо, плохо», — говорит. «Больно тебе?» Молчит. «Не нужно ли   чего?» Молчит. «Не прислать ли тебе чаю, что ли?» — «Не надо». Я отошел от   него, присел на лавку. Сижу четверть часа, сижу полчаса — гробовое молчание в   избе. В углу, за столом под образами, прячется девочка лет пяти, хлеб ест.   Мать изредка грозится на нее. В сенях ходят, стучат, разговаривают: братнина   жена капусту рубит. «А, Аксинья!» — проговорил, наконец, больной. «Чего?» — «Квасу   дай». Подала ему Аксинья квасу.Тургенев, Записки Охотника

A few years ago a peasant belonging to another neighbour of mine in the country got burnt in the drying shed, where the corn is put.  (He would have remained there, but a passing townsman pulled him out half-dead; he plunged into a tub of water, and with a run broke down the door of the burning outbuilding.) I went to his hut to see him. It was dark, smoky, stifling, in the hut. I asked, “Where is the sick man?” “There, sir, on the stove,” the sorrowing peasant woman answered me in a sing-song voice. I went up; the peasant was lying covered with a sheepskin, breathing heavily. “Well, how do you feel?” The injured man stirred on the stove; burned all over, within sight of death as he was, he tried to rise. “Lie still, lie still . . . lie still. Well, how are you?” “In a bad way, surely,” said he. “Are you in pain?” No answer. “Is there anything you want?” No answer. “Shouldn’t I send you some tea, or anything.” “There’s no need.” I moved away from him and sat down on the bench. I sat there a quarter of an hour; I sat there half an hour–the silence of the tomb in the hut. In the corner behind the table under the holy images crouched a little girl of five years old, eating a piece of bread. Her mother threatened her every now and then. In the outer room there was coming and going, noise and talk: the brother’s wife was chopping cabbage. “Hey, Aksinya,” said the injured man at last. “What?” “Some kvas.” Aksinya gave him some kvas.

This short passage in Turgenev’s Sketches from a Hunter’s Journal – preceded by the words “How wonderfully indeed dies the Russian peasant!” or «удивительно умирает русский мужик!» – got me thinking early on that there was something special about kvas. Like any typical American, I didn’t know much about kvas, but had heard the name. Kvas, for what I can only imagine is a typical American palate (mine), is also an acquired taste. It is fair to call it the “Russian Rootbeer,” for even though it tastes nothing like rootbeer, they love it (and dislike rootbeer), just like we dislike it (and love rootbeer).

In Kyrgyzstan, numerous types of kvas are available, from very sugary, carbonated versions that are basically soda, to very starchy, bready versions that are something closer to how I imagine a stout beer. In a valiant attempt to acclimate myself to this little piece of Russian culture, I tried all the kvas I could find: biokvas, monastery-kvas, the soda-like version, the kind sold from a large drum on the street, and so on. Some where waaaaay too yeasty for me; others were just right. I kept hunting, kept trying, and quickly came to love a nice cold glass of Russian kvas on a hot summer day. In fact, it was my first success story in the “acquired tastes” category, and today I’m even a bit of a kvas-evangelist, trying to introduce foreigners to its unique, smooth wonders.

(in the above photo, the only kind I’ve tried is the one in the middle of the top row with the monk in black on the label!)

One thought on “Acquired Tastes, Part 3

  1. Yes! I love kvas! That was definitely my favorite acquired taste.


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