Of course, I may be one of von Bremzen's ideal readers: a food writer and former Soviet Studies major who once read The 900 Days, Harrison E. Salisbury's account of the siege of Leningrad, which has almost as many pages as days, just for fun.
Okay, fun is maybe the wrong word for a book about the siege of Leningrad. Fun is also not the word you might expect to describe a memoir of growing up amid Soviet hunger, but that's what this book is -- and a lot of fun at that.
Von Bremzen is the author of five cookbooks, countless magazine and newspaper pieces, and the recipient of three James Beard awards. She's also a profoundly gifted writer, able to lace information with observation, observation with wit. She sifts the history of the Soviet Union she left as a ten-year-old with the history of her family, viewing much of that through the lens of food.
Lucky for Los Angeles, piroshkis have made their way here, thanks to Armenian and Russian diasporas who have set up bakeries from Van Nuys to Glendale and West Hollywood where they serve up these cultural staples, usually bought a dozen at a time, that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or while you're sitting in traffic on the dreaded 405 and wondering if there's any hope that you will eventually make it home. Just make sure you have napkins nearby.
We've included a list of places in L.A. that make their piroshkis in-house, fresh and piping hot for your eating pleasure. It probably doesn't beat your babushka's (that's grandma to you) fried dough treats, but it does come close.
The most authentic borscht in L.A. -- other than at Grandma's kitchen?
--Devin Saez, via Facebook
Due to their prominence in café sandwiches and the pages of health, food, and lifestyle magazines, we've long figured Americans ate more chicken breasts than legs, thighs, and those ragged, slithery bit parts one has to vigorously disengage from a carcass. We just didn't know how much more. According to Nadia Arumugam's late January Slate article, "The Dark Side of the Bird," Americans eat white meat over 80% of the time they consume chicken, and until pretty recently, at least since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, much of the unused thighs and legs ended up in Russia--in 2009, nearly 1.6 billion pounds-worth. Those drumstick-crazed days--no doubt filled with barbecue sauce and wonder--are gone.
We, and perhaps you too, are feeling a little sick right now. Congested, body aches, taste buds not exactly firing on all cylinders. So for this week's food fight, we're changing the format a little. Rather than taking two versions of the same dish and seeing which one is tastier, we're eating two very dissimilar bowls of soup, and declaring the winner based on which one makes us feel better. But rather than eating something we grew up with, like chicken noodle, or matzo ball soup, we dug into some of our city's deep, and rich ethnic diversity.
In I Am Love, Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's operatic family melodrama, a popular Russian fish soup called ukha (pronounced ooh-kah) is more than set dressing on the wealthy Recchi family dinner table, it's a plot point that means something completely different to three characters. To Tilda Swinton's matriarch Emma Recchi - an emotionally stifled Russian émigré living in Milan - it's a reminder of the other life she lived back in her homeland while her son and heir to the Recchi fortune, Edo (Flavio Parenti), thinks of it as comfort food, the dish his mom made for him throughout his pampered boyhood. In Russia, ukha is a one-pot quickie meal made by simmering salmon, cod or perch in a saucepan filled with water, potatoes and parsley.
But chef Carlo Cracco, the owner of the Milan-based Ristorante Cracco and designer of all the food for "I Am Love," so elevated Ukha that it becomes a scene-stealer: a way for a bold young immigrant chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini) to reach out from the kitchen to his lover at an opulent dinner party. To make the dish for the cameras, Cracco pan seared a variety of river fish then painstakingly arranged them in a clear, shimmering broth seasoned with vegetables and herbs. When Cracco's ukha hits the table in I Am Love, cinematographer Yorick Le Saux shoots it so rapturously that it feels as if each onscreen guest is being served a soup bowl of edible Van Cleef & Arpel's jewelry.