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People Say Russian Cuisine Is Dull

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.

He is currently running a remarkably successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter to be able to publish his upcoming novels. Please support him if you can!


Yesterday, I got back from an amazing trip to Saratov, Russia, where I was one of 41 men recording sacred music for a men’s choir CD. One of the more surprising aspects of the trip was the food. It was actually good. And this despite it being a fasting period.

A little while ago, some friends of mine got into a discussion about Russian cuisine. The usual opinions were expressed—Russian food is terrible, boring, tasteless, fatty. But then someone made an important point. All the bad things people hear about Russian food are more properly referred to as Soviet problems.

Interested, I looked for some properly patriotic articles on the internet, and found a good one. Here is it: five myths about Russian cuisine busted!

For some, it’s too fatty. For others, it’s simply tasteless. A third might think it too simple, a fourth, too old-fashioned. Turns out, they’re all wrong.


Post-Soviet Myth: Russian food is fatty and uninspired

Seventy years of Soviet life have created this myth. Or rather, this is definitely true of Soviet cuisine, but not Russian cuisine in a more general sense. Soviet cuisine loves lots of mayonnaise, oils, fatty sausages, sardines, margarine—everything that would maximize a Soviet citizen’s caloric intake from the minimum amount of food eaten.

But in 1913, which historians generally consider the year of Russia’s peak of cultural development, the cuisine was completely different. There were many competing restaurants and eateries, with Moscow at the center of a bustling culinary culture. The highest aristocrats from Petersburg came to Moscow for special culinary tours, including such stops as the public houses of Testov, Gurin, Egorov, and the Saratov Restaurant.

The variety of dishes in these places was staggering. Here’s a typical menu from the restaurant of the merchant Guliarovskii: “piglet wrapped in dough, lobster soup with small pies, cream of wheat made with heavy cream (Gurievskaia), botvinia (a cold, fermented soup) with sturgeon, white cured fish fillet, baidak pie (a huge savory pie with a twelve-layer filling, everything from eel livers to beef brains) in a brown butter sauce.

Peasant Myth: Russian cuisine is too simplistic 

There’s a Russian proverb: “Cabbage soup and porridge—that’s all we need to eat”. This ironic maxim is everywhere used literally to characterize the actual state of ancient Russian cooking. It’s true that perhaps a peasant from Tambov could live mostly on turnips and porridge, but in many regions even peasants ate well. This was especially true of the areas around the capital and in Siberia. As proof, we have the writings of foreign travelers.

Take, for example, the travel journal of Marco Foscarino (1537): “Two chickens or ducks are sold for some tiny silver coin. The peasants also have all varieties of meat. In the winter, meat can survive for an entire month. They have wonderful fowl, which they catch with nets or with falcons (they have very good breeds here). Near the Volga, huge and delicious fish are served, especially sturgeon. The white lakes give a great variety of large and small fish of varying quality.

The Myth from Nature: Russian cuisine uses few fruits because of the long winter

Simply not true. Even Pierre Bezuhov (in War and Peace) cultivated pineapples in his hothouses. Everyone used greenhouses and hothouses. The common people had a million ways of preserving berries and fruits for the entirety of winter in ways that preserved their vitamin content. These included baking, preserving in honey, freezing, or drying. Even the Domostroi (a document more famous for its questionable advice of husband-wife relations) included recipes for preservation of fruits:

“Take a watermelon, cut it into pieces, cut out the seeds, leaving behind two finger’s width of the skin. Put them into alcohol and hold them until it is time to change the alcohol. Repeat the procedure. Then, having taken the molasses, boil them on a low fire and take off the foam from the top.

The Myth of Fasting: Russian cuisine is tasteless

This may be partially true of some fasting dishes, as many people who search old recipes find out. However, this is not characteristic of Russian cuisine in general. In many regions, dishes were seasoned extensively. Coastal cuisine, for example, added volozhi to all dishes. These were sauces in which food was cooked, baked, or garnished. There was a huge variety to these volozhi. Some were based on sour cream or butter, some were based on berries. The rich even had spiced lemon sauces.

The Myth from Folklore: Russian cuisine is archaic

Yes, traditionally speaking, Russian cuisine had been rather one-sided. This is because of the universal prevalence of the Russian oven, which led to the majority of dishes being baked (whether fish, fowl, or meat). However, in the city culture of the 19th century, this one-sidedness was decidedly overcome.

There were many French chefs working in Russian restaurants, which does not mean that they imported French food. Rather, they effectively experimented with traditional Russian styles. Russian officers also brought back with them (after wars) various tastes that now are considered typically Russian.

This kind of “fusion” cuisine includes such delicacies as pastries, charlotte pies, veal Orloff, crepes with oysters, as well as the now world-famous salad created by Lucien Olivier in the famous Hermitage Restaurant.


Source: Nicholas Kotar

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Rule number one of ‘Fight Club’ in China: The police always win | USA

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The first rule of Fight Club in China is that the police always beat the criminals. The second rule is that buildings are not demolished. And the third is that if the ending is considered unsuitable, change it.

David Fincher’s 1999 cult film, which was shown just once in Chinese theaters during an edition of the Shanghai Film Festival, is now available on tech giant Tencent’s streaming services in China. But with a different outcome. Warning this article contains spoilers.

In the original, the narrator, played by Edward Norton, has just “killed” his imaginary alter ego, Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, and watches the explosion of several nearby buildings with his girlfriend Maria, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. The anarchist revolution advocated by Durden is underway.

In Tencent’s version, on the other hand, there are no explosions and no scenes of Tyler and Maria holding hands as they watch the destruction. Instead, the screen turns black and writing appears, explaining that the police “arrested all the criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding.” According to this alternative ending, Durden is sent to a psychiatric hospital, from which he is released in 2012. Screenshots of the new ending went viral last weekend in China, with comments mocking the changes. Although the film was shown just briefly in movie theaters, many fans have been able to watch pirated versions of the original over the past two decades, and considered the ending one of the film’s fortes.

“When a director comes to present his film in China, people will ask: director, why is your film so avant-garde that it completely dispenses with audiovisual language, ending it instead with just a poster and a story about respecting the law? Is it a satire on censorship in your country? And the director will answer: What? I filmed that?” wrote one user of Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “Probably everyone in Ocean’s Eleven would also get arrested. And the whole Godfather family, too,” scoffed another. “But the ending was great! A bunch of foreigners in a terrible situation setting off terrorist bombs – a perfect scene to encourage [Chinese] nationalism,” joked another.

(l-r) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' another movie that was altered for audiences in China.
(l-r) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ another movie that was altered for audiences in China.

It is unclear whether it was Tencent or the film’s original producers who made the changes. On the Chinese movie review platform Douban, the original film is rated nine out of 10 and has 744,000 comments.

China currently has a flourishing movie market, one in which just over 30 foreign films are released on the big screen each year. In fact, it overtook the US market for the first time in 2020, due in part to a quicker recovery from the pandemic. And, according to research portal researchandmarkets.com, it is expected to gross $16.5 billion by 2026, annual growth of 30.1%, with respect to the $3.4 billion in 2020.

Within this market, Fight Club is not the only Hollywood movie to be changed. In 2019, scenes from Bohemian Rhapsody that alluded to Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality were carefully cut out in the Chinese version. While same-sex relationships are not illegal in the world’s second-largest economy, it is considered a sensitive issue and scenes portraying it are often, but not always, removed. Theoretically, they have been banned on television and also on streaming platforms since 2017.

The ending of ‘Lord of War,’ starring Nicholas Cage, was also altered in China.
The ending of ‘Lord of War,’ starring Nicholas Cage, was also altered in China.

Lord of War (2005) endured a similar fate to that of Fight Club. In its original version, the main character, an arms dealer played by Nicholas Cage, manages to escape prison and resume business. The film alludes to the fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council ­– the US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – are the planet’s main arms dealers. But the version for the Chinese market, which is half an hour shorter than the international version, removes the original ending and replaces it with a text stating that the Cage “confessed to all the crimes of which he was officially accused during the trial, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.”

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High Court orders man to repay €30,000 awarded over fall on slippery tiles

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The High Court has ordered a man who fell on slippery tiles on the porch of his rented council home to pay back €30,000 he received in part compensation.

Mr Justice John Jordan also ordered solicitors who acted for Thomas Keegan (53) to repay €20,000 received in part payment of fees.

The judge made the order in relation to monies paid by Sligo County Council as a condition of being allowed to appeal a €105,000 award made by the High Court in 2017 to Mr Keegan over the accident at his home at McNeill Drive, Cranmore, Co Sligo.

Mr Keegan, who previously worked as a paver, had claimed the slippiness of the terracotta tiling originally installed in the porch, as well as the angle of the porch to face the prevailing wind and rain in Sligo, created a particular hazard.

In 2017, the court found the council was liable and there was no contributory negligence on Mr Keegan’s part.

However, the council was permitted to appeal on the basis of paying €50,000, including the monies to Mr Keegan’s solicitors on his behalf.

Failed to prove

The Court of Appeal (CoA) ordered a retrial and, earlier this month, Mr Justice Jordan found that the plaintiff had failed to prove the council was “in any way responsible” for the accident. He also found it “artificial” for Mr Keegan to suggest he was a visitor to his home, which he rented and occupied.

The case came back before Mr Justice Jordan on Friday for the matter of costs in relation to the second High Court hearing.

Peter Bland SC, for the council, argued his client was entitled to those costs but he had no objection to a stay in the event of another appeal to the CoA. He sought the repayment of the €30,000 for Mr Keegan and the €20,000 for his solicitors given the outcome had been overturned.

John Finlay SC, for Mr Keegan, said he could not oppose the costs order or an order for the return of the monies.

Mr Justice Jordan granted the council its costs for the retrial with the exception of one day’s costs related to the evidence of an expert introduced by the council “who made a difference” to the case.

It was unfortunate the council did not engage this expert at an initial stage in the case and Mr Keegan might have been spared all of this time and expense that followed, he said.

Difficulties

He also ordered the return of the monies paid out but noted that if the council had difficulties with that money being paid as a condition of it being allowed to appeal, it could have appealed that matter itself but it did not.

The court heard the accident occurred on November 18th, 2013, when Mr Keegan was returning home sometime after 5pm after visiting a number of pubs in which he had consumed five pints of Guinness.

He suffered a significant injury to his left ankle, with X-rays revealing a fracture to his left distal tibia and fibula.

The council did not argue the consumption of this level of drink was an act of contributory negligence but argued it as a factor in regard to Mr Keegan’s duty to take reasonable care for his own safety and in his conflicting accounts of how the accident occurred.

Having heard expert evidence, Mr Justice Jordan was satisfied the unglazed tiles did not pose a danger.

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Two fans sue Universal for $5 million for cutting Ana de Armas out of ‘Yesterday’ | USA

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There are risks to being an actor. A common one is what’s known in the industry as “winding up on the cutting room floor.” You get hired for a project, and based on the script you’ve read and the time that you spend on the set, you assume that you are one of the characters; that is, until the day the movie is released and you realize that your scenes have been cut out entirely.

In the case of the Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas, who featured in the latest James Bond movie No Time to Die and is on an unstoppable path towards Hollywood stardom, it went further than that: she actually appeared in movie trailers advertising Yesterday, a 2019 film by the British director Danny Boyle in which actor Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a struggling singer-songwriter who wakes up after an accident into a world where nobody has heard of the Beatles or knows any of their songs, except himself.

Almost three years after Yesterday’s release, two fans of de Armas are suing Universal Pictures for cutting her scenes out of the final version, claiming the studio engaged in “false, deceptive and misleading advertising.”

Conor Woulfe, a 38-year-old resident of Maryland, and Peter Michael Rosza, 44, from California, rented Yesterday on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 (€3,52). In their federal class action lawsuit, they claimed that they only rented it because they thought De Armas would be in the movie after watching the trailer. In the promotional material, she is depicted as Roxane, a character who becomes a love interest for Malik – that is, until the movie creators realized that this would draw attention away from the main love story between the songwriter and a character played by Lily James.

It is unclear whether the plaintiffs are as interested in De Armas as they may be in the $5 million (€4.5 million) they could take home if a court rules in their favor. The lawsuit states that the case is being brought “individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated.” It also claims that “by paying to view the falsely advertised movie,” the plaintiffs “suffered injury-in-fact and lost money.”

Regardless of the case’s chances, the story illustrates a US penchant for resolving disputes in court with astronomical figures in the balance, as a first step in the conversation.

The entertainment news website Variety, which first reported on the case, noted the resemblance with a 2011 case brought in Michigan by a movie viewer who was disappointed with Drive, by Nicolas Winding Refn, which she expected to be a “high-speed action driving film” but turned out to be a tortured drama about a solitary driver who finally finds the right girl.

Cutting actors out of final versions is nothing unusual. Terrence Malick, the director of Badlands and The Tree of Life, has a habit of hiring more stars than he will later need on the screen. Adrien Brody, for example, showed up for the premiere of the 1998 The Thin Red Line, convinced that he would be one of the main attractions – in the end, he only showed up in a few scenes. But the prize probably goes to To The Wonder, also by Malick: Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Michael Shannon all wound up on the cutting room floor.

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