Book Reviews

Book Review: Mastering the art of soviet cooking


Anya von Bremzen, and accomplished writer and author of several cookbooks, has created an excellent history book that deals with Soviet style food and politics.

There are only a few recipes, and most happen to be time consuming and complicated, but undoubtedly tasty.

She explains in detail the foibles of Stalin, L. Beria, Molotov, Khrushchev, Breznhev, Chernenko, Gorbachev and other Soviet politicians, the corruption, and how communist leaders preached frugality, but in reality splurged on food in unmarked special grocery stores catering only to nomenklatura.

She uses many Russian words to emphasise the topic of the paragraph, and by the end of the book you may have acquired a vocabulary of about 100 words of the Russian.

She is an excellent story teller and even informs the reader how she befriended ambassadors children in her school specially created for the Soviet political elite, visited their homes, and “acquired“ American chicklets, then sold them by the centimetre to other students “èarning“ rubels to splurge on ice cream, and other `luxury` comestibles.

She writes at length about Anastas Mikoyan, who was the minister in charge of national food production under Stalin, how he visited the U S A and inspected American mass food production facilities. He even brought to the U S S R, American style ice cream, a hamburger style patty (kotleti) and other foods.

This is not strictly memoir and certainly not a cookbook, but an oeuvre on Soviet history through her grandparents and food.

After immigration to the U S A with only a one-way visa, she writes about her first food shopping experience in Philadelphia in 1972, when she quickly discovers the unblemished, perfect looking fruits and vegetables in abundance, but lacking discernible taste.

Then she remembers nostalgically the taste of Russian black bead and caviar along with a few other foods.

It is well known how food was almost continuously in short supply in the U S S R and how the population tried to circumvent them by hoarding and other less savoury methods.

She is a terrific writer with a breathless style that captivates the reader.

Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking is written for all North Americans to read, not only for entertainment, but how politics evolved in the now defunct U S S R, who contributed to its disintegration, and untold tragedies that took place.

She also writes at length about alcoholism in teh `Soviet paradise` and how Gorbachev`s epic fight to put an end to it.

Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking is a book rich in detail and captivating tidbits about Soviet life.

Highly recommended.

Order it today or run to a nearby bookstore to secure a copy. I am confident it will be out of stock in a very short time.

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