Generally speaking I am not huge fan of Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook Evil Empire, but I do like the “your memories” section. Today I was reminded about when I (briefly) lived in Tiraspol. Living in Transnistria started a long journey that included a road trip along the Romanian and Bulgarian coastline, a crazy night in Kiev and visiting Crimea. It was here that I discovered cold kefir soup.
What is kefir?
Kefir is a really popular drink when you traverse eastern Europe and even Central Asia. It is a milk based drink very similar to yoghurt, but with the grains of the kefir plant added.
When you drink it is slightly salty and mildly carbonated. To call kefir an acquired taste would be doing it a big disservice! Kefir is not dissimilar to a number of drinks found in places such as Albania and Turkey (where it is considered the national drink).
Taveling to Crimea
I made my trip to Kiev and the Ukraine merely a year after the revolution that had overthrown the government in Kiev, and of course had led to the annexation of Crimea by Russia. My Ukrainian friends were somewhat disproving of me traveling to “occupied territory”, but I was truly interested to see what Russian Crimea looked like.
Getting to Simferopol and Crimea from Kiev meant traveling first to Moscow and the flying into the capital of Sevastopol.
Summer in Crimea
We’d come to do tourists stuff, which we was nice, but what blew me away about the Crimea was that in places like Yalta and beyond it is pretty much a beach resort. At anywhere there is sea in Crimea there are now restaurants and bars littered along the waterfront serving up reveling Russians enjoying the summer rays. In fact the only sign that Crimea was “occupied territory” was the ominous Russian flags, Putin t-shirtts being sold everywhere, and the fact that your bankcards didn’t work. It was here that I discovered cold kefir soup.
Cold Kefir Soup
I’ll get it straight out of the way that I love cold soup, largely from my travels to North Korea.
Kefir as explained is a refreshing fermented yogurt drink, and cold kefir soup is that same farseeing fizzy milk drink, but with crap thrown in. But then you add the golden ingredient that gives it the fizz (it is the fizz that makes okroshka) kvass!
Kvass is something that deserves its own blog, but it is essentially a fermented beer type drink made from rye bread AKA black bread. Kvass is technically classified as nonalcoholic drink, but in fact can be up to 2%. You can find kvass throughout the old Eastern Bloc and you will often see street vendors with massive vats of the stuff selling it during summer months. You either love, or hate kvass…..
What is in cold kefir/okroshka soup?
Cold kefir soup is also known as okroshka soup. There are lots of different varieties, such as a vegetarian option, although seeing as it is milk/yoghurt no vegan one. I went for the meat option which included small pieces of ham, cucumber, fresh herbs, and radishes, and of course kefir and kvass.
How does okroshka taste?
Amazing! OK, you need more information than amazing. Cold kefir soup is traditionally served in the summer, because the kefir is damned refreshing in the sun. The ingredients are traditionally very fresh and the kefir/kvass makes it taste extremely tangy, thus removing the need for spices. Essentially the food fills you up and the kefir keeps you cool. I must have eaten this 5 times in 3 days, and each time after I had consumed the food a lapped back the remaining kefir.
Genuinely one of the most amazing foods I have discovered in my long history of traversing the globe.
If yo would like to see a decent cold kefir recipe click here.
Whatever you feel about the politics of visiting Crimea it is easy to see why it was the Soviet Ibiza of its day. With such a rich history, beaches, scenery and of course kefir soup the Crimea remains a true favorite of mine.
On having we took the ferry to the Russian mainland before traveling overland through Russia to Kazakhstan, China and eventually Rason in North Korea.
Hard to believe it has been 5 years since I have been to Russia, but I am sure I will be back, if nothing else than for cold kefir soup…..