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A couple of years ago I flew with Aeroflot via Moscow. Whilst waiting to transfer onto my connecting flight my friend decided he wanted to buy some real Russian vodka. He dragged me around the airport in to every Duty Free shop available searching for the perfect vodka that would take center stage in his alcohol cabinet back home.
We looked at dozens of varieties of vodka, small bottles, big bottles, flavored bottles, extra strength, weak strength…we looked at them all. He began to drive me crazy; ‘just choose one!!’
In the end, a bottle was purchased and brought back to England.
A week later we were browsing the alcohol aisle in Tesco… and there was the ‘real Russian vodka’, slightly less special now….
That was my first experience of Russian vodka.
I knew Russians liked their vodka, of course, we all know that right? But I genuinely didn’t realize the extent to which they liked this spirit. Rather than ordering a bottle of wine with a meal, they would order a liter of vodka. Rather than casually sipping a drink with your meal, they would be downing shots. Meal time in Russia is very different from meal time that I am used to…
I walked into a traditional Russian restaurant. The décor was fantastically Russian and the staff were dressed in traditional costumes. In this type of establishment I would normally questions its authenticity and how much of it is for the tourists’ sake. However the place was filled with all Russians and not a tourist in sight!
The food was traditional Russian cuisine, and the drinks were very typical of Russia. Within seconds me friend and I had been joined up with another table and were practically being force fed vodka!
In Russia it is common to order a bottle of vodka for the table, and throughout the duration of the meal you would repeatedly refill your shot glass. This would continue long after the food has been consumed. Men are accepted to down the shot in one, and ladies are given the option to sip the vodka between bites to eat.
I can safely say that I have never drunk a straight shot of vodka whilst completely soba, in the UK shots are more of a ‘I’m already drunk but want to get ridiculously drunk’ kind of thing. This was a new experience for me. I had read in my Lonely Planet that it is extremely rude to refuse a shot of vodka offered to you at a social occasion, so with my well used ‘when in Rome’ moto, I joined in the fun.
That was my second experience of Russian vodka.
The third time round came on ‘ladies day’.
I had no idea it was ladies day, or even what that was (I have since found out that it is an historical day stemming from a socialist political event essentially created to enable men to express their love for women, similar to Valentines Day), but what I did know, was that it was another excuse for some Russian vodka, which was given to me for free at the end of my meal.
So entirely unintentionally, I ended up partaking in the nationwide Russian vodka fetish on more than one occasion. I can’t say Russian vodka would be my first choice of alcohol beverage to accompany a meal, but it was good to have some real, authentic cultural alcohol experiences.
Russian vodka… different, but well worth a try!