When you hear that someone has been sent to Siberia you instantly assume they are being punished. To go there to live of your own volition seems like insanity. Crazy or not this is what two intrepid Texans did. But the Russian Far East was far from the gastronomic backwater they were expecting.
What is the essence of the book?
T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks by Sharon Hudgins bills itself as a cookbook but it so much more. Its pages delve into the culinary adventures of two Texans who spent a year living in Siberia and the Russian Far East during the early 1990s. It is part memoir, part food history and cultural digest combined with an eclectic mix of recipes inspired by the authors time living in this part of Russia. As expected the book contains more well known Russian recipes like Salmon Kulebyaka but also things like Texas Chili which Hudgins and her husband Tom (who she credits with writing many of the recipes in the book) cooked for their new friends.
About the author
Sharon Hudgins is a respected food and travel writer and author of five books (you can read a review of one of her more recent publications here). She freely admits to being addicted to travelling and has visited more than 50 countries around the world. As well as writing and award winning cookbook on the regional cuisines of Spain she has also been a National Geographic Expert on the Trans-Siberian Railroad tours.
Who will like it?
This book is perfect for the armchair traveller who is interested in far flung locations but unable to visit them at present. If you’re an adventurous cook who likes discovering new cuisines (but not necessarily complex or difficult to replicate) then this will be just the ticket for you.
Who won’t like it?
Food and travel purists may be a little put out by the presence of ‘American’ recipes in what they believe should be a strictly ‘Russian’ cookbook. As I’ve already said this is essentially the story of the Hudgins’ time in Siberia and it would be somewhat naive to assume they totally abandoned the cooking of their motherland when abroad. I’m rather glad they did include their ‘home’ recipes. After all, sharing recipes is one way to develop friendships and this is integral to their story. British readers may find the American measurements a tad annoying but with the Internet it only takes an extra couple of minutes to adapt cups to grammes.
What do I like about the book?
For meT-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks has the right balance of anecdotes and recipes. I particularly loved reading about the Russian folklore like the domovoi (a ‘house spirit’ which lives underneath or behind the oven in Russian kitchens – effectively a gremlin blamed for anything that goes awry in the home although some believe the domovoi can also heal the sick) and festivals like Butter Week in Irkutsk (celebrated just before Lent, a bit like our Shrove Tuesday). It is a charming book and engaging to read. Hudgins aims to ‘dispel some of the myths about Siberia as a gastronomic backwater’ and I believe she has thoroughly achieved that goal. The recipes themselves are straightforward but sound incredibly appetising (Hudgins is also great at recommending western alternatives for different ‘Russian’ ingredients like their cream cheese tvorog). The recipes do a wonderful job of conveying the culinary adventures of Hudgins and her husband in this part of the world.
Is there anything I’m not so keen on?
I have to admit that the title didn’t grab me initially. If Hudgins hadn’t approached me following the review of Food on the Move I don’t imagine this book would have been on my radar. However, I’m so glad she did. It’s a fascinating read and has certainly changed my view of Siberia and it’s food.
Would I cook from it?
Yes most definitely and not just the Russian recipes either (the Christmas Carrot Cake sounds divine). “Priyatnogo appetito!” (Bon appetit! Have a good meal!).