Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shashlik in the spring

My friend Pasha had a birthday this week and decided to celebrate with a picnic. Have you ever been on a picnic in Russia or Ukraine? Tradition dictates that at any picnic you must make shashlik (шашлык, shish-kebab). Not making шашлык would be like visiting the moon and not bringing oxygen. It's mandatory.

We had our picnic in Sarzheen Ravine near the Botanical Garden metro stop. Last weekend this was a barren, wintery park. This week the trees were already boasting green tips and patches of luscious "lie-down-in-me" grass. What a difference seven days can make!

Since the set-up took a long time (met at 11:30 AM, picked up supplies at the grocery store, walked and walked and finally chose a spot in the park), my friends immediately spread out a blanket and announced "Давайте перекусим", or "let's have a bite!"
Note: 5 kinds of salad, most involving meat or mayonnaise.
Next Pasha, our master шашлык-chef and the birthday boy, went to work.
 A picnic in Ukraine is an all-day affair. D (who unfortunately couldn't make it today) had told me this but I didn't really believe it. Now I do! We spent a long time just hanging out, playing volleyball, drinking wine, and enjoying each other's company.

In fact, as I was leaving at 6 PM, the others pulled out a pack of Mafia cards. I think I've mentioned this game before; it's very popular and it involves psychology and murder. It can take a long time so I have no idea what time the picnic will formally end. Everyone said "Я не спешу", I'm not in a rush, and I wish I had been able to feel that way too.

Perhaps because today is (Orthodox) Easter, or perhaps just because it's spring, the park was FILLED with other picnickers. At one point I counted TWELVE other picnics going on around us. One of the groups closest to us looked like a group of teenagers. I'm definitely getting old because I thought "Their parents let them go out together with vodka and a hookah?!" :p They were probably first or second year university students. There was another group not far from us that looked like they were -stan students (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, etc). And I saw one of my students from China picnicking with a group of other Chinese students. Kharkov is truly an international city. Also a city of law-breakers, haha. Apparently you're not supposed to have open flames or drink alcohol in the park, but do you think anybody follows those rules? I was told that the police were off having beer somewhere, so we'd be okay on both counts.

Common topics of conversation included, of course, Ukraine and America. Once I read that if you ever come to Ukraine, you should bring lists of information (salaries, etc) and I whole-heartedly agree. One of Pasha's friends was a very curious guy: How much does an MBA cost? How long does it take to fly from LA to NYC? Why do rappers and gangs fight each other? If you walk down a street in Harlem or Queens, will you get beat up? This is why I wish I had Google in my head! To be fair, I did ask Pasha (he's a food chemist) if eating too much sausage was truly bad for my health.

After eating all the шашлык we toasted with champagne and ate Easter cake. Yes, this means I have consumed massive quantities of cake in the past 2 days! I guess that is why it's only made once a year.
Remember this stuff?
In conclusion, it was a quite an experience! If anyone invites you on a Ukrainian picnic, say да! Or uh, так if you're in Western Ukraine :P

I'll leave you with this Easter poem (it's cuter in Russian cuz it rhymes):

Шкварчит мяско на сковородке
потеют 2 бутылки водки
уже посвячена колбаска-
ну, наливай, сегодня ПАСХА!
The meat is crackling in the pan
2 bottles of vodka are sweating
the sausage was already blessed-
well, pour a shot, today is EASTER!


  1. Wow, looks like fun! And nice weather for an easter picnic, too! I agree on coming prepared to answer tonnes of questions about your home country- I received a lot of questions about what average salaries are, etc.

    1. Thanks for the comment :) It's always nice to hear from you!