In the interest of broadening the scope of this blog (and providing a little bit of structure), I’ve decided to introduce a new weekly feature highlighting events, places, or quirks about Vladivostok (rather than about Russia in general) that I find interesting. I will christen this feature "The View from Vlad," just to up the cheesiness factor a bit. Today’s topic: the Hare Krishna café.
Vladivostok has a Hare Krishna café. This strikes me as odd, because I think of a Hare Krishna café as something you could expect to find in a cosmopolitan kind of town (or perhaps a very crunchy town – I could see Oberlin, for example, having one). But, let’s face it, Vladivostok is neither particularly cosmopolitan nor even remotely crunchy. Furthermore, the general lack of religion in Russia and intolerance for most everything but Orthodoxy makes the discovery of less common religious sects particularly surprising (related: one of my students at my volunteer gig is a Seventh Day Adventist!). But nonetheless, there the café sits, in spite of the fact that I can offer no explanation for it. Right in the heart of downtown Vladivostok, no less.
The café is open from 10 to 7 every day, and offers a full menu of vegetarian cuisine. The sign above the door actually says Ведическая кухня – Vedicheskaya kukhnya. That took me a while to figure out, because I'm pretty sure it just translates as "Vedic cuisine," but I'm at a loss for what Vedic cuisine might be. My handy computer dictionary informs me that "vedic" means "of or relating to the Vedas," which in turn (according to the dictionary) are the most ancient of Hindu scriptures. Cuisine pertaining to the most ancient of Hindu scriptures?
Really, it probably just means "cuisine prepared in accordance with the rules set forth in the Vedas," but it's fun to think about the silly ways we use words sometimes. Isn't it a bit like calling kosher food "Torah cuisine?"
But I digress. The café offers a menu of vegetarian cuisine, but if you go at the wrong time you have to listen to chants or lectures on Hare Krishna philosophy as you eat. The only time I tried to eat in the café, it was definitely the wrong time, so I haven't sampled their menu yet. I hear it includes pea soup (no word on johnnycake, though). The room is cozy and nicely-decorated – my favorite part, in my brief foray inside, was the wall hangings that have Hare Krishna chants written in Cyrillic.
However, in the doorway to the café (and herein lies the explanation for how the Hare Krishnas manage to pay the rent on such prime real estate), they do a handy business selling a variety of amazing vegetarian baked goods, which I frequently enjoy as I walk home from my balalaika lessons. If you ever find yourself in Vladivostok (and I hope someday there will be people reading this blog because they are planning a trip to Vladivostok), stop by. My recommendation is the пирожки with curried vegetables (or forest berries, if you're here in early fall), but the ватрyшка is also really good. Both cost ten rubles, which is currently less than 50 cents US.
For the uninitiated, пирожки/pirozhki are little pies, not unlike a small calzone or (and I shudder to make this sacrilegious comparison) a Hot Pocket. They can be stuffed with sweet (apple, berry, tvorog with raisins) or savory (cabbage, egg, liver, vegetables, potato) fillings, and you can buy them on pretty much any major street in Russia. Bатрyшка/Vatrushka is kind of like a Danish – a round bun with tvorog and raisins in the center. I like the Hare Krishna ones because the dough is really light and they're often still warm from the oven.
Bother, now I've made myself hungry!
In other news: I recently received a letter from Katie at the consulate and a postcard from Denise at the dorm (yay alliteration!). These missives are of note not only because they are awesome (the postcard is from Punxsatawney, PA and has a groundhog on it, and the letter contains a greeting in Cyrillic painstakingly copied from a mail-order bride website), but because both made it to Vladivostok in the same month they were sent, which has to be some kind of record for the Russian postal service. Thanks, guys!