23 March 2007

The View from Vlad 3: Приморский Кондитер/Primorskii Konditer/The Primorskii Candy Company

If my Women's Day experience was any indication, Russian women must all either be resigned to gaining a couple of kilos every March, or they must be doing something with their chocolates other than eating them. As I sat pondering this and steadily consuming bonbons, it occurred to me that I hadn't written about the candy factory. It occurred to me at that particular moment because one of the boxes was of a candy called Птичье молоко/ptich'ye moloko/Bird's Milk. It's not a local invention – you can get it all over Russia – but it's apparently a local favorite. I've had several Vladivostokians (?) insist that it's the best and that I absolutely have to try it.

Although it's clearly supposed to sound dainty and magical, the name "bird's milk" weirds me out a little bit, especially since the box features a big, scary green hummingbird. The candy itself consists of rectangular blocks of this sort of gelatin/marshmallow hybrid (made with agar-agar) in almond, rum and lemon flavors, coated in the waxy chocolate glaze they use on all Russian candy. To be honest, though I suspect this is heresy, I don't think it's that great. But when I got the Women's Day box, I hid it in the freezer with the rest of the Women's Day candy (to prevent overconsumption – it didn't work), which caused the accidental discovery that the weird, slightly slimy texture is greatly improved by freezing.

Right, so that's ptich'ye moloko. Which brings us, in its roundabout way, to View from Vlad #3 – the candy factory!! It surprised me that Vladivostok has its own candy factory. Or at least that the candy factory is right in the center of town. In fact, when the wind is right and the factory's really cranking 'em out, a wonderful smell reminiscent of chocolate chip cookies fills the air downtown, overpowering even the diesel fumes from the buses. Mmm.

I suppose this isn't much of a "View from Vlad" entry, because I don't even know whether you can get tours of the factory, but you can walk by and enjoy the smell at any rate, and I do know that there's a retail store attached to it ("Престиж/Prestige," at 56 Aleutskaya, right before it curves around to meet Okeanskii). It seems to be quite a popular store, and more important, the women who work there are polite even when you speak Russian badly. Visitors to Vlad should definitely get some authentic Vlad-made, Vlad-themed candies to take back home with them (since our nesting dolls are imported from Nizhny Novgorod and I strongly suspect that the seashells with "Vladivostok" pasted on them secretly come from China). There's the "Capital of Primorye" box, the "Nighttime Vladivostok" box with an appropriate nighttime panoramic view of the city, the "Primorye" box with seaside scenes ("Primorye" means "maritime"), and the "Lord of the Taiga" box, which features a cheesy painting of a Siberian tiger.

As for the quality of the candy, this is Russian candy for everyday consumption, which Americans seem to have divided opinions about. I like it, though. At any rate, most of the standards of the Russian candy repertoire – Красная шапочка (Little Red Riding Hood), Мишка на севере (Bear Cub of the North), Белочка (Squirrel) – are made there, as well as some others that I haven't seen elsewhere, all variations on the ubiquitous theme of either firm cocoa nougat or waffle cookies covered in the aforementioned glaze. My favorite is Сладкоёжка, unremarkable save for the fact that its name is a goofy play on the word for "sweet tooth" (it turns into "sweet-hedgehog"), and the wrapper features a hedgehog, my favorite animal, playing a balalaika, my favorite Russian folk instrument.

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