An array of pickled cucumbers, garlic, cabbage, and wild garlic stalks in a St. Petersburg market

An array of pickled cucumbers, garlic, cabbage, and wild garlic stalks in a St. Petersburg market

Liz’s post about a Wild Food Festival in New Zealand made me hungry for something outside of the local fare here in upstate New York. I’m certainly not drooling to try a bit of worm sushi and grasshoppers, but I’ve been a little homesick for Russia recently, and realized part of what I’m missing is indeed that country’s wild food.

To be specific, pickled things and mushrooms. Any good traveler knows that some of your best cultural experiences are found in local markets — food markets for the locals, not knickknack markets for tourists. Russia’s no exception. St. Petersburg and Moscow are both dotted, on un-touristy side-streets, with massive open-air food halls. The picture above shows a stand of various pickles, an array tucked in a warehouse-sized building thronged with fresh produce from Azerbaijan, boar heads hanging above piles of meat waiting to be butchered, and carp gasping rather heart-rendingly on their piles of ice. Mostly I’m anxious for some of those pickles, with the cucumbers ranging from very salty to very sour, and the pickled wild garlic hard to find even in Russia.

A wild mushroom feast

A wild mushroom feast

And I’d bring sacks of that stuff — pickles, tomatoes, even a carp if I could bring myself to buy it — back home to eat with a selection of fresh and preserved mushrooms gathered by my family every summer in the far north of Russia. Russians, like hobbits, are mushroom addicts, but the funghi fall in the category of ‘wild food,’ which you have to find and gather for yourself.

As the world becomes homogenized, food like that is one of the last, and best, indicators or culture and tradition.