Russia has always kind of been its own beast. Thus I affectionately dubbed those trips “returns to the West” where “West” implied all manner of non politically-correct “civilization”: coffee in to-go cups, people who weren’t so rude to catch you off guard, shopping that had good variety and was affordable, beautiful public spaces where you felt free to be yourself, etc.
For me, the greatest thing about returning to the West was returning to a common cultural understanding of what certain foods were supposed to be like. You didn’t have to worry about the serious bastardization of dishes which you became used to in Russia. You didn’t have to worry about getting steak-frites when you ordered french fries. Or choking on a burger that was so dry it would get stuck in your throat. Or getting dill in your mashed potatoes when you didn’t request it.
On one of my more memorable London trips, I had spent all day walking around with my friends and was utterly starving by the time we sat down for dinner. You know the feeling: tired + hungry + angry = super hangry. I almost cried when I saw on the 50s diner themed menu a favourite comfort food: milkshakes.
Oh my god, they have milkshakes!
I can feel the tears welling in my eyes right now remembering the sheer joy of that moment.
Why all the freaking out about a milkshake?
First of all, what soothes sore muscles better than a milkshake?
Second of all, milkshakes were inaccessible in Russia, where a milkshake or “molochnyi kokteil” as it’s called, consists of milk + flavoured syrup served slightly cooler than room temperature (the country is not afraid of useless wars but deathly fears cold drinks). It’s an Italian soda with milk instead of soda. And it’s pretty much disgusting.
But because I was in the West, in a retro-Americana looking joint, I couldn’t wait to get a creamy, eat-it-with-a-spoon kind of decadence in front of my face with the second half of my drink waiting for me in the metal cup used to mix it.
I waited eagerly for my drink, barely able to contain my excited as my “hanger” dissipated into anticipation for one of the greatest things ever. I was almost jumping up and down in the booth unable to wait.
What happened when they sat the drink in front of me is not my brightest moment.
I glared at the cup of milk with an obvious drip of unstirred syrup so hard that tears began to well in my eyes. What happened after that, I’ve blocked out of my own memory but my friends remind me: first I cried, then I complained for about two hours, then I suffered constant reminders of my crying over a milkshake anytime the topic of food, hangriness, London or milkshakes comes up.
To my credit, I think this anecdote is illustrative: food is so much more than food. It is love. It is memory. It is comfort. It can make your day or destroy your mood.
If you don’t want your friends to make fun of you forever, never cry over a milkshake. Unless it’s a really good one, like this one. Coffee + Biscotti = beautiful concoction!
Congratulations to you if you got through my anecdote, you may be able to relate to those moments of desperation. I had another low recently: I was on the Trans-Siberian train for four days when I wrote down in a train food fog: coffee biscotti milkshake. I knew it would be my first recipe upon returning to Canada, I knew exactly what I had to throw in my blender to make it right, and I’m happy to say after a week of “testing” (i.e. making excuses to buy an inordinate amount of ice cream), I’ve got a new favourite in the milkshake section of my recipe book. It couldn’t be simpler if you buy store-made biscotti and use a blender.