Last week we took a look at Kvas; the Russian and Eastern-European fermented beverage that hasn’t caught-on over here but is a solid part of Slavic culture. There’s a little more to relate, but then it’s time for you to track some down for yourself. The proof is in the drinking, after all.
You will have probably assumed that you need to travel East to sample some, well: no, frankly. It exists under our noses here in the West, by virtue of the migration of Eastern populations. We often prefer ‘home’ versions of certain foods and drinks, and we’ve all just got used to having certain things a certain way. Australian Vegemite versus English Marmite is a prime example of this.
To furnish drifting populations with some familiar pleasures and conveniences – here in the UK (and Europe), a plethora of independent mini-supermarkets run by enterprising migrants have established themselves wherever an incoming community, from home, has taken route. These are also open to any of us! In case you haven’t already realised and are really worth a visit. Some are veritable Aladdin’s caves of edible exotica (by our standards) and here; you’ll find Kvass. Here in the UK, the impact of this niche market has not gone unnoticed by the big-name retailers. So much so, that your local medium-to-large supermarket is very likely to have it’s own Eastern European section, though in my experience you’ll still have to go further to find Kvas as it still hasn’t made it onto the big-name shelves yet – unless you know different?
As I mentioned last time: buy the most expensive; it’ll still only cost a few pounds for a 2 litre bottle and will typically be less like “fizzy-pop” and more like the good stuff. (It’s all about the good stuff). That’s about as close as we’ll get without brewing our own of course. Even in Russia, the blanding-out of Kvas as occurred in part; with the pressure of market forces; and some still recommend visiting restaurants and other institutions that manufacture their own in order to get the genuine article. Failing that, there are varieties created by beer and Kvass breweries. Then there’s always the communal family-recipe versions that are something of a Summer tradition. Be warned though that some home brews can push the alcohol content up considerably!
“There’s nothing hard about making kvass, the problem is that people usually don’t like cooking stuff. I think factory made kvass has a strange taste, strange colour, everything is strange. Most of it is ****.”
In case you were wondering, it’s also available in America too – though I read that it’s tricky to find authentic varieties, as the ones that are commonly available have gone ‘pop’ and deviated towards dyed sugar-water; in line with the common taste (or lack of) of the plasticised drink aisles.
Back in the USSR; the Kvass-man (or woman) wheeled around a sloshing barrel on hot Summer days; through various sweltering neighbourhoods in need of liquid relief. It’s a role similar to our ice-cream or Corona vans (remember those?). There he would dispense his luxurious brew to eagerly queuing adults and children alike, for a small fee of course. He’s still around today, but after the collapse of Communism and the introduction of new health regulations et al: he’s something of a rarity.
All in all, the concept of this “mad” Russian drink isn’t really all that alien. It’s essentially a fermented grain brew: so is beer, and we’re quite used to that, right? I’ve made Kombucha before; -now that is pretty alien! so I’m feeling a little reckless. I’m encouraged by the claimed medical benefits that invariably go with all of these DIY beverages: something about increased B vitamins and bactericidal properties, although I really can’t condone or condemn either statement.
I think it’s time to give Kvass a go; there are enough recipes out there in the virtual ether. The essentials are simple enough: brown/rye bread soaked in water with added yeast and sugar. Then I can add whatever “special” ingredients appeal: honey, mint, raisins, other fruits etc, leave it for a few days and just see what happens.
Wish me luck.
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