Monday, May 17, 2010

Extra Cheese?

In Russia, Subway Sandwiches use cabbage instead of lettuce. Seriously. It's a kind of Chinese cabbage, though, which is fairly lettuce-like, but still, it's weird.

The above isn’t really relevant, besides the fact that Subway isn’t all that popular here in Russia. Its spiritual equivalent – Kroshka Kartoshka – is immensely popular, though. Choose from a range of toppings and they’ll put it on a cliché – I mean, potato. First, the smiling (not really smiling, of course, but not telling your outright where you can shove it, which is pretty much the same thing) employee pulls a foil-wrapped baked potato out of a warming oven, then incises the potato while it's still in the foil, splaying it open to be covered in butter, cheese, and your choice of distinctly Russian toppings (not liking mayonnaise therefore limits one's options).


Phil (the same Phil who I went to Suzdal’ with, if you want your observant-ness verified) and I popped in for a quick ’tater. Phil approached the counter.

“Adin kartofel, bez sira [one potato, without cheese]” he said, lactose intolerantly.

The woman in the Kroshka Kartoshka uniform grimaced, reached into the oven, pulled out a potato, and started to prepare it. She layered butter on it, which Phil didn’t mind. Then she reached for the cheese.

“Nyet.” Said Phil. “Bez sira. [No. Without cheese.]”

She stopped, her hand hovering just above the tongs, looked at him blankly, nodded, then continued reaching for the tongs.

“Nyetnyetneyt. BEZ. SIRA.”

She looked at him again. “Vi khochete tolka ADIN kartofel? [You only want one potato, right?]”

Now it was Phil's turn to give a blank look. Phil doesn't speak Russian. He knows a few stock phrases for getting food (like “one potato”) and at least one to stop him vomiting it up again (“no cheese”), but going beyond that, and he enters smile-and-nod territory.

“Bez sira!” He said pointing at the cheese and shaking his head furiously. “Bez sira. Bez sira. Bez sira.”

The K-K lady drew her eyebrows together, cocked her head in confusion, then dumped a pile of cheese on top of the potato.


She looked at him again, trying to figure out what was so upsetting. Then the (Russian) man behind us said

“Devushka. On skazal ‘bez sira’. [Lady. He said ‘no cheese’.]”

She looked back at Phil, who said “bez sira” again. With no acknowledgment, the woman put the cheese-tarnished potato aside, and pulled another one out of the oven.