Kebab-Flavored Snack Food

Rubtsovsk, Russia

“We’re going to be angry anyway, so we might as well be angry and tired,” I reason, as we attempt to cross the Russian border at 2 a.m.

True to form, the border is an exercise in paperwork tedium. We don’t enter Russia until 5 a.m., whereupon we drive to a field and pass out. We awake a few hours later, groggy and famished, and head into the medium-size town of Rubtsovsk to eat. Policemen point us toward the local market.

Where Uzbekistan bazaars are big, boisterous affairs, Rubtsovsk’s is small and sedate. Vendors quietly sell bottles of homemade kumis, still-flopping fish, and dull scissors. There’s zero va va va voom. And none of the food looks enticing. Particularly in the meat aisle.

“There are bees buzzing on that pile of livers,” Mims says.

A few steps later …

“Now we know what our samsas are made of,” Mims says.

I’m a firm believer in remembering that our meat comes from animals, not wrapped in plastic. However, the display of viscera is too visceral. My stomach flip-flops like a disoriented gymnast. Call me a wussy, but I decide to go vegetarian for the rest of the day.

I eat yet another luscious watermelon, bought from the market (and sliced on top of the car, which serves as our cutting board), as well as several packs of curious potatolike wafers. They come in such delicious flavors as mushroom and sour cream, as well as kebab—Russia’s answer to hickory barbecue.

“It’s oddly … meaty,” Andrew says, refusing seconds.

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