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The Caviar Diaries – Chapter 3: Caviar – What is it?

What is caviar? Find out in this chapter of Caviar Diaries.

In Charkiv I lived in a beach complex with cute little wooden houses that were fairy-tallish-looking; a bit like the one legged roof-monster of Baba Yaga. Well not exactly; this one had a shower that played music with LED lights and a flat screen TV. Breakfast was paid for, so I started my caviar diet; pancakes with red caviar. It’s about time we started getting deep into the matter. What actually is caviar and what are the differences between the different varieties? Caviar in general is the roe of the sturgeon fish. It depends on who you listen to, but there are different stories about where the name came from and who invented the recipe and then decided to salt it and turn it into a delicacy. The Russians claim to have invented it to please the Czar and then gave the recipe as a present to the Shah of Persia. For Russians, caviar is called ikra (икра) which roughly translates as, the eggs of a fish. But the word “caviar” might come from the Persian translation for eggs: khāyah. This word was borrowed by the Turks who changed it to “havyar” and then finally made it to England as “caviar”. Like an extreme game of “Chinese whispers”. The fact that Iran is currently the biggest trader of caviar worldwide, gives a bit of weight to this tale. Only the Japanese have kept with the Russian name and they call it “Ikura”.

Caviar comes in different colours; black, golden, grey and red. Sturgeon mainly comes from the Black and the Caspian Sea. Everything else is a substitute and not the real deal. So next question; why is it so expensive? First of all, it is a matter of supply and demand. Wild Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga sturgeon are mainly found in the Caspian Sea and these fish are heavily overfished. Add to this, the fact that the production process is complicated. The eggs are very sensitive in order to process it, it has to be done in a very gentle way, by hand and by experts who really know what they’re doing. Furthermore, caviar is best consumed fresh and with no preservatives. This means you need to have a great infrastructure in order to deliver it the consumer on time.

While the black caviar is actually banned in Europe for being overfished, the red caviar made from salmon roe is still quite common in the former-Soviet Union. It is not cheap but it is affordable and is very often eaten at feasts, and not only by the noveaux-riche. Therefore you can add red caviar to your diet and eat it as a snack, with bread or pancakes. Sometimes it is also served as a “banya snack”. The “banya” is the Slavic type of sauna, not so hot (it only goes up to 65°C), but it is awfully wet and that sometimes makes it unbearable. One of my greatest experiences on this trip was the banya in my hotel. It was new but totally furnished with wood and had some very natural aromas. Here the “banya” is not just a steam bath, it is a science. We went together with three Polish members of the Euro Cup Conference and another German one – just some friendly international sweating. We got a hat, because wet hot hair is really painful and there was an MC, the master of ceremony. This guy beat the devil out of our souls when his dried birch-leaves came down on us. He also used these branches to skilfully circulate the hot air. After one hour of banya you feel like a new born puppy.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of Caviar Diaries!

“Caviar Diaries” was written by Willie Schumann. Visit his LomoHome here

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written by jeanmendoza

1 comment

  1. robotmonkey1996

    robotmonkey1996

    They're fish-puppies, ok? Fish puppies. There. i said it.

    about 3 years ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Deutsch & Italiano.