The Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia was one of the most unexpected places I’ve found myself during the last nine months as one of Columbia Sportswear’s Directors of Toughness.
Though it’s already been the trip of a lifetime, I can’t even call it bucket list. I didn’t even have it on the radar!
It’s strange to go into a place with very few expectations and while I know we were barely able to scratch the surface, there’s so much I want to share. One of the best parts of our trip was the food. I had no idea what to expect going into Kamchatka and since I’m a pescatarian, I usually bring my own food as back up. I was pleasantly surprised throughout our stay to very rarely have to opt for an alternative. Here is my take on some of our favorite dishes.
Kamchatka is well known for its amazing rivers, outdoor lifestyle and flyfishing. Anglers’ eyes glaze over at the mention of the peninsula and it’s not surprising that they know what they are doing when it comes to eating fish. We had salmon every way I could think of: smoked and eaten with cucumbers, smoked with bread and butter, salmon meatballs in cabbage soup, salmon omelets, roasted salmon in rice, and salmon burgers.
We pretty much lost our minds over the salmon roe (eggs) in Kamchatka, often eaten on bread and butter or just as often as a dip for cucumber. Vodka is highly suggested when eating roe and often a bottle and shot glasses appeared toward the end of a meal that included this dish. I had never seen so much.
The big bowls of bright red eggs served at mealtimes was translated to us as “five-minute roe.” The dish is made with salt, lemon, olive, oil and dill and then is stirred, covered and allowed a bit of time to soak up the brine. I’ve since read that this salmon roe is “second-rate” compared to the black caviar from sturgeon that is widely sold on black market these days because of illegal fishing by poachers outside of the season to cater to western appetites. I don’t care what other people think, I liked the Far East version just fine and at the rate it was demolished, I wasn’t the only one. It’s one thing my diet is going to miss.
At one mealtime, I did a double take at what looked like a seaweed salad. It was a chopped green substance sautéed with shredded carrots. On further investigation, it was explained that it was a fern. I took a bite and then drew circles with my fingers and Viktor confirmed we were eating what I thought, fiddle heads. In Russian the word for fern is paporotnik, which was stated when the salad joined the table. Korean food and culture is evident in this part of the country and the fern is a staple in bibimbap as well. Though there is some controversy about how healthy it is to eat the fern, the salad was delicious.
We quickly learned that regardless of the weather, soup was a staple for lunchtime. Even as the sun beats down and forces you to shed layers, it is likely that you may be presented with a bowl of steaming potato soup. I had potato soup countless times and I don’t think it was ever the same. Various other ingredients included onion, cabbage, carrot, peppercorns, dill tomatoes and for the meat eaters, various meats. When we visited a cultural heritage center just outside of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, lunch included potato soup with reindeer.
Speaking of soup, after a long day of climbing we splashed water on our faces and rushed to sit before steaming bowls of soup. My first bite of soup tasted eerily familiar and then I remembered eating the dish at a bar on 2nd avenue in NYC, this was borscht, an Eastern-European staple. It’s a beet root soup which means it is slightly sour and bright red in color. Sometimes there is meat or sautéed vegetables along with carrots, cabbage and potatoes. While my version was vegetarian, Mark was a big fan of borscht with chicken.
For some folks, diet is a huge consideration when traveling. In Kamchatka, though we definitely overdid it on the bread and butter, we felt like mealtime was usually a win.
Faith Briggs is an avid runner and documentary film maker from Brooklyn, New York. She’s passionate about sharing contemporary stories from diverse communities and can always be found with her camera, whether in the photographer’s pit during New York’s fashion week or in the cloud forests in Honduras. She lives by the motto #goodvibesonly and loves to show that women and girls, quite literally, run the world. You can follow Faith’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram