Exactly What I Expected
The restaurant was family owned and much to my surprise, my cousin told me not to look at the menu, he had something special for me to try. Thankfully, he was aware that I pretty much hated most Russian foods. I could handle the dumpling thingies, but I didn’t think they were true Russian food, I thought they might be Ukrainian, and I was very particular about what was in them. I wouldn’t eat just any pierogi. It took more than cheese mixed into the dough to make it edible and I didn’t like potatoes very well. I was okay with pierogi, when it was filled with cheese, but that could be a little bland from time to time because you don’t put a sauce on pierogi. Maybe if I liked potatoes more, I would have liked vodka, but I couldn’t stand the stuff, so I avoided it like I avoided most pierogis, which was a cheese and potato filled dumpling or pasta type of dish that was either covered in bacon and occasionally sour cream with a caramelized onions sauce or in pork crackling, remember what I said about not feeling the need to use every part of an animal? Pork crackling was on that list.
To my surprise a familiar smell entered the air. I could smell it above the potatoes and beef and pork and beets, the smell of caramelizing onions, and frying peppers and mushrooms. I could also smell something tomato based and spicy. My mouth started to water. Because even with the smell of Russian food thick in the air, my brain could recognize the smell of fajitas. I had come all the way to Moscow to meet with mobsters and eat fajitas. It seemed like I could have done both of these things in Kansas City. When our food came out, it was indeed fajitas. Steak fajitas all stuck to a cast iron skillet, just like back home with pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, rice, and warm flour tortilla shells. Maybe the problem was that I identified as Tex-Mex as opposed to Russian. For now, it didn’t matter. I was starving and had not been looking forward to having Russian food for dinner.
Fajitas made my day so much better. I wasn’t even cranky anymore about being detained by the police or the fact that people seemed to think I was Aislinn Cain. Even needing to urinate for 12 hours earlier was but a memory. Or the fact that we had flown during the night so that we could land in Moscow during the day, which wasn’t my normal routine. Zeke was grinning from ear to ear as I ate the first fajita. The rest of my family was also smiling. I ignored them. I wanted to savor the moment. My cousin had captured the essence of Tex Mex perfectly. There was no strange Russian spin on it. No potatoes or sausage or beets buried in the fried mixture. The meat was chunked small and very lean. The only thing he had done to it that wasn’t what I would find in most restaurants in the US is added bacon, but I could live with bacon.
My family was all chatting excitedly. My cousin pulled up a chair next to me and asked for a bite. I gave him one of my fajita, even though I didn’t know him well enough to be sure he didn’t have cooties. However, if the chef wanted a bite of the awesomeness he had gone out of the way to prepare for me, then I was willing to ignore cooties for the night. If he would cook for me the entire trip, I would eat every meal at his place and tip well.
“You like?” He asked.
“They are scrumptious,” I told him. “Just about perfect really.”
“Zeke said they were your favorite and I had to exchange a few emails with Alex to find a recipe, but it was worth it. I have never seen you eat like this when you visit.”
“Put fajitas on the menu permanently, and she will probably move in,” Zeke told him.
I did not point out that I liked other Tex-Mex items like tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and nachos, mostly because my husband was elbow deep in something, I couldn’t identify that looked like it might be cow tongue. He was so not kissing me goodnight. I looked away from his plate and concentrated on my own. My husband was among those raised to waste not want not with an animal. I had banned him eating pickled chicken’s feet in the house because of the smell, but we weren’t at home and if he wanted cow’s tongue, at least it wasn’t being cooked in my kitchen. I would just have to set limitations on any adult activities tonight.
“Abram,” my uncle Nikolai said as he pointed to my food. “Is that a new item?”
“I learned to cook it for Nadine. We forget our American relatives have different palates than us, and I thought we should start making allowances for that when they visited.” My cousin Abram answered. “Besides, maybe I will give more ethnic diversity to my menu by learning to cook other American items. I think I would enjoy diversifying.”
“I’ll help you,” I blurted out. I couldn’t cook to save my soul and if he had electronics in his kitchen, the Universe would punish him by killing them if he let me set foot in his kitchen. I was already on my third microwave this year, it was only March, and I only used it to make instant hot chocolate.
“Don’t take her up on that,” Zeke answered before I could clarify that he didn’t actually want me in the kitchen, but I could create a menu of Americanized Ethnic food if he wanted.
Abram’s restaurant was busy. Americans ate dinner very early compared to the rest of the world. We ate around 6 pm, in the US, but in Russia, dinner was around 9 pm or so. It was currently 10:30 pm local time, so they were just starting to get through the dinner rush. I was guessing my cousin had another chef tucked away in the back since he was chatting with us at our table. Someone pointed to my food and asked to try it. The smell of fajitas was intoxicating, but it was also strong and permeated the entire seating area. It was a woman who spoke excellent Russian. Abram nodded and stood.
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This book is a work of fiction. Any names, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination and are purely fictitious. Any resemblances to any persons, living or dead, are completely coincidental.
Copyright © Hadena James 2016
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