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While we are talking about Russia, a couple of anecdotes that I remembered recently while talking to Luisa about food in Russia.

As I was growing up, USSR seems to experience increasing problems with production of just about everything, which translated into shortages of rather basic stuff, food among other things. Just to be clear, there was never hunger, i.e., you could always get enough food to eat, but specific things were often missing, and the set of such “specific things” grew from one year to another – once a product became rare it almost never came back in abundance.

During my childhood, I remember only one or two times when I saw cheese in a store. (I mean the swiss-like yellow cheese, cottage cheese and some other white cheeses that were similar to feta were quite easy to get.) I remember visiting Leningrad when I was ten and being really surprised upon seeing ten types of cheese in a store. Another item in short supply was mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is very popular in Russian salads, so this shortage was always especially painful. I remember my parents deciding whether to make a particular salad for this party or the one next month – the two jars of mayonnaise that we had needed to be budgeted for the next few months. Another amusing thing about mayonnaise is that I now know how trivially it can be made at home from products that were readily available. However, nobody knew how to do that, and in fact the idea of making mayonnaise rarely occured to anyone. (Being a “scientist”, my dad did try to make mayonnaise at home once, but it didn’t come out right – the 1985 equivalent of Google failed to retrieve the right recipe.)

While some products were short throughout the country, some were missing just locally. At some point, my American-born grandfather told us about “banana-split” – supposedly the greatest food that existed. It took some time before we could try bananas together with ice-cream. Vladivostok never had ice-cream, except in cafes. Dzhambul, where my grandparents lived, had ice-cream in abundance, but never had bananas. (Of course, Vladivostok only had bananas rarely.) We did eventually manage to buy ice-cream and bananas at the same time in Vladivostok.

Starting with early 1980s the list of items in short supply started growing fast. After 1985, it got to a point where you could hardly find a recipe for which you could gather all the ingredients. You couldn’t do this one because you didn’t have eggs, you couldn’t do thas other one because you didn’t have milk, etc. Recipes that used fewer ingredients were becoming popular, and some point I remember a neighbour giving us a recipe of a cake that used only three ingredients. (I am not sure what they were but I think it was flour, sugar and sour cream.) We called the cake “Perestroika” and it was quite popular until sour cream dissappered around 1990. After a year or so without it, Yegor Gaidar’s price liberalization brought sour cream back in February of 1992 – at roughly 50 times the price it used to be, so the idea of making a cake that used it as a primary ingredient stopped being attractive.