the Russian Fairytale delicatessen shop on the Cowley Road, Raissa
Goutsal has created a small corner of her mother Country. Both tourists
and locals have welcomed this unique piece of Russia into Oxford with
Russian Fairytale customers will soon be able to indulge themselves with Russian cuisine in the Russian restaurant, opening January 2003.
A few months ago three women put into action something they had been dreaming of for a long time: to create a small corner of Russia in Oxford. When we think of home, our thoughts often turn to food, and this certainly forms the basis of Russian Fairytale's business. Nevertheless, they have also managed by what seems like magic but is probably 99% hard work, to provide a small window onto Russian culture through crafts, tapes, CD's, books and videos.
For those in search of a Russian gastronomic experience, or the chance to experiment with Russian cuisine, there is a wealth of opportunity, with an emphasis on organic ingredients as well as cookbooks in English and Russian. The delicatessen counter serves traditional delicacies: salads with salted herring and vegetables, beetroot and walnuts, and other evocative mixtures; soups including borshch and solyanka (a less well-known but delicious thick soup with frankfurters and gherkins); and of course different kinds of sausage, stuffed blinis, piroshki (small pies) and caviar, as well as cakes and sweets.
Among the exotica on the shelves it is also possible to find potato dumplings, kefir (Russian whole milk yoghurt), cod liver pate (which I am assured is delicious and have yet to try), marinated gherkins, whole salted herrings, dried fish, honey cakes, a superb homemade halva, and a variety of Vodkas - fifteen different kinds and rising. As well as a very fine 'Kosher Vodka' from Lithuania (the label declares that it meets the demands of kings) there are some rare pre-Perestroika varieties, and vodkas flavoured with cranberries and lemon. Russian Fairytale has attracted the attention of customers from other eastern European countries, and has also begun to stock food from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia.
It would be an unusual and satsifying place in which to do Christmas shopping. Hampers can be made up to your requirements, but there are also presents ranging from boxes of chocolates at around £3-£5 to handpainted lacquer boxes with fairytale scenes at £55, and, of course, matreshki: the painted dolls with a succession of ever smaller dolls inside. Everything is good quality, including traditional handpainted wooden bottle boxes - Russian doll shaped structures with different scenes and decorations which can hold a bottle of vodka or champagne at £25 - £30 (excluding the alchohol), and which would be a permanent and attractive feature of any sideboard. While stocks last there are calendars for 2001 of Russian landscapes, cities, icons and museums, and - my favourite - a Russian 'tea drinking' calendar with seasonal recipes for tea-time delicacies.
with a knowledge of or a desire to learn Russian, there are tapes
of short stories as well as music, and - a real bargain - videos of
Russian films at £5.50: classics by Dostoevsy, Tolstoy, Gorky
and Chekhov, and some of the works of Tarkovski, who directed the
well known film about Andrei Rublev.
If you are reading this with regret that you have already done all your shopping for December 25th, don't forget that the Russians celebrate Christmas on 7 January - a Sunday this year - so there is further good cause for celebrations in the dark mid-winter days of the new year. And, of course, it is in the nature of such a shop to have a changing and developing stock, so the real answer is to explore for yourself.