Monday, October 19, 2015

In Search of the Chicken Guy

We mostly eat vegetarian in this house - and in case you were wondering, "vegetarian" and "overseas" are not two words that go well together in most places we've lived.

There are 2 vegetarians in my household (I'd bet you can't guess who they are if you don't know us!), but I do try to feed the rest of the family animal protein about once a week or so. Usually this means chicken - it's the cheapest and easiest form of meat to procure and cook. The kids won't eat fish anyway - 3 years in Beijing, where we were told never to buy local fish because of polluted waters, turned them off fish forever. And I don't like handling raw beef, pork or lamb - it grosses me out a little. So chicken it is.

For awhile, it was super easy to do chicken in Moscow. Each of the two closest metro stations had a "chicken guy" out front selling rotisserie chickens out of a little kiosk. Depending upon the exchange rate, each small chicken cost about $6-8. I'd buy two for dinner and then turn the bones into stock for another meal. Easy! Both of the chicken guys were good guys - polite, helpful, always offering lavash or bread to go with the chicken, which they wrapped carefully and quickly in foil as they worked their way through the line of shoppers.

But last spring, both of the chicken guys disappeared, along with the vegetable ladies and the rest of the kiosks outside of the metro stations. Rumor has it that one of the higher-ups in the city government either didn't like the way they looked, or had other business plans of his own for the site. Who knows what happened? All I know for certain is that suddenly, chicken acquisition wasn't so easy. Gone were the days when I could simply hop off the metro and buy dinner on my way home.

Instead I've been walking to Billa, or Zelyonyi Perekryostok, both close-but-small grocery stores, to buy raw chicken parts, which I then roast and turn into dinner. This means a longer walk, with more work in the kitchen. I once tried to buy a roasted chicken from one of these stores, but that creature must've sat under the heat lamps for a few hours too long before I bought it - it was tough and dry and stringy.

I despaired of ever being able to find a simple way to add some chicken to our main meal. Then, just last week, my friend M offered to take me to her favorite big grocery store, about a 20-minute drive from the Embassy, so I gladly hopped in her car and headed out. Along the way she told me that the store (Auchan, for those of you here in Moscow) has really good rotisserie chicken, but the lady who sells them is "a bit crabby."

Auchan's great! Why haven't I been there before? So much better than Metro - closer and quieter, too. I'm not sure I can find it again on my own, but I'll certainly try.

As for the chicken lady, indeed she was about the crabbiest Muscovite I've met in some time.

I waited my turn behind a policeman who was buying several chickens, and was quite particular about which chickens he wanted. Between his indecision and her slow pace, I thought I'd never get to the front of the line. But finally his chickens were bagged and tagged. She turned to me with a dour expression, gesturing to indicate it was my turn.

"I'll take three, please," I said cheerfully, thinking maybe she'd cheer up if I was cheerful myself.

But no.

"Which ones?" she shrugged, waving at the pile of chickens.

"It's all the same to me," I answered. Really, each chicken looked pretty much like the next, all legs and wings and crispy skin.

She bent over the tray and pulled one out, muttering under her breath, just loud enough that I could hear her.

"All the same?" she mocked me. "All the same? It's never all the same. All of these chickens are different. Why would you say it's all the same when it obviously isn't?" She picked through the chickens deliberately before shoving a chicken in a bag roughly and looking up at me with contempt.

"Okay," I said, because clearly she couldn't be bothered to choose a chicken without my input, "I'll take that one over there, and the one next to it."

"Ha!" she snorted, as if to herself. "So I guess it isn't 'all the same', is it? The lady wants a specific chicken now, does she? All the same, yeah, right." On and on, until the chickens were all separately weighed and bagged.

It would have been annoying, actually, this blatant rudeness, if it weren't so sad-funny, listening to this gold-toothed babushka in a dirty butcher's smock ridicule my ability to properly choose a chicken. They really, truly, honestly, looked pretty much the same to my un-chicken-trained eye.

After about 5 minutes of abuse, I got my chickens and continued on my way through the vast supermarket. Seriously, why have I never been here before?

The chicken, as it turned out, was delicious.

Still. I miss my chicken guy.


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