A feast of feasts

At Artek children from across the world came together to share the secrets of their favorite national dishes. During this session, Artek’s cafeteria menu had Danish smorrebrod (open sandwiches) and Slovak knedliky dumplings, as well as a meat turta from Algeria and gemista from Greece, Chinese wontons and sweet and sour chicken. The cooking workshops provided Artek children yet another opportunity to expand their horizons and learn about the traditions and culture of various peoples.

There were children from abroad in all nine Artek camps, and for many of them the introduction into the Russian culture and language is in its early days. It is for this reason that Artek’s Chief Cook Irina Kulina sought assistance from interpreters and poly-lingual children. For example, Denis Zhelokhovtsev from Moscow has lived in Beijing for eight years and is fluent in Chinese, which made him the key figure during a cooking workshop with children from Shenyang.

“These children represent the largest city in northeast China. For me, this workshop was not only an opportunity to practice my Chinese, but also to learn the pronunciation of China’s Liaoning Province. I think that this was very useful, since I’m aiming for a diplomatic career,” Denis said, while explaining in Russian and Chinese how to marinate chicken and what condiments should go into a tomato salad.

With Denis’ assistance, Ms Kulina’s skill and enthusiasm of the Chinese children, in a matter of minutes the cafeteria filled up with mouth-watering smells. “We are teenagers, so it is no longer acceptable for us to ask our parents to cook for us. We cook our own food, guided by the advice we get from our elders,” Lu De Pen said. Qu Mengnan added that the Chinese students much appreciate the interest taken in their national cuisine, while the possibility to cook their favorite dishes made them feel at home in Russia. Lu Mei said that she loved cooking, and shared her secret recipe of a wonderful dish. “As in any other country, it is essential to follow the recipe, cook with all your heart and make sure the dish is nicely served,” she pointed out.

Asked about their culinary preferences in Artek, the children pointed to potatoes with meat as the most tasty and nourishing dish, but added that they did not care much for borsch. The Chinese teenagers said that they would keep the Artek pancake recipe so that they could  share it with their parents and friends.

The cooking workshop was also an opportunity to discuss some cooking-related myths. For example, it turned out that the instant noodles that have become so popular in Russia and can be found in almost any food shop are actually a typical Chinese thing. However, in China they contain much more spice, which makes the authentic Chinese noodles very different from what is sold in Russia.

The workshop culminated with a tasting session. Children emptied their plates in no time at all, which showed just how delightful the food was. It has to be mentioned that the children from Shenyang are not only wonderful cooks. They also learn Russian as an extra-curricular activity at their school, and some are even thinking about becoming translators or teachers. While at Artek, they learned and practiced vocabulary related to greeting and meeting people and expressing gratitude.

Another way of improving language skills is to join the camp’s media team, whose members are tasked with taking interviews, making video reports and writing essays. For instance, Zhang Zhiling wrote an article about living in a different culture. “Food here is not as spicy as in China, and much lighter. Chinese people show more restraint, while here children are very cordial and love to dance. The Chinese are very conservative: dresses and skirts are still taboo for me, but I started paying more attention to what I am wearing. I understood that we are our own heroes, and can be independent and positive. Most importantly, I have to display my strong side in order to be successful and paint my world in bright colors.”