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My Odessa: Black Sea shrimps

01 May, 2021
My Odessa: Black Sea shrimps

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Maria Kalenska is a third generation Odessite, currently living in London. Having made a career in the corporate world, she has now exchanged her business suit for a kitchen apron. Maria currently writes for gastronomic and travel publications, along with organising culinary master classes and exclusive enogastronomic tours and pop-up dinners.

Her heart forever belongs to Odessa, but in London she has an important mission – to promote Ukrainian and Odessa cuisine!

In the morning I was struck by lightning – I forgot Black Sea shrimps in the freezer!

There is one more word in the Odessa gastronomic language, which is much easier to try than to explain. This is “rachky” or Black sea shrimps.

Not the crayfish caught in Kherson and brought to Pryvoz in bags – the size of a high school student’s boot - and not what they sell in fancy supermarkets with the price tag “tiger prawn tails”. Rachky are rachky. It is unclear who was the first to throw Black Sea shrimps (originally used as bait) into boiling water with a pinch of salt and a bunch of dill. But Black sea shrimps have long been eaten and still are eaten on the beaches, at home in front of the TV, in the street with neighbours, and even in many pubs, which in Odessa have name “bodega.”

When buying this product, which is strategically valuable and may cause addiction, (for example, in the Pryvoz fish building), it is customary to ask: “whose shrimps are those?”

If you think that “whose” is a matter of ownership, you are deeply mistaken. This matter is of the origin authenticity and no other way. If a woman on the other side of the counter has been selling fish for at least ten years, then she would reply: “whose do you want?” If your grandmother is not from Moldovanka, give up right away and you can say “it makes no difference”, try everything and choose your type. If you know at least something about shrimps, you can say:

  • Limanskie (estuary)

or even:

  • Morskie (sea)

Frankly, this is more a tradition than different taste sensations. When choosing, you will try from different heaps, some may be “salted,” “undercooked,” “I take these.” A new but bad trend is to put rAchky (or even rachkY: in Odessa everything is different, even cases and declensions) in small plastic bags. It is unnecessary. Ask to put in a ‘glass’ made of the newspaper – and enjoy these Black Sea shrimps, pinkish-orange, smelling like the sea, salty, stinging corners of your mouth.

You can also cook them at home yourself. Take a large saucepan, boil water in it, add some salt and choose one or in any combination: bay leaf, bunch of dill, parsley, celery, peppercorns. Throw shrimps into this boiled liquid – those greyish, grey-green, grey-brown ones that can be bought at fish rows. Now the question is how long to cook. The only correct, but the ambiguous answer is to cook intuitively. Shrimps get red instantly and pop up too. After surfacing, turn off the heat and leave the shrimps in that brine for two minutes. Then take the colander. Strain the shrimps and let them dry a little in the fresh air. Especially reverent chefs may put the cooked shrimps on paper towels – and this will not hurt. Next – how to eat shrimps.

The perfect place is the country house. Where stands old bench, a table covered with a dust cloth, cats rub against your feet, and in the evenings mosquitoes come and watch forever-eating Odessa people for a long time before biting him. Or in the heat on the beach.

Even if it is a bad form and you want to drink, for example, sweet compote, but the shrimps are taken to the beach automatically, along with a towel and the book “The Three Musketeers”.

Remember to take a container for the scale, so that the beaches of your beloved city remember only good things about you. You can eat shrimps at home in front of the TV. Having beer or chilled white with friends.

There are several ways to eat shrimps. If we talk about the mannered way, then the tender pinkish shrimp is picked up with two fingers of the left hand. Using the right hand, with a slight movement, we separate the fleshy neck from the rest. Then take that translucent chitin skin off and throw it in some container: in a crystal vase or a piece of a newspaper, it all depends on formality level of the event. Then the peeled shrimp goes into your mouth after beer, chilled white or even a sip of fresh cherry compote. Do you know what you say after that? After eating half? You will say that it is impossible to give up eating and the shrimps never end. But at the same time, you have no intention to give it up.

Maria Kalenska
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The Odessa Journal

The Odessa Journal

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