Bittersweet Moscow: Tsvetnoy Central Market

Bittersweet Moscow: Tsvetnoy Central Market

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Expat Marco North describes through pen and photo luxuries and qualities of the latest market to open, the Tsventnoy Central Market.

There are upscale food markets in Moscow where you can mistakenly buy an apple for USD 20. It will be unblemished, freshly washed and most probably tasteless, as the turnover on USD 20 apples is terrible. It will sit there until some wealthy fool buys it. 
 
If your cooking is inspired by ingredients beyond potatoes, cabbage and cucumbers, beyond radishes and dill and onions, you will need to learn a few things to keep Moscow from making you frustrated and eventually depressed. Avoid the over-priced “gourmet” chain markets as their products are freakishly overpriced and more than half the time, spoiled. Their ciabatta may be fresh, but it is tasteless. (And don’t get me started on what it costs to buy a reasonable bottle of table wine in Moscow.)

When I learned about the gastronomic ryad and café that was opening at the massive new Tsvetnoy Central Market my heart leapt. Billed as homage to Dorogomilovsky Rinok (my beloved, messy, local, old-school market) – my curiosity was piqued. Just back from a visa-renewal trip to New York, Eataly’s market and dining experience was still fresh on my lips – the vision of mozzarella being pulled in front of me, plunked down on a board and then shoved into my mouth, for example.


We entered the building – a modern, glittering monolith next to a lovely old circus. Floors of every trendy and stylish clothes pass until you reach the fifth floor. Hammered metal reflects the intense daylight banging into the space. Someone really inspired came up with this building. Then we get down to business – fish, cheese, and the rest. 


(Tsvetnoy is open, but a work-in-progress so I have reserved judgment on a number of my reactions. It is unfair to criticize a place until it’s really up and humming.)


I love the vegetable counter, as the workers there are a bubbly bunch. I asked to take their portrait while they hold their favourite vegetable. That pumpkin just makes me smile. The carrots are covered in dirt, as they should be in Russia. It keeps them fresh and tasty. There is fresh Italian basil, sage and thyme, radicchio, asparagus, broccoli – all “exotic” items for here. Most important, they are priced very reasonably and they taste like something.

The cheese ladies latch on to my daughter and me, asking if we want to buy fresh milk straight from the farm. It’s as cheap as when you buy it at rinok (where they keep it in recycled pepsi bottles). There is fresh Georgian sulguni, sharp and salty – in braids, in rolls, in smoked balls. You can taste all you want and they’ll give you an earful.


Try doing that at the “gourmet” places here and you’ll see nothing but a sad, vacant face retreating from your question like it will give them the flu. What is significant about Tsvetnoy is that the people selling the food actually eat and understand the food they are selling. I know, this should be a given -- but Moscow is a strange land of facades, appearances and quite rarely, substance. 



I stand in the space, just breathing in the fragrant air. Ah, what to cook for dinner I ask myself. Usually, it’s about limitations here – oh, if I could only find some lemongrass, or some chipotles. Standing in Tsvetnoy I feel ripe with possibilities. I feel inspired to cook something for my girlfriend that she has never eaten. Something simple like linguine in clam sauce - yes, with that chitarra pasta I see there. It’s true – linguine in clam sauce is an “exotic” recipe to source in Moscow. Chances are the clams are bad (probably frozen and defrosted or precooked). Chances are the hard pasta is mediocre. But not here, for the first time.


I stop at the café, order an espresso. An Americano for the lady. It is good – creamy, almost chocolaty. I send my spoon in for those last drops sludged into the raw sugar. We gaze out the windows, at the street below, at the giant bright space. 


Yes, sometimes you want to shop in a place with nice bags. Sometimes you want to sit inside and have a good coffee while shopping for dinner, maybe next time we’ll try their pizza. You can shop in some ancient muddy place or here, whatever suits your mood. It’s nice to have options. Now, let’s go make some clams.
 
Marco North / Expatica
Story credits:
 
Photos: Marco North
Shoot Producer: Sasha Fomina
Special thanks to the Rinok/Farmer’s Bazaar Management & The Ginza Project.
 
Marco North is an expat New Yorker living in Moscow with his daughter. He is a professional filmmaker, published writer and musician, known for the singular nature of his work. Read more about North's life in Moscow via his blog, Impressions of an expat.

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