Finding food in Astana is somewhat of a gamble, between the things that aren't available, and the things that are available, but are mysteries to me due to being labeled in Russian. There are the usual suspects that are hard to find (peanut butter), and then the more surprising ones (leafy greens other than cabbage). The trouble is that no matter how challenging the grocery situation seems now, it will almost certainly be much worse in the winter, when there will be little to nothing in the way of local produce, and when it will be so cold that nobody will want to go looking for food, anyway.
Because of the impending food situation, a number of people have started making use of their large freezers to store some of the local produce that is currently available. On Saturday, we went to Artyum Bazaar with our neighbors so we could get a head start on winter.
We started out by taking a bus. That almost exhausted us all for the rest of the outing. The bazaar isn't really that far away, but the bus took us on some sort of extended tour. The ride out there took an hour and fifteen minutes in the end (it took about fifteen minutes to get back in a taxi!). We're considering taking taxis both ways when we go back in the future.
Anyway, by the time we got out there, we were all pretty hungry. Scott and I had noticed a really yummy aroma coming from a small restaurant near the bazaar last time we were there, so we decided to have lunch there. None of us have great Russian skills at this point, so I'm not entirely sure I could reorder what we ate, but it was quite good. We each had some sort of dish with beef, peppers, and onions. And they served them on plates shaped like cows!
After lunch, we went to the bazaar itself. We were planning to cook things to freeze, so we bought what seemed like a heavy and cumbersome amount of food--two kilos each of tomatoes and eggplants, a kilo of walnuts, a kilo of peppers, a kilo of plums, and a kilo each of strawberries and raspberries, among other things. It is amazing how everything cooks down, though, and how much smaller the quantities seem now. So far, with our bounty, we have made (1) enough eggplant pasta sauce to last for about four dinners, (2) enough marinara sauce to last for about three dinners, (3) whole roasted peppers to freeze and stuff later, (4) frozen plum halves, (5) frozen raspberries and strawberries, and (6) berries cooked with a bit of sugar to make a sort of sauce or topping.
The berries we cooked with sugar were the ones that became mushy while were were transporting them. I figured that was a reasonable way to salvage those. Out of the ones that didn't become mushy, we also ate a lot out of hand. I don't think I have ever purchased raspberries in such quantity in the US. And the strawberries were great--small, sweet ones, not the large, watery ones that we sometimes find in supermarkets back home.
We'll almost certainly go back for more produce a few times before the cold sets in. I don't expect to be able to eat food I've cooked and frozen every night throughout the winter, but even getting something like nice pasta sauce once a week or so should be a morale booster when its tens of degrees below zero outside.