Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Fri June 19 2015

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  • Gabe Zaldivar | June 19, 2015 8:00 PM ET

    Remembering Great Meals: Getting Lost and Found in a Moscow Pub

    Remembering Great Meals: Getting Lost and Found in a Moscow Pub

    Photos by Gabe Zaldivar

    While the beautiful Russian language might as well have been Klingon to me on a trip to Moscow in 2014, I found that the universal language of the pub connects us all.

    Now if your travels have been limited to English or Romantic language-speaking countries, I suggest highly visiting Russia.

    There is a certain feeling of utter helplessness you face when you exit the plane and into a world whose language looks like a series of squiggles. That you are assured to conquer past this hiccup is a testament to your bravery as a traveler and the kindness of the Russian people, who are always eager to lend a hand.

    Still, I had no clue where I was the second I landed in Moscow en route to the Sochi Olympics last year.

    Thanks to the kindness of my parents, I had transportation at the ready when landing rather than needing public means, which was a tremendous advantage.

    You will be befuddled quite enough by the street signs throughout your trip, so it’s best to leave public transport (some of the busiest and most picturesque in the world) for later.

    A car ride and several horribly pronounced “Spasibas” later and the wife and I were at the Hotel Pushkin, which has sadly been closed as of this writing.

    We arrived at the hotel hungry, confused and without any rubles. That there was a general warning against using Wi-Fi in Russia at the time, so we lacked the advantage of normally ubiquitous Internet.

    This, my friends, is when travel gets good.

    We bundled up the coat, protected our nimble necks with scarves and headed on out on the nicely bustling Tverskaya-Yamskaya.

    And this is where it’s nice to have a partner in crime along for the ride, because the query “Where the hell are we going?” wasn’t just a rhetorical quandary left to be answered by my own mind.

    Thankfully, I had a beautiful woman in tow who offered the wisdom that came in the form of, “I have no idea; let’s go that way.”

    Well, the language divide may have been a wide chasm but the culture was comfortably familiar. Russians, and specifically Moscovites, are awesome. 

    Aside from not once ever cracking a smile and always having the heater in all buildings set to “corona of the sun” they are helpful, kind and engaging.

    We managed to figure out the peculiarities of a cash machine that happened to be on the way to, well, we had no clue. But damn it if we didn’t continue onward.

    And that’s when we finally saw a pub that looked familiar, which makes sense because the color scheme actually denoted a Pilsner Urquell brewery.

    A brief debate in broken Russian later I realized the friendly man at the door wanted to hold my coat. “Spasiba!”

    That brief kerfuffle in two languages worked up the appetite further, so I was pleased to find myself squired to a table upstairs, where I pored over a menu that I was absolutely certain was in Klingon.

    Fortunately the waiter offered suggestions and took my more pressing order of the darkest ale in the joint. “Spasiba!”

    And that’s when I got this gorgeous plate that looked far better in person:

    This, according to the menu, is the Veprove krkovichka, which roughly translates to meal that will kill any ability for you to feel a buzz from alcohol.

    It’s described with the fervor of a people who have no time for shenanigans: “Grilled pork neck with fried potatoes and pickled tomatoes.”

    Yep. That’s…that’s what it was.

    But more importantly, it was what I needed at the time. While throwing down Kozels by the glass full I had a plate of sublime pork steak and hot potatoes that would help pack all this meal onto my bones.

    Here’s the thing. It’s cold outside in Moscow, making gluttonous dishes and alcohol as great a necessity as a warm jacket.

    Retroactively thinking back on that beautiful night I have to say the moment felt familiar. It was akin to a pub in London, or New York or my hometown of Los Angeles.

    I was having a great meal in a warm place with amazing company. That I was in ridiculously unusual confines made no matter, because you sometimes happen into the recognizable if you have the courage to brave the elements and stick to the itinerary of just getting lost.  

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Gabe Zaldivar The Main Course

Gabe Zaldivar Born on the rough streets of suburban West Covina, I learned a great many things, some of which has proved useful: knowing the tell-tale sounds of an ice cream truck and crafting a world-class burrito come to mind. You have seen my work on Bleacher Report and possibly my mug on CNN. Perhaps, if you are into archaic modes of entertainment, you have also heard me on the radio. Pop culture is my beat. If it has to do with the intersection of travel, entertainment and pop culture, I'm your guy.
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