Wistfully, I thought many times of Grevico Bread’s (129-3 Brighton 1st Street) Russian coriander rye since trying it back in August. Located in the heavily Russo-Eastern European neighborhood of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn I wasn’t sure how a businesses like it held up post-Sandy. I was glad to see this small storefront up and running and with holiday decorations still up. Not only was the bread in stock, but a Russian legend was learned (see below)!
I approached the counter and asked for the coriander loaf. The counter woman, perhaps misunderstanding said “no we don’t have.” Trying another tactic, I repeated the request and pointed to the loaves a few feet away. She still looked confused. Luckily she asked another customer to translate. The woman explained that the request was for Bredinski? Or at least that is how it sounded when pronounced. The employee understood immediately. She smiled, sent it through the bread slicer and told me how to say it a few times.
One can feel self-conscious at a store when running into a language barrier. The upside though is almost always better than the downside. The worst outcome is that people laugh. Heck, I’m used to that. Maybe you are, too. If you’re lucky though you’ll be enriched with a new food experience. Here are a couple of tips if you’re going to visit an ethnic enclave/store where limited English may be spoken:
- Go at a time when the store isn’t busy so the workers will be a bit more agreeable to questions. More often than not people want to help especially if you already have an appreciation.
- If there is a line try to smile and make small talk with the people behind or in front. These folks may be able to translate or answer questions for you.
- If you know what type of enclave you’re going to already, look up some common foods that may be of interest ahead of time. In a fast moving line, you’ll then be ready to shout out your order.
- Smartphones can be handy to look up unfamiliar words.
Historical Legend: Borodinsky Bread
After the Grevico folks took the time to pronounce and repeat the name of the bread, I wanted to find out how it’s spelled roughly in English. Searching for variations like Bredzjinkski, Brajinkski yielded nothing. Eventually searching for just Russian coriander rye the name “Borodinsky” came up.
The legend says that the bread was created just prior to the Battle of Borodino, “the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion in Russia and Napoleonic Wars.” Napoleon’s army was forcing the Russian troops to retreat further and further back. As a morale boost for the Imperial Russian army, a general’s wife baked bread using locally grown/native coriander and baked it into a variation of rye bread. Fortified from the bread they fought to the point of French troop exhaustion. After months of fighting and getter deeper into Russian territory, it became impossible for the French to replenish troops the way the Russians could. It wasn’t a clear victory because of heavy casualties all around but it was pivotal. The Battle of Borodino was Napoleon’s last offensive action in Russia before a long painful retreat during the Mud Season and Russian winter.
It is highly probable that the name of this bread first appeared after the Great October Revolution (1917), as there is no mention of this name before 1920. However, in the literature of breadbaking of the end of 19th century there exist a number of similar recipes. [Source]
Regardless of the truth, the heartiness of bread is indisputable. Lets all take a moment to thank Napoleon’s arrogance as bread eaters everywhere are the better for it.