My name is Frederik, and I am in Riga, Latvia for my semester abroad. I have been here for around 2 months now and have around 4 months left. Riga is a city in which a lot of cultures meet, and many things take place. People speak a mix of Russian, Latvian and English here, and for the many immigrants from countries that were formerly Soviet republics, Russian is the language of communication. One thing that surprised me is just how varied and multicultural Riga is.
Due to its Soviet past, in Latvia there are many nationalities present, especially from the former soviet union. It is common to see, for example, Uzbek, Georgian, Armenian or Ukrainian cuisine here, in addition to the Latvian and Russian cuisine. This post-soviet environment creates a food-scene that is both varied and exotic for a Dane, as the cuisine of these countries and nationalities is quite hard to find in Denmark. I have been trying out all these new kinds of food, and at one of these places, I had a very interesting experience.
The place in question is my go-to shawarma place, where I go whenever I do not have time, or cannot be bothered to make food myself. The place is owned by an Azerbaijani, and here they make shawarma (Шаурма), as well as other foods from Azerbaijan and the Caucasus. One day when I went there, the owner found out that I’m studying Russian, and we began to talk in Russian. He asked if I wanted to practice, and I enthusiastically agreed! He proceeded to examine my knowledge of Turkish and Ottoman history.
He asked me what the longest lasting empire was, and I of course answered the Ottoman empire (even though it can be debated whether this one actually is the longest-lived one, but this was neither the time nor the place for a historiographic discussion). I was also shown the helmet of Aleksander Nevsky, a medieval Russian hero and prince of the principality of Muscovy, and asked why there was Arabic writing on this helmet. I tried to answer, in broken Russian, that I thought it had something to do with golden age Islamic society being very advanced at this time, but was cut off, before he lectured me, that it was because the most powerful and advanced people of this time were the Turks. And thus, Nevsky wore the helmet because great prestige was associated with Islamic and Turkish craft.
We proceeded to talk (and my knowledge was further examined and tested) for about 30 minutes, until I had to ask where my shawarma was, because I was getting very hungry at this point. He then pointed to a packaged shawarma behind him, and said it had been ready for 20 minutes. I had not caught in the heat of the moment that he had mentioned to me that it was actually done, and I had thus proceeded to talk with him, while it just laid there, waiting for me. I thanked him for the talk, and for the shawarma, before grabbing my Georgian Natakhari soft-drink (which I can highly recommend!) that I always buy when I get shawarma. I then went home to enjoy my shawarma, after being rigorously tested on Turkish history – in Russian. I enjoyed the shawarma. A lot.
So if you ever find yourself in Riga and feel the hunger coming, go to “Stop, Ed”, and get a delicious Azeri shawarma, and if you dare, ask Ed (the owner) if he can tell you about Turkish history. Just beware that you won’t be leaving for a long time if you’re not careful!
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