Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Li Du once heard a story, which was rooted in fact.
As any Chinese of a certain age knew, China once had a three-year period of disaster, when there was famine all over the country and people went hungry.
Li Du’s home county suffered too. Many people starved to death, and those who survived experienced the torture of hunger. He did not know how terrible the feeling of hunger was, but the protagonist of the story was a youth from one of their villages.
After the natural disaster, the young man worked hard to plant potatoes and sweet potatoes, and then after harvesting the crop, he removed the walls of his home and replaced it with dried mashed potatoes, saying that there would be something to eat in the future when there was famine.
This event made Li Du realize the horror of hunger, so he could understand Ah Bai’s pursuit of food. The little monkey was not really a foodie, it was just afraid of hunger.
Therefore, even though the dish was spiced with horseradish and mustard, it kept stuffing its mouth, pointing to the delicious broth and squeaking.
In Russian cuisine, soup was the first course in addition to cold dishes, serving to moisten the throat and stimulate the appetite.
There were many different traditional kinds of soup in Russia, including vegetable soup, red vegetable soup, rice noodle soup, fish soup, mushroom soup, milk soup, cold soup, fruit soup, and the clear broth that Li Du ordered.
This broth, while very clear, contained much more than water. It had been slow-cooked in a big pot with fish, meat, mushrooms, and various seasonings. Then the solids were taken out, leaving only the broth.
It was similar to Cantonese soup. The essence of fish and vegetables made the soup thick and delicious-smelling.
Li Du took out Ah Bai’s bowl and scooped some soup into it. Ah Bai held it with both its hands and gulped the soup down. After it drank the soup, its eyes moved to the alcoholic drink on the table.
A meal in Russia was usually accompanied by vodka. Vodka was Russia’s national liquor, with a long history of up to 800 years. Vodka from Vorkuta was among the most famous in Russia.
The drink was brewed in two ways: one way to make it was from wheat, rye, and barley, like other grain alcohol, and the other method was distilling alcohol from potatoes and corn and slowly filtering it for more than eight hours.
Vorkuta’s vodka was commonly made with the latter method, because it was a harsh, cold place, with poor soil conditions for growing grain.
The local winters were very cold, and people would suffer if they couldn’t warm up with a bit of vodka. Grain was scarce, there was not enough of it even for food, so there was a need for alternative brewing methods utilizing potatoes and corn.
As all knew, vodka was among the world’s most famous strong liquors. Its alcohol content was very high, 40 to 50 degrees. European and American customs decreed 40 degrees as the upper boundary.
Authentic vodka was clear, very pure, with almost no smell except alcohol, and its taste was very strong.
Vorkuta’s vodka, which was originally made from corn and potatoes, was cloudy and tasted worse than ale, so at first, people would add a little juice to improve the taste.
This wasn’t how people drank pure vodka. Russian men prided themselves for being tough guys, and they liked throat-burning liquors. It would be girlish to drink vodka with fruit juice.
Nevertheless, it was a small local tradition that has survived. Ah Bai smelled the juice in the vodka and thought it tasted good, and pointed to the drink and squeaked.
Li Du knew what it actually was. Although he ordered a mild vodka, it was still over 40 degrees. Ah Bai could not drink this.
He shook his head at Ah Bai and said, “No, you can’t drink that.”
Ah Bai jumped on his shoulder and continued to squeak, pointing at the vodka.
Godzilla poured some vodka into his glass. The fruity smell thickened, and saliva flickered from Ah Bai’s mouth.
Godzilla toasted him and said, laughing, “Boss, let the boy have a drink. How can he do without vodka on such a cold day?”
Ah Bai tried to reach over Li Du’s shoulder, but of course, it couldn’t get to Godzilla’s glass.
Li Du said sternly, “Behave yourself, don’t mess around.”
When Ah Bai saw Li Du’s firm attitude, it gave up the idea and climbed down moodily.
Li Du poured himself a glass of vodka in a square glass filled with tiny bits of ice. The vodka in the shaker had been kept at a low temperature. It released cold mist when poured out.
Li Du did not understand the strange tradition of drinking iced liquor in extremely cold places, but this was the specialty here. He followed the tradition and drank up.
The glass was cold, his palms ached from the cold, and the drink felt as if he had swallowed a bunch of ice.
From his mouth to his stomach, he felt a chill inside him that made him shiver, but soon a burning sensation began in his throat. As vodka descended to his belly, he warmed up quickly.
With half a glass left, Li Du scooped up the caviar and poured it into his mouth, closing his eyes to appreciate the expensive delicacy.
Then he heard the glass fall on the table, and Sophie cried out, “God!”
He opened his eyes and saw that his glass was knocked down and the vodka had spilled. Ah Bai was swinging down from the table, head up and mouth open, to receive the stream of vodka that flowed down.
The vodka was iced and fruity, and it did not feel very strong at first, but it had a powerful aftereffect.
Ah Bai felt nothing at first when it drank the vodka. Having finished its drink, it quickly jumped and hid behind Sophie when it saw Li Du looking at it.
Li Du quickly asked the others, “What happens when a monkey drinks alcohol?”
The answer became evident before anyone could reply.
The effects of vodka appeared very quickly. First of all, there was the aftereffect of taste, which was very startling and hot.
Ah Bai jumped out from behind Sophie, its hands around its neck, and jumped up and down with all its might, its white hair standing on end.
Driver looked at it with pity and said, “Oh, stupid boy! It’s going to be miserable.”
Ah Bai was in misery. The irritation of alcohol was too strong. Its small eyes turned red and it hopped around in a silent panic because its throat was scorched with alcohol and it could not make a sound!
Li Du quickly took a cup of apple juice and offered it to the monkey. Ah Bai pushed it away and jumped vigorously.
He asked Sophie, “What’s going to happen? How can I help him?”
Sophie said, “I’m helping it. It should be all right.”
“How are you helping it?”
“I’m drawing a cross to pray for it, don’t you see?”
Li Du was relieved, not because he believed in the power of God, but he realized Sophie was in the mood to joke, so he assumed it should not be a big deal.
Indeed, it was no big deal. Ah Bai was just drunk.