Bet you didn’t know that Memorial Day was actually borne out of the American Civil War and was initially known as Decoration Day.
Back in 1868, on the first Decoration Day, 5,000 participants gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Nearly 100 years later, in 1967, the US Congress declared the last Monday of May a Federal Holiday to honor all men and women who died while serving the United States.
Today, Memorial Day – much like Victory Day in Russian – unofficially marks the beginning of summer. While the “Old Glory” flies at half staff, patriotic Americans gather together to officially kick off the BBQ season.
Grilling is wildly popular in many places around the world. The familiar aroma of marinated meat and smoking charcoal practically induces a Pavlovian reaction in many of us – resurrecting memories of happiness, delicious food and carefree days of summer.
So how does American BBQ compare to the Russian shashlik?
Of the main differences between Eastern and Western grilling is the type and size of the meat pieces. Classic American BBQ typically includes hamburgers and some sort of sausage or hot dog.
Regional influences have introduced slowly cooked pulled pork and rib meats, catapulting a handfull of American cities to fame and notoriety as BBQ ‘capitals’ of the U.S. Kansas City, for example, is home to over 100 barbecue restaurants and hosts an annual barbecue competition called the American Royal.
In Easter Caucasus regions, particularly Georgia, shashlik is made from small chunks of red meat that are threaded onto long metal skewers called shampuri (Шампуры). A good marinade is the key to tender, juicy meat and is what gives barbecue its distinctly Russian flavor and flare.
Using vinegar, lemon juice, pomegranate juice or other acidic liquids helps tenderize the meat pieces and breaks down protein chains to ease digestion. Oils reduce any moisture loss during the cooking process and are therefore also an essential ingredient in marinades.
Fresh veggies like vine-ripened tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, green onions and radishes typically accompany Russian shashlik. Other popular side dishes include prepared veggie appetizers like Georgian-style eggplant spread
a flavorful dip made with red or green peppers, garlic and spicy seasonings.