You might be getting ready to celebrate католическая Пасха (Catholic Easter) this Sunday in which case you are probably too busy to read a long-winded post. So let’s keep it short and sweet. Let’s talk about конфеты (candies).
What are some of the Russian alternatives for the candies you usually buy around Easter holiday? (If you don’t like candies, then may I interest you in other Russian sweets?)
Let’s begin with the traditional драже (dragee). The word драже might sound similar to дрожать (to tremble). Sure, a little сладкоежка (someone with a sweet tooth) might indeed дрожать от нетерпения (tingle with impatience) at the sight of this candy while his parents might содрогаться (shudder) at the damage sugar does to their child’s teeth. However, the words are not related.
Драже is just a generic name for a small roundish candy, such as M&Ms, Jelly Beans, chocolate covered almonds or multi-colored glazed raisins known as морские камушки (sea pebbles). Just as Jelly Beans or Skittles, драже do not come individually wrapped into обёртки (wrappers). Which is a major time saver.
Next up is леденцы (sugar candy) which can be на палочке (on a stick) or not. Some are made as драже, but they usually end up sticking together into a shapeless blob and are best avoided. For some reason, леденцы на палочке look especially irresistible to children (and even some adults). Maybe that explains the other use of the phrase на палочке. When in Russia, try to find and enjoy traditional леденцы на палочке (sugar candy on a stick), for example a translucent red петушок на палочке (rooster on a stick).
Another word for леденец is карамель. Well, at least it’s the candy industry term for леденец. But when we talk about карамельки, we usually think of candy that’s made with melted sugar and molasses. Oh, and it usually has some kind of начинка (filling) inside, including fruit-, berries-, cream- and liqueur-based ones. And it’s never on a stick. And it’s always shaped like a батончик (short thick stick). So it’s pretty much nothing like леденец in my book. Карамельки (little caramel candies) are usually individually wrapped in colorful фантики (wrappers).
By the way, these simple paper wrappers became the gateway into the world of коллекционирование (collecting) for many children.
Another type of карамель is ирис (taffy). Do not confuse it with the flower ирис even though the candy got its name after this beautiful flower. Чем старше мы становимся, тем меньше нам хочется ириски (The older we get, the less we want to have taffy). This stuff will pull your коронки (dental crowns) right off, I tell you!
Finally, let’s talk about шоколадные конфеты (chocolate candies) or шоколадки (chocolates). There are so many to choose from! First, there are шоколадки с начинкой (filled chocolates), such as пралине (pralines), chocolates filled with fruits or liquor, or light crispy вафли (waffles) covered in chocolate. Each chocolate candy is wrapped in a beautiful wrapper, sometimes two or three (an inner wax paper one, a middle foil one and an outer one with a picture or a design).
Then there are наборы конфет (boxes of chocolates) of all shapes and sizes. Russians buy them as small gifts (yes, even if a box is a giant lavishly decorated one), tokens of appreciations, so to speak. But here’s a hint: if you prefer substance over looks, have a discerning taste, and don’t care for the “life is like a box of chocolates” spiel, forgo the flashy oversized boxes of pralines for a modest box of Птичье молоко (lit: Bird’s Milk). Don’t aim for looks, but do make sure to check whether it’s fresh. The delicate mousse inside these chocolate-glazed candies won’t spoil, but it will crystallize which will affect the taste.
And that’s it for today.
One more note – if you plan to visit your local Russian grocery store and buy some candies, read the wrappers first. Here are the proper names of some of the most popular and most nostalgia-inducing candies – Ласточка, Мишка на Севере, Красная Шапочка, Грильяж в шоколаде, Кара-Кум, Коровка, Белочка. If the name on the wrapper sounds close, but not quite the same, it means that the manufacturer most likely did not follow the original recipe or quality standards. Also, get familiar with what the images on the classic candy wrappers should look like. If the name matches, but the image is not the same, it’s a подделка (fake).
Finally, buy extra candies and invite your Russian friend for дегустация (tasting). Your friend will surely let you know how the candies you bought measure up to the classics of his/her youth.