I was born in Australia, but grew up with a strong connection to my Russian heritage. When we were kids, mum and dad brought us up to embrace our Russianess: we went to Russian School on Saturdays (mum was a teacher there too), we ate homemade Russian cuisine, we holidayed on Russian cruise liners, I traveled to Russia on my 21st birthday, we attended Easter midnight mass at the Russian Orthodox Church every year, which is held at the same church Ali and I were married in on 1 May, 2011.
Now that I live in New York, I look back with nostalgia. Luckily, I live in Brooklyn and am close enough to Brighton Beach, the home of a significant Russian community, where Russian is widely spoken, and many of the stores feature Cyrillic signage. There are plenty of beauty and nail salons, bookstores with Russian works and DVDs, and stores carrying designer brands such as Gucci (or is that Guci?). In the cooler months, people don’t sport leisure suits because it’s so cold by the ocean. Instead, everyone is rugged up in classic jackets and boots while shopping and socialising at the markets.
Referred to as “Little Russia By the Sea” or “Little Odessa” after its many Ukrainian immigrants, the area was developed in 1868 and only became known as Brighton Beach after a naming contest in 1878. The name is based on the British seaside resort, Brighton. The Russian Jewish population settled here during the 1980s, and an influx of residents from the former Soviet Union came in 1991. Brighton Beach holds the largest Russian population in the US.
The main street, Brighton Beach Avenue, runs through the neighbourhood, and is the best place to stock up on Russian food staples. Piroshki (savoury deep fried doughnuts with meat, potato or cabbage filling) and cheese danishes are sold from sidewalk stands. The supermarkets sell a variety of Russian packaged goods, breads, meats, and cheeses, and in-store food buffets offer plenty of dishes by the pound. Beet salad, potato salad, fish cutlets, pork chops, herring, caviar, pickled cabbage, meat-filled blinchiki (crepes). A great recipe for them can be found here: http://www.azcookbook.com/meat-stuffed-blinchiki-crepes/
Coney Island Beach runs parallel to Brighton Beach Avenue. A walk down one of the side streets will lead you to an expansive, unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. Benches line the boardwalk, and in summer, this space is jammed with people. As it was fall, however, only a few were enjoying the sunset or shooting the breeze.
I noticed that the Millennium Theatre on Brighton Beach Avenue will be hosting a Russian Holiday Circus & Carnival. I may need to come back for it.
SLIDESHOW with more images of Brighton Beach (there are quite a few and you many have to scroll through those already included above):