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Published: November 21st 2007
It would be very easy to forget the fact that you are in Kaunas, Lithuania, while roaming through the great halls of Akropolis, the newly-opened 3-story mega-mall in downtown Kaunas. If not for the Lithuanian being spoken, this could be any other mall in Minneapolis or New York or New Jersey or Greenwich, Connecticut, or Durham, North Carolina. In fact the mall is even more flashy and fancy than most malls I have visited; there is a bowling alley, a multiplex movie theater, a full-size ice-skating rink, and much much more. (One random thing about this mall, I have noticed, is that it has many more baby accessories/toys/clothing stores than the average mall in the US—the last time I was in Akropolis I counted six stores just for babies and toddlers.)
One interesting fact about Akropolis: when the developers began their initial plans for building the mall, they hit a road block because several of the buildings they would need to demolish to build the mall were historic landmarks, i.e., very old. To get around this they decided to literally build the mall on top of those old buildings, and to renovate and restore the buildings to serve as retail space within their mall. So when you walk through the mall you can actally see these old, three-story brick/stone buildings! And buy your nike shoes right inside.
Another interesting thing about the mall is the hi-tech parking lot. There is a sensor in each parking space in the parking deck which will show a red light if the spot is taken and a green light if it is vacant. At the end of each row there is a digital counter that shows on it how many available spaces there are in a row. It makes parking so easy!! Though sometimes the counters are thrown off by the poor parking of many of the cars (I have never seen anywhere around the world a place where people park so poorly! I guess in lithuania the lines are merely 'suggestions' for how you might align your car in the space).
The two newest editions to the long list of restaurants (the chain-style restaurants in abundance in the US, but with different names of course) is Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Viktorija and I decided to try out Pizza Hut yesterday, and I have to tell you that it was by far the worst meal I have had in my five months here in Lithuania.
I should explain that here in Lithuania pizza joints are very popular. The first pizza place (or so they say) to open here in Kaunas was called Pizza Jazz—it was opened by a handful of graduate students around 15 or 20 years ago who got a grant to start a business; they opened their first 'Pizza Jazz' in an empty retail space on the bottom floor of their apartment building in Kaunas. Now there are a few dozen Pizza Jazz restaurants around Kaunas and in most cities in Lithuania. Pizza joints became somewhat of a fad, with a flurry of other franchises opening, all with flashy colors and colorful art-deco interiors. They all have catchy names like 'Cili Pica', 'Katpedele Pica', 'Mambo Pica', 'Forum Pica', 'Punto Pica'…..and all of them serve an assortment of salads, soups, hot meals, ‘traditional’ Lithuanian dishes, and of course Lithuanian-Style pizza.
In the Lithuanian pizza tradition, pizza is served with thin crust, very little tomato sauce, and an assortment of toppings. The toppings, cheese and bread on Lithuanian pizza is much less of an ensemble then a number of different ingredients coexisting, if you get what I mean. Sauce for your pizza is served to you in small ramkins, in a small gravy dish, or a maple syrup-style pitcher, and in some places it is simply served in a plastic ketchup bottle thing. The sauces are mayonnaise-based, some having spices, some just plain mayonnaise, and some slightly spicy. Ketchup is often served as an option as well.
You prepare your own pizza by dousing it in the sauce of your choice. And when I say douse, I mean smothering your pizza with the white stuff. It is the only way (and, in fact, the best and tastiest way 😊) to eat it here in Lithuania.
Returning to Pizza Hut, the problem with their pizza was that in an attempt to appeal to the Lithuanian customer, they try to make Pizza the Lithuanian way---with little sauce on the pizza and the sauce served separately—and in doing so, end up creating something that is neither American nor Lithuanian. The pizza we ordered was very bready and very dry, with no sauce. The sauces that came with it were a mayonnaise sauce(I think it was literally just mayonnaise and no spices/flavor), and Ketchup, neither of which suited the pizza we had ordered. On top of that we ordered a Pizza Hut Salad bar, which even compared to the Pizza Hut salad bar in the US was very bad.
The highlight of the meal was the 'Ledai Fabrika', or, ‘Ice Cream Factory,’ which was an ice cream Sundae bar. You can load as much ice cream and toppings as you want in the bowl for two bucks. The only problem was that we ate way too much ice cream and chocolate sauce, which left us with stomach aches.
Word to the wise: Do not eat at Pizza Hut when visiting Kaunas, Lithuania.
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