RUSSIAN DISHES AND FOOD FROM THE FORMER SOVIET UNION

COMMON RUSSIAN FOODS

Typical Russian dishes include blinis (buckwheat crepes, filled with potatoes, mushrooms, herring, red and black caviar, or cabbage, and rolled up and dipped in sour cream, melted butter or condensed milk); kasha (buckwheat porridge, sometimes mixed with mushrooms), and pelmeni (ravioli-like, meat-filled Siberian dumplings, often smothered with sour cream), golubtsy (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), plov (Central-Asian style rice pilaf), pizozhki (fried or baked turnovers stuffed with cabbage, minced meat, mushrooms or potatoes); apple, mushroom and cabbage pies, and fruit-stuffed pirozhki.

Meals are typically eaten in the kitchen. A meal served to a guest at someone’s home might include a variety of cold meats, cheeses, fruits and raw vegetables from Georgia and Armenia, salmon and sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, red and black caviar served with homemade blinis, several kinds of meat pies and dumplings accompanied by many rounds of toasts with vodka and beer.

Traditional peasant food include porridge for breakfast, cabbage soup, picked cucumbers, pumpkin, salted watermelon, hot bread and butter, pickled cabbage, homemade vermicelli, mutton, chicken, cold lamb trotters, baked potatoes, wheat gruel with butter, vermicelli with dried cherries, pancakes and clotted cream

The best Russian food is served in homes, not restaurants, and includes simple, working-class, unpretentious fish or meat-and-potato dishes, and things like home-grown currants, forest-gathered pickled mushrooms, soured goat's milk, cucumber soup, mashed potatoes, and sweet buttery pancakes with honey or strawberries.

Cabbage pie is a favorite food. Many Russians eat their brown bread with salt sprinkled on it. Herring os a popular lunch food. Great care is taken to pull out the bones. Some people have bologna sandwich for breakfast and lunch and a bx of chocolates for dinner. Russian camping food includes borscht, raw garlic, pork fat and grain alcohol mixed with river water.

Rye bread is very popular in Russia, Poland, Germany and Scandinavia. Compared to it the writer Yuri Chernichenko said "white bread is cotton wool." Rye comes from a weed that invades wheat fields. It is grain that thrives in areas with poor soil, limited sunshine and extended period of cold, dampness and drought and thus is an ideal crop from northern Europe, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia.

Russian Meat and Fish Dishes

Russian meat and fish dishes include zharkoe porusskie (stuffed chicken breasts), shashlyk (Russian shish kebab made from marinated and barbecued meat), chakhabili (stewed chicken in tomatoes and herbs), chicken Kiev (fried boneless chicken stuffed with butter), beef stroganoff (sauteed beef with mushrooms and onions in sour cream sauce) and satsivi (chicken with a sauce made of pounded walnuts, garlic and red and black peppers).

You can also get chicken Tabaka (Caucasian-style grilled chicken), tziply-onok tabaka (grilled fried chicken with a sauce made from sour plums, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice), porzarka (a fried beef dish), eskalop (Russian-style pork chops), bifsteak (more likely hamburger than steak), kotlety (deep-fried meat patties), and bitki (fried beef patties with caraway seeds and beets).

Among the other meat dishes you can get are beef with roasted potatoes, crunchy sausages, Doktorskaya salami, smoked pork, duck in gravy, suckling pig, roast chicken, and fatty meat. Exotic Russian meat dishes include steak tartar (sliced raw beef with egg yoke and chopped onions) and salo (cold chunks of pork fat).

Fresh game, such as venison, moose (elk) meat, and arctic hare are popular. Reindeer meat is prepared a number of ways. You can get smoked reindeer meat, air-dried reindeer meat, reindeer stew, reindeer burgers, salted smoked reindeer, and spiced reindeer meat sliced as thin as prosciuto.

Fish dishes include grilled salmon, steamed turbot, smoked sturgeon with horseradish sauce, trout, pike perch, omul (a salmon-like fish from Lake Baikal), salmon, cured sturgeon, crabs halvah, caviar-stuffed salmon, and pazhi (fried fish in walnut sauce). Russians like to eat caviar on thickly-buttered toast or bread.

See Separate Article on Caviar.

Russian Appetizers, Salads and Soups

Zaduki (cold salads, appetizers and side dishes) and Zakuski (hors d'ouvres) are fixtures of hotel buffet lunches, restaurant smorgesborgs and party meals at people's houses. They are usually served with black bread. These include things like pickled herring; rolls with cranberries, mushrooms or cabbage; stuffed cabbage; green peppers covered in gravy; sausages; smoked fish and pickles; canned meat; sklami (cold meat); smoked fish; herring in mustard or sour cream; smoked salmon; and herring with potatoes (a Yeltsin favorite).

Among the salad favorites are potato salad; pickled tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and cucumbers; marinated garlic; eggplant salad; mushroom salad; salat staleechni (chopped vegetables, potato, eggs with sour cream and mayonnaise); salat olivier (chicken potatoes, carrots and peas in dill sour cream sauce); cucumber and tomato salad; marinated mushrooms; tomatoes and cucumbers covered with sour cream; beet, walnut and herring salad; and agurtso so smetanoi (cucumber and sour cream salad with dill).

Soups include borscht (cold beet soup, usually with cabbage in beef stock); shchee (bland cabbage soup, sometimes with sour cream); pokhlyobska (hearty peasant soup made with barely and wild mushrooms); solyanka (spicy stew or soup made with pieces of fish or meat); ukha (clear fish soup); sourel soup with kidneys; and wild mushroom soup.

Russian borscht tends to emphasize beets while Ukrainian borscht is more of a meat-and-vegetable soup. Borscht variations include hot borscht flavored with horseradish, borscht made meat extract and borscht with tomatoes. Mockba (a combination of sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and onions) is a favorite sauce and topping. Russian dip sausages in ketchup. Common vegetables include peas, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes,

Siberian, Central Asian and Scandinavian-Style Dishes

Scandinavian-Style Dishes include smoked salmon, salted salmon, salted herring, loaf of beef or mutton with salted herring, fish-and-pork pie, herring salad (herring mixed with sour cream, apples and onions), salmon soup, beef sausages, Scandinavian breads, dry-cooked fish and smoked and fresh fish of all kinds.

Siberian Dishes include pelmeni (ravioli-like, meat-filled Siberian dumplings, often smothered with sour cream), complex soups and meat stews, omul (a tangy, salmon-like fish from Lake Baikal), talkan (a kind f porridge made from barley, oats, flour and water), baursaki (fried dough made of flour, eggs and water), sansu (ribbons of dough fried in fat or butter) and pies with a variety of stuffings. Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in some parts of Siberia. Reindeer dishes are popular in the north.

A Siberian outdoor feast include tomato-and-cucumber salad, coleslaw, whole tomatoes, cold cuts, cheese, slices of brown bread, guran (small Siberian deer) meat, sashlik (Russian shish kebab), bukhely (dill-seasoned-soup with bone and potatoes in a beef broth) and five kinds of berries. Cheese ice-cream and the frozen marrow from reindeer bones are also popular.

Central Asian Dishes include shashkyl (kebabs, often made with mutton and served with bread), plov(pilaf-style rice mixed with meat, onions and carrots and other things), mansi (steamed lamb dumplings, often served with minted sour cream), laghman (Chinese-style noodles), moshkichiri (bean and meat soup), dimlama (braised meat, potatoes, onions), sheep fat, mutton and various parts of the sheep. Other dishes include shurpa (chickpea soup), hunon (noodle roll filled with meat) samsa (deep-fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables) and cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with tomatoes, peppers and meat.

A typical meal in Central Asia consists nan or chorek (local flat round bread), greasy plov and pickled tomatoes or cucumbers, koreak salad (shredded vegetables in a spicy dressing) or potatoes. There are a wide variety of breads: leavened and unleavened, and sprinkled with things like sesame, nutmeg, poppy seeds or raisins. Central Asians like to eat plov mixed with raisins or dried fruit. A wide variety of milk products from sheep, cows, goats, horses and camels are available. These include cheeses, yoghurt, cottage cheese, aryan (yoghurt drink), kurd (salty dried balls), and kaimak (sweet cream skimmed from fresh milk).

Caucasus Dishes

Staples from the Caucasus include foods made of grains, dairy products and meats. Among the traditional dishes are khinkal (spiced meat stuffed in a dough pouch); other dough casings of various kinds, filled with meat, cheese, wild greens, eggs, nuts, squash, fowl, grains, dried apricots, onions, barberry; kyurze (A kind ravioli stuffed with meat, pumpkin, nettles or something else); dolma (stuffed grape or cabbage leaves); various kinds of soup made with beans, rice, groats and noodles); pilaf; shashlik (a kind of scrambled eggs); porridge made with wheat, corn or maize and cooked with water or milk. Flat loaves of unleavened or yeasted bread called tarumi or tondir are baked in clay ovens or on a griddle or a hearth. The dough is pressed against the wall of the oven. Foods introduced by the Russians includes borscht, salads and cutlets.

Armenian Dishes include piti (traditional Armenian stew prepared in individual clay pots and made with lamb, chickpeas and plums), roast chicken; fried onions; vegetable fritters; yogurt with minced cucumber; grilled peppers, leek and parsley stalks; pickled eggplant; mutton cutlets; assorted cheeses; bread; shish kebab; dolma (minced lamb wrapped in grape leaves); pilaf with meat, raisin and persimmons; pilaf with rice, beans and walnuts; meat dumplings; soup with yogurt, rice and herbs, flour soups made with buttermilk; pantries with various fillings; and porridges made with beans, rice, oats and other grains.

Among the most common Georgian dishes are mtsvadi with tqemali (shish kebab with sour plum sauce), satsivi with bazhe (chicken with spicy walnut sauce), khachapuri (cheese-filled flat bread), chikhirtma (a soup made with chicken bouillon, egg yolks, wine vinegar and herbs), lobio (bean flavored with spices), pkhali (a salad of minced vegetables), bazhe (roasted chicken with walnut sauce), mchadi (fat corn bread), and lamb-stuffed dumplings. Tabaka is a Georgian chicken dish in which the bird is flattened under a weight.

Fixtures of Georgian supras (feasts) are things like baby eggplants stuffed with hazelnut paste; lamb and tarragon stew; pork with plum sauce; chicken with garlic; lamb and stewed tomatoes; meat dumplings; goat cheese; cheese pies; bread; tomatoes; cucumbers; beetroot salad; red beans with spices, green onions, garlic, spicy sauces; spinach made with garlic, ground walnuts and pomegranate seeds; and lots and lots wine. Churchkhela is gummy sweet that looks like a purple sausage and is made from dipping walnuts in boiled grape skins. Vegetables in Russia

Vegetarianism was kind of fashionable in the czarist era. Tolstoy was a vegetarian. In the Communist era, vegetarianism was suppressed and forbidden because it was equated with the fasting customs of the Orthodox church. “If someone spoke of vegetarian food, it was almost a crime against the state." Since the break up of the Soviet Union, vegetarianism has made a come back.

Potatoes are an important staple food. Eastern Europeans eat more potatoes per capita than any other people on the planet. Russia grows about one third on the world's potatoes. Poland is number two with 15 percent and the United States is a distant third with 5 percent. In the 1840s, Princess Evdokiya Golitsyna, one of Pushkin’s lovers, campaigned against the introduction of the potato as infringement o Russia’s sovereignty.

Getting fresh vegetables is considered a real treat. Many Russians get them from their own gardens. They enjoy eating eat pickled cucumbers and tomatoes that they grow in their gardens. Carrots are very common. Many families eat carrots with ever meal and some poor people survive off carrot soup.

Russia is one of the world's largest producers of beets. The prime ingredient in borscht, a soup native to Russia and Poland, beets are high in iron, riboflavin, Vitamins A and C. There are different kinds of beets. Some look like giant radishes. Other look like red carrots. And others still are white. They have traditionally been boiled for an hour or more, skinned and soaked over night in cold water, vinegar and sugar. People who prepare beets often complain that the natural dye stains their fingers and kitchen counters.

Fruit, Berries and Mushrooms in Russia

Watermelons are a popular summer treat, and the best watermelons come from Astrakhan near the Caspian Sea. "When you eat a ripe Astrakhan watermelon," on street vendor told the New York Times, “you don't want to stop eating. You know the best way to eat an Astrakhan watermelon? Without a shirt or a T-shirt so the juices run down chin and onto your belly."

Common fruits include apricots, melons, grapes, pears, oranges and apples. Melons come from Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Increasingly more are coming from greenhouses in central European Russia. Eastern Europeans love banana. In the Soviet era, bananas were prized and expensive. Some people went years without eating them even though they liked them very much. Some bananas still come from Cuba as they did in the Communist era.

Favorite Russian summertime activities are berry picking and mushroom hunting. Mushrooms are picked for soups and berries for jams. Along the roads you can find people in makeshift stalls or simply sitting behind tables, selling vegetables they grew or mushrooms or berries they have collected. In the 1990s, old women sold raspberries they picked in the forest for about 10 cents a cup. Stewed cloudberries are a Russian favorite. Bears are also quite fond of cloudberries. Every year hundreds of people get sick or die from eating poison mushrooms.

The best salt-cured Russian porcine mushrooms are made in oak barrels that are stored at the bottom of lakes. Vikings and ancient Siberians ate a fungus with bright red and white spots—the fly agaric mushroom—a psychoactive mushroom that picked them up and had the ability to "eliminate feelings of fatigue...in an extremely harsh environment."

Russian Snacks, Desserts and Sweets

Favorite Russian desserts include sirniki (fried cakes made from sweetened farmer's cheese); kompot (stewed dried fruit); kisel (a thick or thin pudding made from fresh fruit); cakes with homemade blueberry, raspberry and plum jam; cream-filled tortes; pastries; cheeses; puddings; mouse; custard; apple, mushroom and cabbage pies; and fruit-stuffed pirozhki. Russia is known for its dark, slightly bitter chocolate. The most respected maker is the Red October chocolate factory. Russian ice cream in the opinion of many is excellent.

Lots of hot dog vendors have shown up in Moscow and other Russian cities. They serve New-York-style franks with ketchup, French-style hot dogs stuffed through a hole in a baguette, Danish wieners smothered in onions; Georgian cheese breads; and Russian-style dogs served on white bread with butter. There are also lots of potatoes places, that sell baked potatoes with a variety of toppings; shashilchnaya (kebab vendors), that sell kebabs with bread and catsup; pyelmennaya ( pelmeni bars) that offer Siberian meat-filled dumplings; blinnaya ( blini bars) that serve blini with margarine, jam or smoked fish; and sosisochnaya (sausage bars). On the streets you can get delicious ice cream, meat pastries, pancakes, salted herring, waffles with ice cream, beer and soda, and pizza. Russians like pizza covered with mockba, a combination of sardines, tuna, mackerel, salmon and onions.

World largest consumers of ice cream (pints per capita in 1997): 1) the United States (42.9); 2) Australia (39); 3) Sweden (33.3); 4) Canada (19.3); 5) Italy (19.1); 6) Netherlands (18.6); 7) Israel (17.9); 8) Britain (17.2); 9) France (14.5); 10) Germany (12.4); 11) Japan (10.5); 12) South Korea (9.6); 13) Taiwan (7,7); 14) Argentina (7.6); 15) Poland (4.7); 16) South Africa (4.6); 17) Russia (4.5); 18) Mexico (2.9); 19) Brazil (2.4). Price per pint of ice cream in Russia: $1.07. [Source: Euromonitor]

Mars has candy factories in Russia. 1995, only five percent of shelf space in Moscow's stores was taken up with Russian chocolate. the remainder occupied by products from Mars, Cadbury, Hershey and Nestles, who have spent millions on advertising in Russia. According to one Russian joke, a child who is asked to name the planets says, "Mercury, Venus, Mars, Snickers."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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