You may have heard about Russian food, but had very few opportunities to sample any of the nation’s understated cuisine. Visiting the country is the perfect opportunity to expand your Russian food and drink knowledge beyond just vodka and chicken kievs. If you make it though a Russian voyage without trying any, if not all, of the following, you’ve not been to Russia!
This is probably one of Russia’s defining dishes. You may wonder what exactly is so amazing about a bowl of cabbage in meat stock. It is a staple and represents Russia’s rich history. This soup from the Soviet kitchen was eaten by peasants and at the high table of the Kremlin alike. It gets its aptly coloured redness from its main ingredient – the beetroot.
Borshch is somewhat of an impostor in that it originated from the Ukrainian, but is now thought of as quintessentially Russian cuisine. The name for the soup comes from the Slav ‘borshchevik’ which refers to hogweed, a herb whose leaves and stalks were commonly used for broths. It can be served both hot and cold and usually is complemented with boiled potatoes or a dollop of Slivki (soured cream).
Other soups found in Russia include Okroshka, a cool, fresh broth made with Kvass (bread beer) and vegetables such a cucumber and spring onions, and Solyanka, a thick soup with a bit of a spicy kick commonly containing either meat fish or mushrooms.
Borshch is traditionally made with pork fat, but the Jewish variation will use an alternative to comply with the kosher food laws.
Every nation has its dumpling, and Pelmeni is the Russian version. The filling is wrapped in unleavened dough made from flour, water and sometimes egg. They originated from Tartastan in Siberia but some believe they derived from China, hence the use of spices. The filling is typical a meatball-type mixture.
Stroganov has its origins in 19th century Russia. The dish of sautéed beef in a sauce with sour cream, onions and mushrooms is thought to get its name from Russian diplomat, Count Pavel Strognanoff.
These are small buns, which have been baked or fried and contain a variety of fillings. It is probably the Russian counterpart to the pie. They come both in sweet and savoury, with fillings varying from stewed apples and fresh fruit to cottage cheese, vegetables, boiled eggs, fish and meat.
They get their common golden appearance from an egg gaze before they are cooked. Greeks and Latvians also have their own version of the ‘stuffed bun’.
Also known as Blini, it is a traditional Russian pancake not too different from a crepe. Pancakes in Russia are usually made with yeasted batter, which is left to rise and then diluted with water or milk. They are then baked in a traditional oven, but nowadays they are usually pan-fried. These are best served with sour cream, jam, honey or caviar.
Blini are a staple food on Russian tables and are also eaten during the spring festivities of Maslenitsa.
Italians are not the only ones who love ice cream. Morozhenoe is sold in kiosks in the cities and found in every restaurant whether covered in fruit, chocolate or nuts. They don’t stop in the summer. Their love for ice cream is an all-year one, which is a somewhat unusual guilty pleasure considering the bitterness of Russian winters!