A long time ago, travelers to Russia noticed that an abundance of food was the main feature of a Russian table. It has always been the case that, even in middle class Russian families, a regular dinner consists of several dishes served one after another, not to mention the national tradition of arranging the table for holidays or parties. The real Russian feast includes such an incredible variety of dishes that it would be impossible to name them all; fish in aspic and grilled fish, piglet stuffed with buckwheat kasha, wildfowl, greasy side dishes and pokhlyobkas, as well as soups made from three sorts of fish, fowl and saffron. The table is decorated with a huge kurnik, a pancake pie stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and rice. Unlike Europeans, Russians willingly and often have buckwheat or wild mushrooms as staples of their diet.
One cannot imagine the traditional Russian table without soup: shchi (cabbage soup), borscht or pokhlyobka. For a long time, the spoon was the only flatware in peasant homes: the master of the house used to take it at the beginning of dinner not only to eat with but also to discipline his fidgety children by banging the table or even their foreheads with it.
Fish is loved in Russia and cooked in a big variety of ways. Tourists will be curious to taste the Russian oukha, a light broth made with fish of different kinds, including sturgeon, huso and starlet, which are especially tasty. Fish is also roasted, baked in a stove, salted, cured or stewed in a pot with vegetables and potatoes. Generally, any meat, fish or vegetable dish cooked in a traditional Russian clay pot will definitely impress you with its rich taste.
One must taste Siberian pelmeni (ravioli), small pieces of chopped meat or fish wrapped in dough and boiled, as well as Russian appetizers such as crunchy pickles, marinated mushrooms or sauerkraut, which are also exquisite. None can be indifferent about pastries with most different stuffings, from cabbage to berries, as well as by honey spice cookies, tasty butter cookies or kulich (Easter coffee cake) with raisin and candied orange peel usually cooked for the Russian Orthodox Easter celebration. Among beverages, Russians have always preferred bread kvass, berry drinks (mainly from cranberries or fox berries), honey-spiced wine, mead and other mild alcoholic beverages based on honey. However, the most favourite Russian beverage is still vodka.
The notions of vodka, Russia and Russians seem to be inseparable. Indeed, undiluted vodka, cold but ice-less, is preferred to all alcoholic beverages in Russia. It warms one up well in frosty weather. The production of vodka (â€œbread wineâ€) in Russia started at the end of the 14th century. It was made of rye, wheat or barley with different degrees of strength; however, the beverage produced in Russia today isn’t as old. Regular vodka is a 40 percent aqueous solution of distilled spirit, whose formula was worked out in the 19th century by Dmitri Mendeleyev, a famous chemist who discovered the periodic law. There are even several museums of vodka in Russia, one it St. Petersburg and others in the old cities of Uglich and Myshkin on the Volga. Visitors have the chance to taste the beverage and to learn about its history as well as to get to know how to choose the best quality vodka.
Russians are legendary for their drinking, with no exaggeration. There are also numerous jokes on this topic, for example. “If vodka doesn’t let you work, stop working,” or “Drunk in the morning, free for the whole day” and the like. Still, though Russians know how to rest really well, we have another proverb that says: “Drink, but don’t forget about business.”
Thin, rosy pancakes cooked from liquid dough on a hot pan are a symbol of the warm spring sun and the pagan holiday of Shrovetide. In Russia, pancakes are made from different flours and corns, both yeasty and unleavened, with or without spices added during the cooking. Pancakes are eaten with butter, jam, honey salmon, caviar or sour cream. During the entire of Shrovetide, people try to gorge themselves, since Lent follows right after it. By the way, stuffing oneself is another Russian national pastime, and sometimes it ends badly. There is the story of famous fable writer Ivan Krylov (1769-1844), also called “the Russian La Fontaine,” who died soon after eating a life-threatening two-foot pile of pancakes in one sitting.
Famous Russian caviar is exported worldwide, and connoisseus prize it more than rubies. Caviar is produced in the Volga and Caspian Sea areas, where sturgeon like fish species, such as husos, osseters, sevryugas and starlets, are still abundant. The caviar of husos, which is collected during several weeks in the spring and the autumn in the Volga Delta, is of the best quality. The caviar is then watered, freed of its impurities and salted in special metal vases. Experienced masters blend the caviars of several sturgeons, selecting them by colour, consistency and some other features known only to them. The brine must not be too strong: 45 grammes of salt per liter of water is enough.
Russia is in first place above all other countries when it comes to bread consumption per capita, and bread is always the centerpiece of any Russian table, especially in the families of simple, working-class people. A proverb says: “Bread is at the head of everything.” Bread and salt are used to accompany all the vicissitudes of Russiansâ€™ daily life. Usually, dear guests or grooms and brides were met with bread and salt, and bread was packed first before a long journey. Traditional Russian bread is called “black” because it is made of rye flour. Foreign tourists like taking it with them as a souvenir.
This is one of the tastiest soups in Russia and the Ukraine. Its name is derived from an ancient word that meant “beat”, which is the primary component of borscht. The best borscht is cooked using a meat-based broth, and in the traditional manner, Russians make the soup rich and greasy, though it can be cooked for vegetarians as well. A combination of several kinds of vegetables, such as beets, carrots cabbage and potatoes, gives the borscht its special taste; various roots, spices and garlic may also be added. Freshly baked rolls, a necessary side dish of any dinner with borscht as the first course, are served piping hot and smeared with garlic. The dish achieves a special taste and quality when stewed in a Russian stove, where moderate heat is evenly applied.
This non-alcoholic beverage can really quench one’s thirst and is highly appreciated in Russia. Kvass is made by fermenting tea mixed with water, yeast, sugar and rye bread. Not only is this beverage tasty but also good for one’s health: it balances the metabolism and helps the heart in good working condition. It’s not by accident that a proverb says: “Russian kvass has saved many lives” Okroshka, a kind of cold summer soup made with kvass, is very tasty as well. Its boiled ingredients are meat (more rarely, fish), eggs and vegetables (potatoes and carrot), with fresh cucumbers, garden greens and sour cream added in.