Russians are famous for their hospitality. It is a tradition in Russia to hospitably welcome and generously wine and dine guests. A rich table has been one of the signs of prosperity and a pledge of friendliness toward guests. It is for a reason that such a large part of Russian folklore is dedicated to the subject of food. This subject is present not only in proverbs and sayings, but also in songs, couplets and fairy tales. Magic Tablecloth, for instance, is featured in a number of folk tales.
Originally, the menu in Russia wasn’t characterized by its abundancy. It was simple and nutritious and basically included vegetables, cereals, fish and poultry. But porridge was a staple food. It was made from ground barley seeds, millet, wheat (including a special kind of wheat known as spelt), rye, oats, buckwheat and lentils. Rice appeared in the country later, around the 16th century.
The turnip was the most popular vegetable in Russia. It was steamed, boiled, stuffed, mashed, dried, caramelized and its pot liquor was used for medicinal purposes. After the tradition of making salads emerged, they started to add it to salads. Before the arrival of the potato the turnip was among the most popular vegetables on the menu of Russian people. Nowadays, it is not the most popular product on the table, and this is a loss! It contains a lot of healthy nutrients and is very tasty.Steamed turnips are tasty and incredibly easy to cook. There is a reason that in Russia they always say “easier than a steamed turnip”, to characterize work that doesn’t require much effort.
Let’s talk about fish. Long ago, Russians ate fish in areas near rivers and lakes, as well as at the seaside. Nowadays, you can buy fish in every city, although it is more tasty and fresh in the areas where it is caught. In Russia, there are a great number of fish dishes, some traditional and some more modern. Since the days of yore fish have been fried, salted and dried; baked in pies, put in soups and broths. Practically all the fish species that were caught, could be eaten – depending on the fishing area and the habitat. There are many famous dishes made from sturgeon, chub, sterlet, eel, catfish, perch, burbot and many other species.
The most famous fish dish is ukha. Ukha is a fish soup.
Dairy products. Russian people historically have consumed a great number of different kinds of dairy products. The most ancient of them (besides milk itself) is smetana – a cultured milk product from sour cream. It is mostly used as a dressing for soups and salads, but sometimes it is just eaten with a spoon.
Cultured milk products and cheeses are widely available on the Russian menu. Some products might have a strange taste for inexperienced consumers. Ryazhenka, kefir, tvorog, varenets… all of them are healthy and enjoyed by Russians.
In no other country, perhaps, are more mushrooms consumed than in Russia. In many countries mushrooms, considered by Russians to be very tasty and “noble”, are ignored and considered relatively poisonous. People began to gather mushrooms in ancient times, and since then the technique of mushroom hunting has not changed, nor has the recipe for cooking them. Many mushrooms species are gathered for eating; boletus edulis (considered to be the most palatable), leccinum versipelle and leccinum scabrum are among the mushrooms that are gathered in Russia. These mushrooms are used to prepare soups, dried for later use, pickled, or sometimes fried.
Fruits and berries in Russia were not only consumed fresh, baked and dried, but also soused or cooked in honey. Candied berries and jams could be kept for a long time and they allowed people to eat berries and bake sweet pies even in winter. Berries, fruits, and dried fruits were used to make alcohol-free and alcoholic drinks, like, for instance, uzvar (or vzvar) or lingonberry water. In the central part of Russia the main fruits were pears, apples, plums, wild cherries, strawberries, cranberries, lingonberries, stone bramble and viburnum.