A Brief Tour Across Russian Cuisine

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.


Porridge

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.

Turnip

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.
Meat products
Speaking of meat products, people consumed the meat of domestic animals and poultry, as well as the flesh of wildfowl. And if chickens, ducks, geese (both domestic and wild), hares, lamb, beef and pork could be found on the tables of both a wealthy peasant and a landlord, the possibility to diversify the table with quails, blackcocks, wood grouses, wild boars, elks or bears was largely the privilege of merchants and nobility, and very rarely – of wealthy peasants. However, there were hunters who spent a lot of time in the forests hunting game.
Kholodets
At last, the time has come to give details about a dish as distinct as kholodets. Kholodets (aka studen’) is gelatin made from meat (beef or pork) stock with pieces of meat embedded in it. Nowadays, pig’s feet, ears and tails are usually used, but back in the day the ideal kholodets was made from cow head, legs and brains. To make the stock thicken, the meat with bones is simmered for 5 to 12 hours. Then, the stock is strained, the meat is separated from the bone (normally, it leaves the bone by itself), the meat is placed on the vessel’s bottom, covered with stock and left to cool off (for instance, in a fridge). Kholodets is served after it becomes gelatin, with chopped horseradish (chren) or hot mustard.
Fish

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

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. 

Mushrooms

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

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.