You cannot go to Russia without knowing the right ones!
The Russian cuisine is extremely diverse and nourishing and its origin is lost in centuries. Here on these pages I would like to introduce you to what Russians usually eat and what they are especially fond of. You'll get to know what our traditional courses are and even learn some of our most cherished recipes so that you could cook a couple of the delicious Russian meals at home!
The tastiest Russian meals are home-made, and not everywhere a public place can be found where meals are cooked according to the authentic Russian traditions of our mothers and grandmothers. But we know several places where you are not going to be disappointed by the choice, the quality and the prices! One of such places is Russian restaurant called "At Gorchakov's". You'll find a warm atmosphere, wonderful Russian authentic interior, hospitality and friendliness. But anyway you should be in the know when you open the menu and that is why we invite you to read this material which has been carefully collected from different old and modern books and articles for you, as well as learn our personal notes on eating in contemporary Russia. But let's start from the traditions of ancient Russia.
Russian people have always eaten a lot! Food was very important for them as it was the symbol of their wealth, social position, health and peace in the family. That is why there were so many traditions associated with meals. Russian dinners were marveled at all over the world, especially those that were held at the Imperial court. There could be more than 3000 people present at dinner; they were served by more than 500 waiters and other servants. Dinners could go on for hours. They could start at 3 pm and be over far after midnight or even in the morning. During the meal there could be more than 300 different courses served. There were several dining rooms in the palaces of the Emperor and in other aristocratic homes.
When you visit the Imperial palaces you will be able to see huge tables laid for 30 and more persons, and upon them - beautiful services and tableware made of the thinnest porcelain, silver, and gold decorated with jewels, produced at St. Petersburg, Moscow and other factories. Foreign ambassadors were astonished at the fact that Russian aristocrats ate and drank "on gold". They never imagined a regular dinner for 300 persons who just "came by" and "dropped in".
That was the custom of Russian hospitality. No host was ever unprepared for any amount of guests. Tables were full of most sophisticated as well as plain courses - ducks, rabbits, venison, mutton, poultry, fish of any kind, red and black caviar, traditional pastry, gorgeous desserts, and, of course, Russian traditional drinks - vodka, ale (myod), kvas, sbiten, and tea. In ancient Russia (before Peter the Great's time) men and women ate separately when guests came over.
But the host's wife had to come in front of the male guests, bow to them with bread and salt in her hands, and every guest had to come up to her and kiss her. In some rich homes the hostess had to come up to every guest in different clothes - after each kiss she left and returned dressed in another garment - it was the way to show that the family was very well off. It was an insult to the host if his guest left home sober or not full. Sometimes guests were forced to drink even if they did not want to. After the feast was over the hostess gave each of the many guests a lot of food to take home with them. It was an insult not to take the food offered. By the way, this tradition still exists.
Nowadays in our country almost all the people prefer authentic Russian food, even when they dine out. Here are traditional Russian courses that are most delicious, that are loved by both Russians and overseas guests so much and that are worth trying here in Russia:
Borsch.It is the most popular and the most famous Russian soup. There is a strong belief that a woman is a good wife only if she can cook borsch. Of course it is said humorously but there's a true point to it because everybody loves borsch! It is made on a meat or chicken bouillon of beetroots, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. Borsch can be hot or cold. The taste of borsch is different with every cook, because there is space for imagination when you are making it! If you got interested and would like to try and cook borsch at home, you are welcome to peep in here. But we advise you to first try it at a Russian restaurant or at a Russian home and then come back here, jot down the recipe and cook it for your friends or relatives or for yourself!
Solyanka.Some people love it more than borsch! It's the favorite of many people whom we know, including foreign guests! Solyanka is a very special soup. It's made of different kinds of meat, pickled cucumbers, olives, pepper and spices. Some put prunes or lemon inside - there are different ways of cooking this soup.
Pelmeni.They are little balls of minced meat wrapped in thin dough and boiled in water. They are especially delicious with different sauces - sour cream, mushroom sauce, tomato sauce, and also with butter, vinegar, or mayonnaise. Russians eat pelmeni in tons! They can be home-made (then they are especially tasty) or one can buy them ready and frozen at a department store and just boil at home very quickly. That is why they are sometimes humorously called "food for bachelors". In restaurants they are hand-made and usually the cook makes them a real work of art!
Golubtsi.They are big pieces of minced meat with rice and spices inside, wrapped in cabbage leaves and stewed in tomato sauce with prunes, greens, pepper or other spices (like thyme, coriander, basil etc.). Golubtsi are considered to be a meal for special occasions and they are not cooked very often, but nevertheless loved by practically every Russian.
Blini (pancakes).These are very special in Russia. Their recipe is very ancient. Even many centuries ago Russians cooked them. We say "to bake blini" by old tradition though they are actually fried on a frying pan now. It is considered the most elaborate art of a cook to make blini very thin. And believe me it is not an easy thing to do! Blini are baked of wheat flour and served with diverse fillings - butter, sour cream, honey, salmon, trout, caviar, mushrooms, minced meat, cottage cheese, home-made jam (varenye) of such forest berries as bilberry (whortleberry), red bilberry (red whortleberry), cranberry, gooseberry, cloudberry, raspberry, bramble (blackberry) etc. Initially blini were made to such traditional Russian holiday as Maslenitsa. This name comes from the Russian word "maslo" which means butter. This holiday is still widespread in our country. It symbolizes saying farewell to winter and welcoming of spring. Maslenitsa means joy, feasts, presents and public festivities. People used to dress up and go out visiting their friends and relatives and in every home there were (and are now) blini made for everyone!
Oladyi.They are small very thick pancakes made in a slightly different way than blini. Here, just the opposite, the art of making them means that they should be as thick as possible. They cannot be filled with anything, but they are usually eaten with sour cream, honey, or varenye.
Plov.Originally this meal was not Russian; rather it came to us from Azerbaijan which was part of the Soviet Union once. However, it is extremely popular here. It is rice cooked in a special way with oil, carrots, and chicken, meat or turkey.
Vareniki.These are pieces of thin dough in which different stuff is wrapped - berries, cottage cheese, sometimes potatoes or buckwheat. They are boiled and then served with sour cream or butter.
Meat "a la Peter".Perhaps this was the favorite course of Peter the Great, that's why it's called so, but we cannot tell you for sure. One thing is certain - it's absolutely delicious! This is meat stewed with mushrooms and onions and then baked in the oven in pots! This very special meal is cooked for great holidays as it requires great skill of the cook.
Syrniki.These are thick scones made of cottage cheese mixed with sugar, eggs and flour. Our foreign guests are crazy about them! They are eaten with sour cream, varenye, or honey and are especially good with tea. Try to make them yourself!
Ukha.It is a very special Russian fish soup. Cooking real ukha is an art. It is especially delicious if cooked outdoors. Say, you go fishing and then cook ukha out of the fresh fish that you've just caught yourself, under the open air in an iron kettle on the open fire. Ukha should smell of the fire smoke! And it is usual to have it together with Russian vodka. Got interested in the experience of Russian fishing? Try it yourself when you are here! Learn more on the page We offer.
Kholodets.This is also a very special meal not for having it every day. It is chopped and mashed meat poured over with broth and stiffened like jelly. It is served with mustard or horse radish.
Mushrooms.Only Russians eat mushrooms in such quantities! There are so many kinds of mushrooms here that they cannot be properly counted. It's an ancient Russian tradition to pick up mushrooms in the forest, eat them freshly cooked (fried, stewed, or boiled in a soup), and also pickle, dry or marinate them for a long Russian winter! Soups are especially tasty if made of dried, not fresh mushrooms, though it depends on a kind of mushroom. In the English language there are even no names for the mushrooms that are picked here in Russia. If you are in our country in late summer or early autumn, we invite you for an authentic Russian experience - mushroom picking in the forest! That is something that you would not be able to take up on your own. Russian forests are magical and mysterious; they are real forests, not groves. Forests where mushrooms and berries can be picked are often characters of Russian fairy tales and legends. They are filled with ancient and mysterious creatures… If you want to feel the atmosphere of the real Russia this adventure is for you!
Salad "Vinaigrette".This salad is made of beetroots, carrots, potatoes, peas, pickled cucumbers, with oil as a dressing.
Herring "under the fur coat".Oh, this is really loved by us Russians! This salad is composed of several layers (as many as the cook likes) and contains beetroot, carrots, potatoes, herring, onions, eggs, with mayonnaise as a dressing.
Smoked or salted salmon or trout.This should be tried.
We are sure you'll love Russian food as much as you'll love our wonderful country. And now that you've read all this it's time for you to go and have something to eat as we are sure this story made you very hungry indeed!