Fun Facts About Quintessential Russian Food
The Russian Revolution may have sparked over bread riots, but few people look to Russia for haute cuisine. Perhaps they should.
Caviar is perhaps the most famous food export from Russia; lightly salted roe or eggs of fish such as sturgeon, salmon, and whitefish. The three varieties of caviar are beluga, osetra, and sevruga. Sturgeon roe is considered "true" caviar and beluga sturgeon is the most highly prized variety. Beluga eggs are large and soft, usually pea-sized. Although it is a costly delicacy, Russians serve caviar at celebrations, such as weddings and holiday feasts.
Other Russian foods include smoked meats, yoghurts, cheeses, special pancakes, and salads.
Traditional Russian Dishes
After caviar, perhaps the most famous food export of Russia is the blini. Taking its name form the Old Slavic verb "to mill", the blini has ritual significance for the pre-Christian Slavics as a symbol for the sun. Blini were traditionally prepared at the end of the winter to honor the rebirth of the sun during Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week or Butter Week. The Orthodox Church has carried on this pagan tradition to this day. Blini can be made from wheat, buckwheat, or other grains. They are traditionally slathered with butter and served with either cream or caviar on top.
Katlyeti are meat cakes or small pan-fried meatloaves. They are most often made from pork and beef as these meats are relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare. The meats are whisked with onions and milk and then placed on a frying pan to cook.
Amongst the most notable Russian dishes is the specialty, pelmeni, a form of dumpling, which comprises mince meat wrapped in thin dough made from flour, eggs, and milk. Pelmeni is the national dish of Russian Siberia; the name, deriving from languages spoken in the Ural mountain regions, translates as "bread ear" or sometimes "bear ear".
The pirozhki is also a pastry dish. Pirozhki are small buns made of yeast dough or short pastry, filled with a variety of different foods, such as chopped, hard-boiled eggs, minced meats, or select vegetables. According to the ancient Slavic tradition, once prepared, pirozhki are baked; according to the tradition of 16th century Tatars, the pirozhki should be shallow-fried. The most common fillings for pirozhki are: sautéed fish with onions and chopped, hard-boiled eggs, chopped meat mixed with sautéed onions and eggs, and mashed potatoes mixed with eggs and sour cream.
Popular in the former Soviet Union countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Uzbekistan is the shashlyk, a form of shish kebab, that has been adopted as a Russian dish. The word, "shashlyk" derives from the Crimean Tatars, from whom the Cossaks borrowed the term in the 16th century. Shashlyk arrived in Moscow in the late 19th century and have been popular ever since. The most common shashlyk comprises of marinated meat, grilled on a skewer, sliced, often served with alternated slices of onions to enhance the general flavor of the dish.
Characteristics of Russian Food
If you sample a traditional Russian dish (start with any of the ones described above), you'll probably notice that they are pretty filling. Russians typically have one main meal during the day. That meal generally consists of meats and dairy products, as these contain high concentrations of proteins, fats, and certain minerals. Russians have apparently never been fans of vegetables, except mushrooms.
You can, however, enjoy a visit to the local market in most areas of Russia, including the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg; if you don't have the stomach for a big meal, you can probably satisfy your appetite sampling the fruits, yoghurts, cheeses, and honeys that are generally on offer.
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