Russian Specialities

An overview of traditional and popular Russian dishes and drinks…

Soups

  • Borsh (????) is made from beetroot, vegetables and meat, topped with sour cream
  • Shchi (??) is cabbage soup with meat, herbs and spices. It is sometimes made with sauerkraut (sour cabbage)
  • Ukha (???) is a watery fish broth
  • Solyanka (????????) is a rich and spicy soup made from meat or fish, with pickled and fresh vegetables

Vegetables and Fruit

The most common ingredients in Russian cuisine are potatoes, swedes, beets, onions, carrots and other root vegetables, in addition to cabbages and other leafy greens. Vegetables such as cabbages and cucumbers are preserved by pickling or fermenting them. Mushrooms are used in simple dishes such as sautéed mushrooms in sour cream, fried or salted, or dried or pickled for use at a later date.

Vegetables also appear in many side dishes served alongside meat main courses, as well as salads served as appetisers. One dish of special note is the olivier salad (????? ??????). This is a potato salad that was conceived by a Belgian chef working in Moscow in the 19th century. It contains mayonnaise, pickles, capers, olives, eggs and meat. It is also known as Russian salad and tends to follow the same recipe, but with simpler ingredients.

The range of fruit that features in Russian cooking is traditionally quite limited, with the most common being apples, pears and berries. Used as fillings for cakes, pies, pirogi and pancakes, they are also pickled, preserved or made into jam for use in winter.

Meat

  • Boiled meat cooked in soup or porridge
  • Offal: liver, kidneys, heart or tongue baked or boiled
  • Jellied meat dishes: commonly pork or veal boiled then set in jelly such as aspic, kholodets or studen
  • Roast chicken, duck or goose, usually at festive occasions
  • Shashlyk (??????): grilled skewers of marinated meat, sometimes alternating with onions, peppers or tomatoes
  • Sausages, meatballs and stews
  • Chicken Kiev (kotleta po-kyivsky / ??????? ??-????????): chicken cutlets filled with butter

Fish

Fish is traditionally an important part of Russian cuisine due to Orthodox customs of fasting from eating meat on many days of the year. Among the most commonly eaten are carp, herring (such as “seledka pod shuboi” – dressed herring salad, or “herring under a fur coat”), pike, salmon, sturgeon and trout, as well as caviar (the eggs from the sturgeon). Methods of preparation vary from marinating, smoking and salting to baking and using in soups.

Pastries and Desserts

  • Pelmeni (?????????): a boiled or fried dumpling similar to ravioli. They are filled with minced meat (pork, lamb or beef) or vegetables such as mushrooms or sauerkraut, and served with sour cream
  • Pirogi (??????): baked or fried pies or buns with sweet or savoury fillings, such as meat, vegetables, cheese, stewed fruit or jam
  • Blini (???????): a thin pancake with a savoury or sweet filling, they are eaten in huge quantities at Lent or on Pancake Day

Bread

Bread holds a special place in the hearts of Russian people and is eaten with almost every meal. Varieties include dark and light breads made from rye, wheat, barley and millet flour. A big favourite is dark or black rye sourdough bread, which is often still made at home.

Drinks

As well as the internationally famous vodka, Russian people drink a lot of beer, wine, and national drinks such as medovukha. Many celebrations will be accompanied by vodka. This is especially so when toasts are involved, when many rounds of shots of the drink will be served and slugged, rather than sipped.

Russia is one of the world’s largest consumers of tea, which is mostly drunk black. Local favourite non-alcoholic drinks include kvass and sbiten.

  • Vodka (?????): a spirit distilled from fermented potatoes or grain, which is drunk neat and commonly used for toasts
  • Medovukha (????????): a honey-based alcoholic drink similar to mead
  • Kvass (????): a popular non-alcoholic drink (less than one percent alcohol) that dates from more than 1,000 years ago and is made by fermenting dark rye bread. It is sometimes flavoured with fruit, berries or herbs, and is used as an ingredient for several dishes
  • Sbiten (???????): a traditional drink made by a similar method to medovukha and mead. Its ingredients are honey, water and spices, and it is served hot in winter and cold in summer

Zakuski

A range of appetisers or small dishes is often served between or alongside rounds of drinks. They contain salted, pickled and marinated vegetables, meat or fish, as well as bread and salads. It is good manners to take bites between rounds.