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Russian style

Russian cuisine

Russian cuisine derives its rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavorful soups and stews centered on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. These wholly native foods, along with the spices and techniques used for grilling meat and making sour clotted milk brought by the Mongols and Tatars of the thirteenth century, remained the staples for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century. Lying on the northern reaches of the ancient Silk Road, as well as Russia's close proximity to the Caucasus, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire has provided an inescapable Eastern character to its cooking methods.

Russia's great expansions of territory, influence, and interest during the 16th-18th centuries brought more refined foods and culinary techniques. It was during this period that smoked meats and fish, pastry cooking, salads and green vegetables, chocolate, ice cream, wines, and liquor were imported from abroad. At least for the urban aristocracy and provincial gentry, this opened the doors for the creative integration of these new foodstuffs with traditional Russian dishes. The result is extremely varied in technique, seasoning, and combination.

From the time of Catherine the Great, every family of influence imported both the products and personnel - mainly German, Austrian, and French - to bring the finest, rarest, and most creative foods to their table. This is nowhere more evident than in the exciting, elegant, highly nuanced, and decadent repertoire of the Franco-Russian chef. Many of the foods that are considered in the West to be traditionally Russian actually come from the Franco-Russian cuisine of the 18th and 19th centuries and include such widespread dishes as Veal Orloff, Beef Stroganoff, and Sharlotka (Charlotte Russe).


Soups have always played an important role in the Russian meal. The traditional range of soups such as shchi, borscht, ukha, rassolnik, solyanka, botvin', okroshka, and teur' was enlarged in the 18th to 20th centuries by both European and Central Asian staples like clear soups, pureed soups, stews, and many others.

Cold Soups

Okroshka is a cold soup based on kvass. The main ingredients are vegetables that can be mixed with cold boiled meat or fish with a proportion 1:1. Depending on this, okroshka is called vegetable, meat, or fish.

Kvass that is most commonly used is white okroshka kvass, which is much more sour than drinking kvass. Spices used include mustard, black pepper and cucumber pickle (the water used), solely or in combination.
And for the final touch, boiled eggs and smetana (sour cream) are added.

Teur is very similar to okroshka, the main difference being that instead of vegetables, bread is used.

Botvin'ya is one of the most typical cold Russian soups, that almost went extinct because it is very hard to make. You can find recipes in some modern cookbooks showing how to prepare it "easily" by substituting some of the ingredients, but much of the real taste is lost by cutting corners.

Hot Soups

Shchi (cabbage soup) had been the main Russian first course over a thousand years. Although tastes changed, it steadily made its way through several epochs. Shchi knew no social class boundaries, and even if the rich had richer ingredients and the poor made it solely of cabbage and onions, all these "poor" and "rich" variations were cooked in the same tradition. The unique taste of this cabbage soup was from the fact that after cooking it was left to draw (stew) in a Russian stove. "Spirit of shchi" was inseparable from a Russian izba (log hut). Many Russian proverbs are connected to this soup, such as "Shchi - vsemu golova" ("Shchi is head to everything"). It can be eaten regularly, and at any time of the year.

Stews are first-course dishes that are actually strong vegetable broths. Unlike shchi or other soups based on meat broths, stews are light soups based on vegetables and water.

Ukha is a hot watery fish dish, however calling it a fish soup would not be absolutely correct. "Ukha" as a name for fish broth was established only in the late 17th to early 18th centuries. In earlier times this name was first given to thick meat broths, and then later chicken. Beginning from the 15th century, fish was more and more often used to prepare ukha, thus creating a dish that had a distinctive taste among soups.

Rassolnik is a hot soup in a salty-sour cucumber base. This dish formed in Russian cuisine quite late - only in the 19th century. About this time the name rassolnik was attached to it, originating from the Russian word "rassol" which means brine (pickle water). Pickle water was known to be used as base for soups from the 15th century at the latest. Its concentration and ratio with other liquids and soup components gave birth to different soups: kal'ya, solyanka, pohmelka, and of course rassolnik. The latest are moderately sour-salty soups on pickled cucumber base. Some are vegetarian, but more often with products like veal or beef kidneys or all poultry giblets (stomach, liver, heart, neck, feet). For best taste there has to be a balance between the sour part and neutral absorbers (cereals, potatoes, root vegetables). Like most Russian soups, rassolnik is whitened with smetana (sour cream).

Kal'ya was a very common dish first served in the 16th-17th centuries. Subsequently it almost completely disappeared from Russian cuisine. Often it was incorrectly called "fish rassolnik." The cooking technique is mostly the same as of ukha, but to the broth were added pickled cucumbers, pickle water, lemons and lemon juice, either separately or all together. The main characteristic of kal'ya is that only fat, rich fish was used; sometimes caviar was added along with the fish. More spices are added, and the soup turns out more piquant and thicker than ukha. Formerely kal'ya was considered a festivity dish.

Solyanka is a thick, piquant soup that combines components from schi (cabbage, smetana) and rassolnik (pickle water and cucumbers), spices such as olives, capers, tomatoes, lemons, lemon juice, kvass, salted and pickled mushrooms are make up a considerably strong sour-salty base of the soup. Solyanka is much thicker than other soups, about 1/3 less liquid ratio. Three types are distinguished: meat, fish, and simple solyanka. The first two are cooked on strong meat or fish broths, and the last on mushroom or vegetable broth. All the broths are mixed with cucumber pickle water.

Noodle soup was adopted by Russians from Tatars, and after some transformation became widespread in Russia. It comes in three variations: chicken, mushroom, and milk. Cooking all three is simple, including preparation of noodles, cooking of corresponding broth, and boiling of noodles in broth. Noodles are based on the same wheat flour or buckwheat/wheat flour mix. Mixed flour noodles go better with mushroom or milk broth.

Main Dishes

In traditional russian cuisine three basic variations of meat dishes can be highlighted: - large boiled piece of meat cooked in a soup or porridge, and then used as second course or served cold as a snack:

Studen' (or Kholodets) - Jellied chopped pieces of pork or veal meat with some spices added (pepper, parsley, garliń, bay leaf) and minor amounts of vegetables (carrots, onions). The meat is boiled in large pieces for long periods of time, then chopped, boiled a few times again and finally chilled for 3-4 hours (hence the name) forming a jelly mass, though gelatine is not used because young meat contains enough glue substances. It is served with horse radish, mustard or grinded garlic with smetana.

As a garnish to meat dishes in the past the most common were porridges and cereals, in which the meat was boiled, later on boiled or rather steamed and baked root vegetables (turnips, carrots) as well as mushrooms; additionaly the meat, without taking account its type, was garnished with pickled products - pickled cabbage (sauerkraut), sour and soaked apples (mochoniye yabloki), soaked cranberries, "vzvar"s. In modern day conditions baked vegetables to accompany meat dishes can be cooked in foil. Succus formed in the meat roasting as well as melted "smetana" or melted butter are used as gravy to pour on garnishing vegetables and porridges. Meat sauces i.e. gravies on flour, butter, eggs and milk, are not common for traditional Russian cuisine.

Various minced meat dishes were adopted from other cuisines and became popular only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; for traditional Russian cuisine they are not typical.

Katlyeti (cutlets, meat cakes), a Western European dish popular in modern Russian households, are small pan-fried meatloaves, not dissimilar from Salisbury steak and other such dishes. Made primarily from pork and beef, they are easily made and require little time. Milk, onions, ground beef, and pork are put in a bowl and whisked thoroughly until it becomes relatively consistent. Once this effect is achieved, the hands are usually powdered with flour to keep the mixture from sticking while you reach to form them into balls (or any shape you'd like, really) and then placed on a frying pan to cook. When meat is in short supply, a portion of it can be substituted with bread to protect the size and flavour of the katlyeti.

Pelmeni (singular pelmen') are a traditional Eastern European (mainly Russian) dish usually made with minced meat filling, wrapped in thin dough (made out of flour and eggs, sometimes with milk or water added). For filling, pork, lamb, beef, or any other kind of meat can be used; mixing several kinds is popular. Traditional Ural recipe requires the filling be made with 45% of beef, 35% of lamb, and 20% of pork. Often various spices, such as pepper, onions, and garlic, are mixed into the filling.

Pelmeni became the "national" dish of Russian Siberia, where they were made in large quantities and stored safely frozen outside for several winter months. By late 19th century, they became a staple throughout urban European Russia. They are prepared immediately before eating by boiling in water until they float, and then 2-5 minutes more. The resulting dish is served with butter and/or sour cream (mustard, horseradish, and vinegar are popular as well). Some recipes suggest to fry pelmeni after boiling until they turn golden brown.

Pelmeni belong to the family of dumplings. They are closely related to vareniki - Ukrainian variety of dumplings with filling made of mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, or cherries, to mention the most popular three. They are also similar to Chinese potstickers. The main difference between pelmeni and other kinds of dumplings is in their shape and size - typical pelmen' is roughly spherical and is about 2 to 3 cm in diameter, whereas most other types of dumplings are usually elongated and much larger.

Pirozhki (singular: pirozhok; diminutive of "pirog" (pie)) are small stuffed buns (pies) made of either yeast dough or short pastry. They are filled with one of many different fillings and are either baked (the ancient Slavic method) or shallow-fried (known as "priazhenie," this method was borrowed from the Tatars in the 16th century). One feature of pirozhki that sets them apart from, for example, English pies is that the fillings used are almost invariably fully cooked. The use of chopped hard-boiled eggs in fillings is another interesting feature.

Shashlyk is a form of Shish kebab (marinated meat grilled on a skewer) popular in former Soviet Union countries, notably in Georgia, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. It often features alternating slices of meat and onions. Even though the word "shashlyk" was apparently borrowed from the Crimean Tatars by the Cossacks as early as the 16th century, kebabs did not reach Moscow until the late 19th century, according to Vladimir Gilyarovsky's "Moscow and Moscovites". From then on, their popularity spread rapidly; by the 1910s they were a staple in St Petersburg restaurants and by the 1920s they were already a pervasive street food all over urban Russia.

Blini are thin pancakes (very similar to French crepes) which are often served in connection with a religious rite or festival in several cultures. The word "blin" (singular of blini) comes from Old Slavic "mlin," which means "to mill." Blins had a somewhat ritual significance for early Slavic peoples in pre-Christian times since they were a symbol of the sun, due to their round form. They were traditionally prepared at the end of the winter to honor the rebirth of the new sun during Maslenitsa (Butter Week; also known as Pancake Week). This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox Church and is carried on to the present day. Bliny were once also served at wakes, to commemorate the recently deceased. Blini can be made from wheat, buckwheat, or other grains, although wheat blini are most popular in Russia. They are slathered with butter and may be topped with sour cream or caviar, but never with two of them together on a same blin.

Syrniki are fried curd fritters, garnished with sour cream, jam, honey, and/or apple sauce.


Almost all Russian traditional drinks are original and are not present in other national cuisines. Those are sbiten', kvass, medok, mors, curdle with raisins, and boiled cabbage juice. Many of them are no longer in use. Long since they were drunk as a complement to meat and poultry dishes, sweet porridge, and dessert. Standing apart from all of them was sbiten, which was replaced by tea by later times in Russia.

The most ancient drink is medok (medi, medki), this word in Russian is the diminutive form of the word "honey." It should not be confused with the so-called "stavlenniy myod"(brewed honey, mead); medok is made in water with small amounts of honey and hops, "stavlenniy myod" is a strong alcoholic drink, composed of berry juice, large amount of honey, and vodka.

Mors is made of berry juice, mixed in different proportions with water, slightly fermented.

Curdle is prepared on raisins and is slightly fermented as well.

Cabbage juice (fresh, but more often sour, from fermented cabbage) is boiled with a small amount of sugar. These drinks do not keep long and are made in small amounts in household conditions. Kvass and sbiten' on the other hand were always mass-produced drinks. Most widespread was kvass, having a few dozen variations.

The basic method of preparing kvass is that out of water, flour, and malt liquid, a dough is made which is subjected to fermentation. This fermented "zator" is diluted by water; yeast, sugar, and aromatic additives are mixed in and then it is brewed. The role of additive can be played by fruit and berry juices (cherry, raspberry, lemon, etc.), as well as ginger and mint.

Compared to kvass, sbiten' is very simple to prepare. Separately, honey and sbiten' flavor (spices, juices) are boiled down and then these two parts are combined and boiled again. It is a hot winter drink.

Russian humour

Russian humour gains much of its wit from the great flexibility and richness of the Russian language, allowing for plays on words and unexpected associations. As with any other culture's humour, its vast scope ranges from lewd jokes and silly wordplay to political satire.


The most popular form of Russian humour consists of jokes (anekdoty), which are short stories with a punch line. Typical of Russian joke culture is a series of categories with fixed and highly familiar settings and characters. Surprising effects are achieved by an endless variety of plots and plays on words.


Drinking toasts can take the form of anecdotes or not-so-short stories, concluded with "So here's to..." with a witty punchline referring to the initial story.


A specific form of humour is chastushkas, songs composed of four-line rhymes, usually of lewd, humouristic, or satiric content.

Russian traditions and superstitions

Many of the things on this list may, or may not, be regarded as superstitions by Russians, or by outsiders. Most of them apply to the other countries that made up The Soviet Union as well. Many of them are now inseparable parts of every day life or simply common social etiquette, though they often have their origins in superstition. This list is by no means complete, but it covers a great deal of them. The awareness of them, and the weight they carry, depends on various factors including region and age. Some are extremely common and practiced by the vast majority of the population. Some are extremely obscure. However, it is all relative and opinions vary greatly on the subject.

Russian folk medicine

  • It is widely believed in Russia that sitting on cold surfaces, such as rocks or even the ground, is not simply taboo for a woman, but it is extremely hazardous to her health and inhibits her ability to bear children (by somehow exposing her ovaries to the cold). It is a practice that is rigorously upheld, especially in cold weather and with young children, who will often unknowingly sit on the ground, and who will frequently be lifted up by a supervising adult.

  • Keeping all parts of one's body as dry and warm as possible in cold weather and rain is generally practiced as prophylaxis for the common cold in Russia, as it is in many parts of the world. There are a variety of home remedies used to treat the common cold, including hot tea. Cold beverages are avoided while one is sick. This is not unique to Russia; however, many Russians tend to be more adamant about it than most Westerners.

  • Traditional self-medication is prevalent in Russia. Banki are little glass jars that are usually applied to the back. A match is lit inside in order to burn up the oxygen and create suction. This technique is known as fire cupping in traditional Chinese medicine. Gorchichniki are mustard plasters that are applied onto the back or the chest. Mustard plasters have been and still are used by Westerners, as well. Doctors often prescribe banki and/or gorchichniki instead of chemical medications or antibiotics when a patient has flu and cold like symptoms.

These beliefs and practices may be considered as superstitious by some Westerners, who think that viral and bacterical causes of colds and flu make it irrational to associate body temperature with the probability of getting sick and hot remedies with better recovery. However, some existing research shows that mild hypothermia inhibits the immune response, in which case Russian traditional beliefs and remedies may be not be completely baseless.

Russian Etiquette

  • Men in Russia will always shake hands (or at least offer a wrist if a hand is dirty, wet or otherwise unavailable) when they greet for the first time during the day. However, it is taboo to shake hands with your gloves on. One glove must be removed, no matter how cold it may be. Russia is one of the many countries where this handshake tradition is rigorously upheld.

  • Shaking hands and giving things across the threshold is taboo. Usually a guest will come inside before shaking a host's hand when arriving and shake it before leaving the threshold when leaving. Sometimes people will even avoid saying "hello" and "goodbye" across the threshold.

  • It is traditional in Russia for men to give flowers to women on nearly every occasion, but only an odd number can be given. Giving an even number of flowers is taboo, because even numbers are brought to funerals.
  • You should never go to someone else's house empty handed. Alcoholic beverages and/or dessert is a common gift to bring when invited to someone's home.

  • It is traditional to always propose some kind of toast when drinking. Refusing to drink vodka on certain occasions or to a certain toast (honor) may sometimes be considered rude. For instance refusing to drink vodka at a funeral banquet is considered unacceptable. However you never toast in honor of those who have passed away or on Easter (for the same reason). Your glass cannot touch the table from the time a toast is proposed to the time you drink. Your glass should remain on the table when it is being refilled.

  • Many Russians consider it bad form not to finish a bottle of vodka once it has been opened, no matter how few people there are left to finish it.

  • When pouring wine, you should never pour back handed.

  • It is impolite to point with your finger. But if you must point, it's better to use your entire hand instead of your finger.

  • It is impolite to put your feet up on furniture with your shoes on. Sometimes, simply showing the soles of your shoes is considered rude.

  • Whistling indoors is taboo. Russians sometimes say superstitiously that you will "whistle away your money". The origins of this are in superstition, as it used to be considered a sin: it was believed that when you whistled you were entertaining the devil. In general it is considered rude.

  • Traditional Russian cheek kissing is done using three kisses, but it is not widely upheld all the time.

  • When someone sneezes you tell them "Bud'te zdorovy", which literally means "Be Healthy" (in the formal form of address). It used to be believed that saying this would help the sneezer keep from getting sick. Russian speakers will say it just as freely as an English speaker will say, "Bless you", but the superstitious origins of the phrase have been widely lost in both languages.

Customs that are more often regarded as superstition

  • Before leaving for a long journey the traveler(s), and all those who are seeing them off, must sit for a moment in silence before leaving the house. It is often conveniently written off as a time to sit and think of anything one may have forgotten.

  • After someone has left the house on a journey, their room and/or their things should not be cleaned up until they have arrived.

  • Knocking on wood is practiced just as much, and in most cases much more, in Russia as it is everywhere else. However Russians tend to add a symbolic three spits over one's left shoulder (or simply with the head turned to the left), and Russians will often knock three times as well. Traditionally one was spitting on the devil (who is always on the left).

  • Breaking a mirror isn't considered bad luck in Russia, but looking at one's reflection in a broken mirror is. And the effect is more severe than 7 years of bad luck.

  • On examination day, you shouldn't make your bed, wear anything new or cut your fingernails. It's good luck.

  • It is bad luck to use physical hand gestures to demonstate something negative using oneself or someone else as the object. For example, when describing a scar you saw on someone's face you should not gesture on your own face or someone elses. If you must, you can demontrate in mid-air. If one does it without realizing, it can be countered by making a hand motion towards the body part used and then an abrupt motion away (as if to pick up the bad energy and throw it away).

  • If one person accidentally steps on another person's foot, it is common for the person who was stepped on to lightly step on the foot of the person who stepped first. It is said that they thus avoid a future conflict.

  • Birthday parties should be celebrated on or after one's birthday, not before. So when one's birthday falls during the week, it's best to celebrate the following weekend.

  • Talking about future success, especially boasting about it, is considered bad luck. It's better to be silent until the success has been achieved or to even sound pessimistic.

  • Returning home for forgotten things is a bad omen. It is better to leave it behind, but if returning is necessary, one should look in the mirror before leaving the house again. Otherwise the journey will be bad.

  • Many Russians consider giving sharp objects, like knives or scissors, as gifts to be taboo.

  • Birds that land on a windowsill should be chased away. If they tap on the window, or fly into it (open or closed) it is condsidered a very bad omen (often of death).

  • Things bought for a new born baby (such as clothes, toys, furniture, etc.) should only be purchased after the baby is born. This is usually done in a big hurry.

  • It is often considered taboo to step over people, or parts of their body, who are on the ground. It is often said that it will prevent the person from growing (if they are not fully grown already). It is better to politely ask the person to move or to find a way around them. If one accidentally steps over a person (or people), it is sometimes standard to step backwards over them.

  • Unmarried people shouldn't sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise they won't marry. This mostly applies to girls, and often only young girls. Sometimes it is said that you will not marry for 7 years, making it alright for young children to sit there.

  • When giving an animal as a gift (a cat, dog, bird, etc), the receiver should give the giver a symbolic sum of money (for example: one Russian ruble).

  • A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is bad luck.

  • A woman with empty water buckets coming towards you is considered a bad omen.

  • A group of two or more people should not walk on either side of a tree. They should all keep to one side or the other.

  • Bread should only be cut with a knife, not with your hands. Otherwise, it is said, that your life will be broken. The opposite is held true by some people.

  • Two or more people should never use one towel at the same time to dry their hands or bodies, or it is said to bring conflict.

  • A stranger should not look at a new born baby before it is a certain age (between two months and one year). If one looks at the baby it is considered bad luck to compliment it. Instead, one could say, "Oh, what an ugly child!" instead.

  • It's good luck to trip on your left foot.

  • One should never hand a knife directly to another person or it is said that the two will get in a fight. Instead a person should always place the knife down on a surface, and only then can the other person pick it up.

"Cause and effect" Russian superstitions

  • If your ears or cheeks are hot, someone is thinking or talking about you (usually speaking ill).

  • If your nose itches, you'll be drinking soon. For children they might say, "You'll get hit in the nose."

  • If your right eye itches, you're going to be happy soon. If your left eye itches, you'll be sad.

  • If your lips itch, you'll be kissing someone soon.

  • If your right hand itches, you're going to get money soon. It sometimes means you're going to greet someone. If your left hand itches, you're going to give someone money.

  • If you have the hiccups, someone is either just talking about you or talking bad about you.

  • If an eyelash falls out you'll receive a gift. If someone finds an eyelash on someone he or she will sometimes let the person blow it away and make a wish.

  • If a fork or spoon falls on the ground, expect a female guest. If a knife falls, expect a male guest.

  • If you eat from a knife, you'll be "mad like a dog".

  • If someone is not recognized when seen or heard, he or she will be rich. So if someone calls you on the phone and you don't recognize them you can cheer them up by telling them they'll be rich.

  • If a cat is washing its face, expect guests soon.

  • If a black cat crosses your path, it's bad luck (as it is in most places). People will often avoid crossing the place where it crossed, or will at least wait for someone else to cross it first.

  • If a hare crosses your path, it's bad luck. This is much less common than the cat superstition, which is understandable given the lack of hares in urban conditions.

  • If you spill salt, it's bad luck and is said to bring conflict, but no one will throw salt over their left shoulder.

  • If you step on a crack, it's bad luck. This one isn't very common, and Russians who do avoid cracks don't do it in an effort to save their mothers' backs.

  • If it's raining when you leave a place, it means you'll return, and it is considered a generally good omen.

  • If it rains on someone's wedding, it means they'll be wealthy.

  • If someone sneezes, it means he or she is telling the truth.

  • If one or more birds defecate on you, it's good luck.

  • If you find a bay leaf in your soup (commonly Borscht) while eating, it means you'll get mail from someone.

  • If you wear clothes (such as an undershirt) inside out, you will get beaten.

  • If you wear a shirt backwards, you will become acquainted with someone new.

Interestingly, Russia lacks some of the superstitions Westernerns find commonplace. Most Russians are not particularly concerned with the number 13 (number), opening umbrellas indoors or walking under ladders.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (link to original article)
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