Russia – a multiethnic country, where you can taste very different, sometimes very exotic dishes of many ethnic groups – from the Tatar chak-chak (a dessert made of dough with honey) to Yakutsk stroganina (freshly frozen fish or meat). However, you'll find traditional Russian cuisine in any corner of the country. Here are 12 dishes that must be tasted in Russia.
Cabbage soup (Shchi)
Shchi is a cabbage soup that dates back to the 11th century. The list of ingredients includes meat, seasonings and a dressing of sour cabbage pickle. However, the components may vary depending on the type of boiling (lean, fish, green), and culinary arts of the chef – many Russians prepare this soup using their own recipes. Shchi is eaten with rye bread, dressed with sour cream or spices.
Pelmeni (Meat Dumplings)
Pelmeni is the Russian dish that is most well-known abroad. It appeared in the Urals in the early 14th century. The very name "pelmeni" originates from a similar word in the Finno-Ugrish languages which, in literal translation, means "bread ear". Classic pelmeni use minced beef, lamb, and pork rolled in unfermented dough of wheat, eggs and water. Ready-prepared pelmeni are cooked in boiling, salted water. They are served with oil, mustard, mayonnaise or other dressings. The tradition of the entire family molding pelmeni dumplings stretches back over many generations. The larger the family, the greater the volume that is made. Part of the prepared pelmeni would be boiled there and then, the rest frozen.
Porridge, like soup, is an indispensable part of Russian cuisine. Even in childhood Russian's always eat porridge for breakfast, which is good for you and nutritional. It is likely you will be offered semolina, barley, oat, buckwheat, and several dozen varieties of porridge for breakfast at a hotel, at a cafe, student cafeteria or when visiting friends. It is served hot, richly flavoured with butter. As they say in Russia, porridge cannot be spoiled with butter which means that it can do you no harm, even when served in large quantities.
In Russian cuisine, pies have about the same importance, as pizza in Italy. Russian pies are chiefly made of savoury dough with various fillings, from meat and fish to fruit and curd. Cheesecake, coulibiac, small pies, cakes, shangi, wickets, kurniks: this is by no means a complete list of the varieties of this dish. If you are made home-made pies, consider yourself lucky. However in many public catering establishments they are no inferior to the home-made examples.
Pancakes is the oldest dish of Russian cuisine that appeared back in the 11th century. The recipe of one of the most famous Russian dishes is simple: milk, eggs, and salt, but the cooking process requires skills that not every housewife possesses. Batter is poured into a frying pan with hot oil, and the task of the chef is to bake a rosy flat pancake without lumps and not let it burn too soon. The thinner the pancakes, the higher the level of the cook's skill. The Russians say that the first pancake is always lumpy, which means that any undertaking usually begins with a failure.
Pancakes are usually served hot with sour cream, butter, honey or meat, fish, vegetables, sweet, fruit and other fillings are folded in them. Pancakes with caviar is particularly glamorous dish.
Olivier (Russian Salad)
Just as the Americans find it hard to imagine Thanksgiving without the traditional turkey and the Italians a Christmas table without lentils and Zampogne, the New Year's table in many Russian families is inconceivable without "Olivier", known abroad as "Russian salad". Named after its creator – the French chef Lucien Olivier who worked in Moscow in the 19th century, it gained widespread popularity in the Soviet era. Its particular popularity is as much as anything down to the ease of preparation and the ready availability of all the ingredients. Classic Soviet "Olivier" included boiled potatoes and carrots, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, green peas and dill. All this was cut in small cubes and dressed with mayonnaise.
This salad appeared in Russian cuisine in the 19th century. It is made of boiled beets, potatoes, beans, carrots and pickles and onions. All this is dressed with sunflower oil. It has an appearance akin to dry borsch.
Any table in Russia rarely comes without pickles. Home-pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, and mushrooms are often a source of great pride for hosts. The traditional Russian digestif, vodka, is usually accompanied by crunchy pickles, scented with dill and horseradish.
Preserves are a form of home-made dessert. It is like confiture or jam, only liquid and with whole berries or fruit pieces. Preserves are often made from fruit and berries grown in one's own garden plot, or gathered in the forest. The consistency, taste and recipe depend largely on the skills and preferences of the housewife. If you're ever offered a mother's or grandmother's preserves, don't deny yourself this pleasure.
Pastille is a traditional Russian sweet that has been known since the 14th century. Its shape and texture is resemblant of marshmallow, but has its own unique taste. Originally it was made of Antonovka apples, which grew only in Russia. Since the 19th century, this exclusive Russian dessert has been exported to Europe. Later pastille was made from other varieties of apples and berries. Later honey and subsequently sugar became an important component.
Before the 1917 Revolution, Kolomenskaya, Rzhevskaya and Belevskaya sorts of (puffed) pastille were especially popular. Today, the manufacture of pastille was resurrected according to the old recipes. All sorts of pastille may be bought in Russian stores.
Kvass is one of the oldest Russian drinks, enjoyed by everybody from peasants to tsars. It is first mentioned in the chronicles in 1056. Before the end of the 19th century it was made as a low-alcohol drink (2-3 degrees) using rye malt with the addition of herbs, berry and fruit juices. Subsequently, kvass was brewed from ready-baked bread and ship's biscuits. Some Russians still like to brew kvass at home. The drink is very refreshing in the hotter months. It should be served chilled.
Aspic (broth jelly)
Aspic is a meat jelly. It is cooked from a dense meat broth with pieces of meat, the meat is boiled for several hours and then chilled. It is served cold as a starter.