9 dishes you need to try if you visit Russia
What do you know about Russian food? Probably, Borsch and blinis. Best case scenario you’ve already heard of Chicken Kiev (BTW, not so common any more), big pies and small finger-size pirogis, which are in plenty here in Russia (and in some Russian restaurants abroad). However, food and dishes in Russia are uber-diverse and definitely worth trying.
We’d like to encourage you to expand the knowledge of Russian taste. On one hand, there are some old-timer dishes, kept for the centuries, on the other – Russia has a huge Soviet background, when there were many nations united under the same government and country. Which means, Russians may eat Georgian food or some traditional Uzbek dishes as if they’re part of the regular diet. And you know what? They actually are.
First of all, Russian diet is pretty humble and simple, white asparagus on season is not the key ingredient here.
On average daily menu would include some of the following ingredients:
dough-based products (blinis, pelmeni etc.), varieties of bread, main vegetables, like potatoes, carrots and cabbage, herbs, nothing fancy though, dill, parsley and scallions (plus cilantro if you tend to go southern on Russia), plenty of dairy products, including cottage cheese of course. Then a lot of baked goods: cookies, pastries, pies and candy.
Cottage cheese (farmer’s cheese or ricotta cheese as you may) cakes, or fritters. They can differ in size and texture, be smaller and fluffier or bigger and stiffer. Most importantly they have this easily recognizable taste of ‘tvorog’ or Russian cottage cheese. Eaten mostly for breakfast, this morning staple’s highly popular among kids and adults alike, while housewives circle around for the best recipe.
Great to be paired with fresh berries or jam, sour cream, sweet condensed milk or salted caramel. Best way to serve is to mix 2 or 3 condiments at once. Normally these’re served warm, but even cold ones are delish!
Another form of devotion to cottage cheese is ‘zapekanka’ (ZA-PE-‘KAN-KAH).
a casserole dish of cottage cheese dough baked in the oven – super popular for breakfast, and trust me, all-kids favourite on the kindergarten menu.
Traditional Russian medovik (MEH-DOH-‘VIK) is also known as honey cake: layers of a bit crunchy shortbread and patisserie cream. The name of the cake speaks for itself – it’s made with honey for real. Honey is another big product here in Russia.
In restaurants you may find more refined versions with softer dough and more exquisite cream – chefs love this dish to improvise around. But again, every good house wife would be bragging about her very own recipe.
Simple in presentation, this dish pairs ideally with hot tea, especially, if you add some thyme in it.
Be more adventurous with the soups, while visiting Russia. Of course, have a taste of borsch, but then add some more shades to your palette.
Soup is a necessary part of lunch – at least that’s what all moms say in this country. So… you HAVE to have it.
There’re many varieties, worth of a separate story – promise to write a Russian Soup 101. This time let’s focus on Sol’yanka (SO-‘LYAN-KAH).
Quite an old recipe – the soup is traditionally made with thick beef, fish or mushroom stock and cooked with so many ingredients that in Russian language it became a synonym to ‘mishmash’ – all things mixed together.
Nowadays beef is probably the most common version and the approximate list of ingredients contains smoked meats and sausage, beef ribs, stock, carrots, potatoes, brined cucumbers and lemons and God know’s what else you may find in your fridge to add.
Potato – like cottage cheese is the ultimate ingredient which can be found on any restaurant menu, and pan-fried potatoes would be by far the bestseller. Just take that – Russians love their potatoes.
We eat them all year round, in different combinations and recipes: mashed, boiled, crushed, fried, baked or cooked as fritters. The latter is called ‘draniki’ (‘DRAH-NI-KI). Even though ‘draniki’ is a traditional dish of Belarus, here in Russia it’s widely popular, especially for the home-cooking.
Roughly speaking, it reminds Swiss Rosti, grated potatoes mixed with egg and flour and pan-fried in a shape of a fritter. Unlike Switzerland, the Russians can eat that any time of the day. Popular restaurant variation is a morning dish with poached egg and pike perch caviar. Common home-style to put some high-fat sour-cream on top – YUM!
Vareniki & Pelmeni
Filled dough-type foods are a huge part of Russian tradition: blinis or crepes with different filling for instance. Pelmeni (PEL-’MEH-NI) – Siberian type of dumplings, that’re stuffed with beef, pork, chicken, fish or mixed filling. For non-meat options there are ‘Vareniki’ (VA-‘RE-NI-KI) – Ukrainian classics, made with different fillings – the most popular varieties are cherry, potatoes with fried onions, cottage cheese. And some more sour cream on top (will that sour cream ever end?!).
Oreshki (Nut-Shaped Biscuits)
Here in Russia we honestly do have a sweet tooth, like a whole bunch of sweet teeth. You have no idea. Obviously, there are many desserts in this country. One of them is called ‘oreshki’ (OH-‘RESH-KI).
Nut shaped shortbread cookies, filled with boiled sweet condensed milk (very similar to Dulce de Leche). It’s very hard to resist, no matter if you’re 5 or 55. Goes perfectly with coffee, but with tea is even better.
Oh, boy, Russian pickles! You can write a book about that – we eat pickles at any occasion, since it 1. goes so well with alcohol 2. more than that – sour and salty taste is something our taste buds are acquired with (rememeber Solyanka). Take a note, that Russian pickles are not really pickled, yet brined, i.e. made with salt, water and some additives as spices and herbs sometimes.
Marinating stuff with vinegar is the case, but not as common as brining thing i.e. fermenting them (yes, Russian cuisine can be quite trendy in fact).
Besides cucumbers and cabbage (sauerkraut), try tomatoes, ripe and green both, plums, hot green peppers, garlic, baby patty pan squash, red cabbage, variety of wild mushrooms (ideally, ceps), and if you’re lucky to get somewhere south of Russia, things like pickled watermelons.
Kotleta, minced meat or fish
Mincing whatever, meat, poultry, fish (and even vegetables rarely), is sort of our thing. The minced protein can be served 2 ways: plain as it is, then you have ‘kotleta’ (KOT-‘LE-TAH) or as a stuffing for other dishes: pelmeni, blinis, pies, pirogis and such.
There are some basic recipes, which vary from family to family, but this would be one of the most common dishes eaten at home, combined with macaroni or potatoes, mostly mashed. Then there are historic recipes, like Pozharsky, with minced chicken, covered with breadcrumbs or fancy restaurant version of pike perch minced patties.
Cabbage rolls, or Golubtsi
If you wonder, what else can be stuffed with meat, here is another popular Russian dish – Golubtsi (GO-LUHB-‘TSI). Cabbage leaves filled with beef or chicken mince. Optional: bell peppers and tomatoes with the same stuffing. There’re plenty of recipes, but basically, they will be cooked in the oven and served with sour cream.