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Food in Russia

On the Menu

The Russian menu is divided into four sections: zakuski (appetizers), pervoye (first course), vtoroye (second course) and sladkoe (desert). The order is usually taken all together, from appetizer to desert. Zakuski are Russian-style hors d’oeuvres that include fish, cold meats, salads and marinated vegetables.

Zakuski (traditional appetizers)

Ikra is caviar: krasnaya (red from salmon) and chornaya (black from sturgeon). The sturgeon is one of oldest fish species known, dating back over 30 million years. It is lifespan in also one of the longest. No sturgeon is worth cathing until it is at least seven years old and beluga are not considered adult until after 20 years. The best caviar is zernistaya, the fresh unpressed variety. The largest roe comes from the beluga, a dark gray caviar appreciated for its large grain and fineness of skin, and the most expensive. Caviar from the sevruga is the smallest and has the most delicate taste.

Caviar is usually available at Russian restaurants and can be bought in city stores. It has long been considered a health food in Russia. Czar Nicholas ll made his children eat the pressed payushnaya caviar every morning. Since they all hated the salty taste, their cook solved the problem by spreading it on b lack bread and adding banana slices. The caviar-banana sandwich became the breakfast rage for many aristocratic families. Russia is still the largest producer of caviar in the world, processing over 1,000 tons per year; 20 per cent of the catch is exported.

Pervoye (traditional first course)

Many varieties of Russian soup are served, more often at lunch than dinner. Borsch is the traditional red beet soup made with beef and served with a spoonful of sour cream. Slyanka is a tomato-based soup with chunks of fish or meat and topped with diced olives and lemon. Shchi is a tasty cabbage soup. A soup made from pickled vegetables is rasolnik. Okroshka is a cold soup made from a kvas (weak b eer) base.

Vtoroye (traditional second course)

Russian meals consist of mya’so (meat), kur’iitsa (chicken) or rii’ba (fiish). Bifshtekis a small fried steak with onions and potatoes. Beef stroganov is cooked in sour cream and served with fried potatoes. Kutlyeta po Kiyevski is Chicken Kiev, stuffed with melted butter; Kuttlyeta po Pajarrski is a chicken cutlet; Tabak is a slightly seasoned fried or grilled chicken. The fish served is usually lososina (salmon), osetrina (sturgeon), shchuka ( pike) or seld (herring). Russians are not big vegetable eaters, but kapusta (cabbage), kartosh’ka (potatoes) and gribii’s smyetann’oi  (mushrooms and sour cream) are always available. Georgian dishes in clude khachapuri (hot bread), baklazhan (eggplant), chakhokhbili (steamed dumplings) and tolma (meat and rice in vine leaves). Desserts include vaeniki (sweet fruit dumplings topped with sugar), tort (cake), pon’chiki (sugared donuts) and morozhnoye (ice cream).


Chai (tea) comes with every meal. It is always sweet; ask for biz sak’hera, for unsweetened tea. Many Russians stir in a spoonful of jam instead of sugar. Coffee is not served as often.

Alcoholic drinks consist of pivo (beer), Kvas was the second favorite drink of Russia for centuries. Brewed mainly from rye, it is then spiced with everything from berries to horseradish. Kvas trucks used to be found all around the streets selling glasses of the warm fermenting drink for mere kopeks, but nowadays soft drinks seem to be overtaking tradition. Alcoholic drinks are ordered in grams; a small glass is 100 grams and a normal bottle consists of 750 grams or three quarters of a liter. The best wine comes from Georgia and the Crimea.

There are both krasnoye (red) and beloye (white) wines.

The champagne is generally sweet. The best brandy comes from America ­– Armyanski konyak.

Nalivka is a fruit liqueur.

Vodka is by far the favorite drink and comes in a number of varieties other than Stolichnaya, Moskovskaya and Russkaya. These include limonnaya (lemon vodka), persovka (with hot peppers), zubrovka (infused with cinnamon, lemon and bison grass), ryabinovka (made from ash berries), tminaya (caraway flavor), starka (apple and pear – leaf), Okhotnichaya (Hunter`s vodka flavored with port, ginger, pepper, cloves, coffee, juniper berries, star anise, orange and lemon peel, and roots of angelica – it was once customary for hunters to toast with it after returning from a kill), and zveroboy (animal killer!). One of the strongest and most expensive is Zolotoe Koltso, the Golden Ring. If you see a Russian smile at you, while flicking the middle finger off his thumb into the side of his neck, your invitation to drink (and drink) has arrived. Normally Russian follow a shot of cold pure vodka (it is, of course, sacrilegious to dilute it with any other liquid) with a mouthful of zakusra or hors d`oeuvres, such as smoked salmon, caviar, herring, salami or even a slice of hearty Russian khleb, bread. Remember, Russians love to follow toast with toast – dusha v dushu – heart to heart (so make sure you eat something while you drink!). They are quite capable of drinking do beloi goryachki – into `a white fever of delirium` and na brovyakh – up to their eyebrows. Their equivalent of drinking one under the table` is napeetsya do polozheniya riz – literally, drinking till one is positioned very low beneath the icon frame. Never forget that Russians have a millennium of drinking in their blood. In 986, Prince Vladimir rejected Islam as the Russian State religion (he chose Byzantine Christianity) because it prohibited the drinking of alcohol. He reputedly said, “For the people of Rus, drinking is joy; we cannot be without it!”.

One note of caution when buying liquor, especially vodka, in Russia. These days, many imitations are being passed off on the market, such as homemade samogon poured into brand-name vodka bottles. (If it is samogon, you will immediately know the difference!) Do not buy vodka from small kiosks or off the street. Check to make sure the seal is secure and the label not suspiciously attached (horizontal glue lines usually mean factory-produced). Many Russians can tell genuine vodka just by the way bubbles move around in the bottle. Recently the government ruled that bar codes needed to be stamped on all labels, but these are already being faked.

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