As Russia is the world’s largest country by land area, with long history through the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, it has a rich culinary tradition, with exchange of dishes with neighbouring cuisines, such as the Nordic cuisine, the Middle Eastern cuisine, and the Chinese 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, buckwheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavourful soups and stews centred on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. This wholly native food 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 proximity to the Caucasus, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire has provided an inescapable Eastern character to its cooking methods (not so much in European Russia but distinguishable in the North Caucasus). Russia’s renowned caviar is easily obtained, however prices can exceed the expenses of your entire trip. Dishes such as beef Stroganov and chicken kiev, from the pre-revolutionary era are available but mainly aimed at tourists as they lost their status and visibility during Soviet times.
The cuisines of the Baltic States, Belarus, Central Asia and especially Ukraine have much in common with Russian cuisine. As a legacy of the Soviet Union, many dishes originating in one part of the former USSR are now available all over the former country.
- Bread (xлеб) is a staple, served as a side order to virtually all dishes, baked from wheat, rye, or barley.
- Pirozhki (пирожки, also pierogies), pies, may be stuffed with meat, cheese, fish, cabbage or some sweet filling. Also a popular street snack.
- Pelmeni (Пельмени) dough dumplings, filled with meat, fish or vegetables, similar to pot-stickers, especially popular in Ural and Siberian region. Often boiled, but can be fried in butter.
- Borsch (Борщ, also borscht), soup with variants made with pretty much any thinkable vegetable, often also contains meat, traditionally served with smetana (sour cream). The most common variety is red borsch, made with beetroot. Another popular variety is green borsch, made with sorrel. Generally more consumed in the western parts of Russia, and the Ukraine.
- Shchi (щи), cabbage soup of which there are many variants, which may or may not contain meat. Generally more consumed in Russia proper.
- Kasha (каша) refers to any kind of porridge or meal, but often refers to buckwheat, which is a very common staple food in Russia, akin to rice or potatoes in other cuisines. This, along with shchi, are the national foods of Russia, hence the Russian saying: “щи да каша – пища наша” (shchi and kasha are our food).
- Bliny (блины), thin white flour or buckwheat pancakes, often served with smetana, caviar or jam. Similar to crepes.
- While the term caviar is casually used for any fish roe, genuine caviar comes from wild sturgeon of the Caspian and Black Sea, and is among the world’s most expensive foods.
- Golubtsy (голубцы), cabbage rolls, stuffed, often with meat and rice, and consumed with smetana. Takes some skill to eat, as they fall apart very easily.
- Baklazhanaya Ikra (баклажанная икра), aubergine/eggplant spread which can be eaten plain.
- Okroshka (окрошка), cold soups based on kvass or sour milk.
- Vinegret (винегрет), salad of boiled beets, eggs, potato, carrots, pickles and other vegetables with vinegar, mustard, vegetable oil and/or mayonnaise.
- Olivier salad (салат Оливье), Russian version of potato salad with mayonnaise, peas, meat, eggs, carrots, and pickles. A traditional holiday food.
- Shashlyk (шашлык), various kebabs from the Caucasus.
- Seledka pod shuboy (селёдка под шубой), literally “herring under a fur coat”), fresh salted herring with “vinegret.”
- Kholodets (холодец) or Studen, meat, garlic and carrots in meat aspic, served with horseradish.
- Tea, Чай, is an everyday beverage. Tea water is traditionally heated in a samovar, самовар.
- While vodka, водка, is the archetypical alcoholic beverage in Russia, beer and wine have a long history, and have become increasingly popular in the post-Soviet years. The Caucasus region has a millennial history of wine-making.
- Kvas (квас), a fermented thirst-quenching beverage made from rye bread, sugar and yeast, similar to young low-alcohol beer. In the summer street side vendors sell it cold.
- Limonad (various soft drinks)
- Kefir (кефир), a fermented buttermilk drink, and its baked variety, ryazhenka (ряженка).