Russian typical food

Geographic setting and environment

Russia is the largest country in Europe, with 17 million square kilometers. It is 1.8 times the size of the United States. The Russian land stretches to the Arctic Ocean in the north. Russia shares borders with China and Mongolia to the south, and Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Finland to the west. About three-quarters of the land is arable (capable of being cultivated), although farm output declined during the 1980s and 1990s. After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) seceded in 1991, the Russian government started a program to encourage small farmers. In the following decade some 150,000 new small farms were established.

History and food

Russia has a history of a crop-based diet that can thrive in cold climates, such as grains (rye, barley, buckwheat, and wheat), root vegetables (beets, turnips, potatoes, onions), and cabbages. Ivan III (ruled 1462-1505) brought Italian craftsmen to Russia to build public buildings. These artisans introduced pasta, frozen desserts (ice cream and sorbet), and cakes to the Russian diet.

Pedro I (ruled 1682-1725), known as “The Great”, included a French chef in his court. It was during his reign that the Russians began to serve meals on plates, instead of serving all the food at once. From then until the Russian Revolution in 1917, many wealthy Russian families employed French chefs. When the French chefs returned to France, they introduced the popular Russian dishes to the people of Europe. Salade Russe, known in Russia as Salat Olivier, was created during the time of Nicholas II (in power until 1917) by a French chef.

Salat Olivier (Russian Salad) 6-8portions


  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 carrots, boiled and diced
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs; 3 should be cut into wedges and 1 cut into quarters for garnish.
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 dill pickles, chopped
  • ½ cup canned or frozen peas, drained
  • ¼ pound bologna, chopped
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 4 to 6 large lettuce leaves


  1. Peel the potatoes, cut them in half and place them in a saucepan. Cover the potatoes with water, heat over high heat until the water boils, and cook over low heat until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork (about 15-20 minutes). Drain and let cool.
  2. Repeat the same process with the two carrots.
  3. When both are cool, cut them into cubes and place them in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add remaining ingredients (except mayonnaise) and gently mix to combine.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, or enough mayonnaise to hold ingredients together.
  6. Place the clean and dry lettuce leaves on a tray and assemble the salad in a pyramid shape in the center.
  7. Spread more mayonnaise over the salad like a glaze.
  8. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg.

Salat Olivier (Russian Salad)

From the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917 to 1981, all restaurants in Russia (then part of the USSR) were government owned and operated. Most of the stores were also run by the government. Due to food shortages and inefficient store management, families had to stand in long lines to buy bread, meat and other staples. In 1981, President Mikhail Gorbachev initiated reforms that culminated in the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 and the beginning of a democracy. But the sale and purchase of food was still regulated by the government at the end of the 20th century.

Russian food

Traditional Russian cooking relied on a pech’, or oven, rather than a burner as a heat source. The oven had two compartments, one for slow cooking and one for fast cooking. The pech’ also heated the houses of the peasants, and therefore occupied a central place in the main room of the house. Traditional dishes include roast meats, vegetables, soups and stews. A staple of the Russian diet is heavy, dark bread. It’s not uncommon for a family of four to eat three…

or four loaves a day. Also popular are bliny (thin pancakes), and a variety of savory and sweet pastries called piroghi (big cakes) or pirozhki (small cakes). They are usually filled with fish, cheese, jam, cabbage, mushrooms, chopped hard-boiled eggs, or meat. The possibilities are limitless. These tarts are served plain or with soup for lunch. Hot sweetened tea, called chai, is often served from a samovar (large brass kettle) that heats water and steeps tea leaves to form a concentrated mixture.

Russians eat more fish than most other cultures because, under the Russian Orthodox Church, many days of the year were fast days and fish was the only meat allowed. Sturgeon is the favorite fish of Russians, from which black caviar (fish eggs) is collected. The Kissel, a piece of stewed fruit thickened with cornstarch with milk poured over it, is a traditional dessert.

Bliny is a traditional Russian dish eaten in large quantities during Maslyanitsa (Butter Week, the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras), the last week before Lent. A good flicker should be very thin, the thinner the better. Bliny can be served with a sweet or savory filling or with butter, sour cream, caviar, fresh fruit or smoked fish.

Bliny (Russian pancakes)


  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1½ cups of milk
  • 1 cup flour (buckwheat flour is traditional)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Beat eggs until foamy in medium bowl. Add sugar, salt and milk.
  2. Add the flour and mix well until there are no lumps. Add vanilla.
  3. Pour a little vegetable oil in a small frying pan. Heat skillet over medium heat.
  4. Using a ladle, spoon a very thin layer of batter into the pan.
  5. Cook until the edges begin to curl and brown, then carefully turn to brown the other side.
  6. Serve with the stuffing (recipe follows). It can also be served with butter, jam, sour cream or fresh fruit.

bliny russian pancakes

Bliny filling


  • 1 package of frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries)
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.


  1. Thaw frozen berries and place them in a saucepan.
  2. In a measuring cup or drinking glass, completely dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup of water.
  3. Stir cornstarch mixture into berries and heat slowly until berry mixture thickens.


This recipe involves three steps: making the dough, making the filling, and assembling the cakes.


Ingredients for the dough

  • 2½ cups of sifted flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 butter spoons
  • 1 egg
  • Frozen water

Ingredients for the stuffing

  • 5 cups chopped cabbage (2 small heads of cabbage)
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 4 cups of boiling water
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon dill or parsley, chopped
  • 2 hard boiled eggs


  1. Make Pasta: Sift dry ingredients together. Add shortening and butter to dry mixture, mixing with a stand mixer or fork until mixture resembles oatmeal.
  2. Lightly beat the egg in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to make ½ a cup of liquid. Pour the egg and water into the flour mixture and mix well.
  3. Roll out the dough on a board or counter dusted with more flour. If the dough seems sticky, dust the surface of the dough and the rolling surface with more flour.
  4. To make piroghi (large cake): Roll the dough into a rectangle about 24 x 16 inches. It’s ready for stuffing.
  5. To make pirozhki (small cakes): Take balls of egg dough, flatten and roll out. Repeat with the remaining dough. The small tarts are now ready for the filling.
  6. Make the filling: Remove the tough outer leaves from 2 heads of cabbage, and quarter the heads, removing the tough core. Cut the cabbage leaves finely.
  7. Toss the cabbage with salt in a bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes. Pour the cabbage into a colander in the sink and drain.
  8. Heat 4 cups of water to a boil and carefully pour the boiling water over the cabbage in the strainer. Let it drain.
  9. Next, melt the butter in a large pan and add the chopped onion. Sauté until softened (about 5 minutes).
  10. Add the drained cabbage to the skillet and continue cooking, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the cabbage is tender (about 30 minutes).
  11. While the cabbage is cooking, remove the shells from the hard-boiled eggs and mince the eggs.
  12. Add dill or parsley and chopped eggs to the cooked cabbage and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Take it off the heat.
  13. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  14. To assemble the piroghi: Transfer the dough rectangle to the greased cookie sheet.
  15. Spread cabbage mixture over ½ of dough, fold dough over and pinch edges.
  16. To assemble Pirozhki: Fill each pirozhki with about 1½ tablespoons of the cabbage mixture.
  17. Pinch up the edges and place on a greased cookie sheet with the raw edge facing up.
  18. Bake the piroghi for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.
  19. Bake the pirozhkis for about 15 minutes.

Pirozhki typical russian food

Food for religious and festive celebrations

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the New Year on January 1, Christmas on January 7, and Epiphany on January 19. On New Years, Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost), a character from folklore, can be seen at festive events distributing pryaniki, a sweet cookie to signify wishes for a sweet new year. The Russian equivalent for Mardi Gras occurs during Maslyanitsa (Butter Week) when bliny are eaten non-stop. For Easter, Russian Orthodox women bake cakes and elaborately decorate them to resemble the rounded domes of Orthodox churches. The cakes are given to the priest on Easter Sunday, or served at home. Easter bread is always cut lengthwise rather than vertically. Pashka, a cold mixture of soft cheese (tvorog), butter, almonds, and currants, is formed in a special pyramid-shaped mold with the top cut off to represent the tomb of Jesus. Russian Easter eggs are usually red in color to signify the resurrection of Jesus. This is done by boiling the eggs in red onion or beetroot shells. Roast pig is served as the main meal at Easter. A roast goose is traditional at Christmas.

Pashka 10portions


  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
  • 1¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup of currants
  • 1 cup toasted almonds

Optional: Clean the new pot and clean the muslin fabric (or clean the fabric from a sheet or pillowcase) to shape the pashka


  1. Put the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat until very smooth.
  2. Add the butter and continue beating until well blended and very smooth and creamy.
  3. Add sugar little by little, beating well. Add vanilla.
  4. Add the currants and toasted almonds and gently stir to combine.
  5. If the pot is not being used to mold pashka, pour the cheese mixture into a pie pan, pie plate, or other dish. Smooth top surface, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least two hours, until ready to serve.
  6. To use the pot mold: Line the pot with the fabric, smoothing it out to line the surface of the pot. Transfer the cheese mixture to the pot, pushing the mixture down to remove any air pockets. Fold the fabric over and place a small saucer on top to weigh the mixture down. Refrigerate on a plate (some liquid may come out of the hole in the bottom of the pot) for at least two hours. To serve, remove the saucer, unwrap the cloth, and place a serving plate on top of the pot and turn it upside down to unmold. Carefully remove the fabric.

pashka russian gastronomy

Sbiten (Russian national winter drink) 10portions


  • 10 cups of water
  • 1 pound of berry jam (16 ounces)
  • ½ cup of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of cloves
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Measure the water into a large pot and heat it to a boil.
  2. Add jam, honey, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.
  3. Over low heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Ladle into mugs and serve hot.

sbiten typical russian drink

Mealtime customs

Russians eat four meals a day, starting with zavtrak or “morning coffee.” Lunch, or obyed, is a small two-course meal that lasts from 12 noon to 1 pm Kasha, or baked buckwheat, is usually served for lunch. Dinner, or uzhin, is the most elaborate meal that begins at 6 pm and typically includes four courses. The first course is zakuski or “little bite”. Zakuski can offer anything from a few simple appetizers (such as bread and cheese or herb butter) to twenty or more elaborate creations that require hours of preparation.

Selodka, or herring with a vinegar and oil dressing, is the most popular appetizer, and it almost always appears during zakuski. The first course is usually a soup, although the soup can also be the main course. Favorite soups are borscht (beetroot soup traditionally served with sour cream), shchyee (cabbage soup), and solyanka(tomato soup). The main dish can be roast beef, with potatoes and tubers. Dessert can be ice cream or cheesecake. A few hours after dinner, usually around 9 or 10 p.m., Russians have their fourth and last meal of the day, centered around the samovar (ornate urn for serving coffee or tea) for tea and pastries, as the Sharlotka (apple pie). Visitors are encouraged to stop by for evening tea, sometimes staying until midnight. Restaurants often finish the meal with Klyukva S Sakharom (Candied Blueberries).

Borscht (beetroot soup) 10portions


  • 3 cans (14 ounces) beef broth
  • 2 medium beets
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 3 potatoes
  • ¼ head of cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ green pepper
  • ½ fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • Sour cream as a garnish
  • sugar, to taste


  1. Prepare the onions and carrots by chopping them.
  2. Pour a little vegetable oil in a pan and add the carrots and onions. Cook until softened, and set aside.
  3. Peel the beets and cut them into small bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the seeds from the green pepper and chop it.
  5. Put the chopped beets and green pepper in a small saucepan and add about ½ cup of the broth and the tomato paste. Cover the pot and cook the vegetables over low heat for about 30 minutes until the beets are tender.
  6. While the beets and peppers are cooking, pour the remaining broth into a large saucepan and heat almost to a boil.
  7. Chop the cabbage and add it to the broth.
  8. Peel the potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces and add to the broth.
  9. Add cooked onions and carrots to the broth. Cook the soup over low heat for about 20 minutes.
  10. When the beets are tender, add them to the broth. Add lemon juice, salt, sugar, parsley and garlic cloves.
  11. Simmer 10 minutes more, and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.

borscht beetroot soup

Sharlotka (Apple Pie) 10portions


  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tart apples, like Granny Smith


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar and eggs, beating well to completely dissolve the sugar.
  3. Wash the apples, cut them into quarters, and cut out the core and seeds.
  4. Cut the apples into thin slices.
  5. Grease a round cake pan and dust lightly with flour or plain white breadcrumbs to prevent cake from sticking.
  6. Arrange all the apple slices in the bottom of the pan.
  7. Pour batter mixture over apples, spreading gently with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry and the cake begins to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  9. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and place a serving plate on top of the pan. Invert the pan (turn the pan upside down) onto the serving plate. It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Sharlotka (Apple Pie)

Klyukva S Sakharom (Candied Blueberries)


  • One pound bag of fresh blueberries
  • 1 egg white
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • A 2-foot-long piece of wax paper


  1. Preheat oven to 150°F (lowest setting possible).
  2. Beat the egg white with an electric mixer or wire whisk until foamy but not stiff.
  3. Rinse blueberries in a strainer, discarding any wilted or spoiled berries.
  4. Pour the blueberries into the egg white, stirring gently until the berries are completely covered.
  5. Measure the sugar into another large bowl. Add the blueberries, and stir until the berries are completely covered in sugar.
  6. Spread the blueberries out on a shallow baking sheet, such as a cookie sheet, with ridges.
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes until the sugar has melted.
  8. Lay out a 2-foot-long piece of wax paper on the counter or table.
  9. Spread the blueberries on the paper, separating them, to dry.
  10. Leave them undisturbed overnight. Candied blueberries will keep in an airtight container or plastic bag for 2 weeks.

Klyukva S Sakharom (Candied Blueberries)

Historically, when guests arrived at a Russian home, the hostess would greet them with a loaf of bread and a small amount of salt. The guest was expected to take a piece of bread, dip it in the salt and eat it. This explains the Russian word for hospitality, khlebosol’stvo (khleb “bread” and sol “salt”). The hostess sits at the head of the table with the most respected guest to her right. Her husband sits where he wants.

Semechki (roasted sunflower seeds) 6portions


  • 1 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 2 butter spoons
  • Salt, to taste (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave or in a skillet over low heat on the stove.
  3. Drop the seeds into the butter, covering them well.
  4. Spread the seed on a cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt. (The seeds can be shelled first, then sprinkled with salt if preferred).

semechki roasted sunflower seeds

Chai Po-Russki (Tea, Russian style)

Chai Po-Russki (tea) is usually served with a variety of pastries and candies.


  • 1 teaspoon loose black tea per person, plus 1 teaspoon “for the pot”
  • 1 cup of water per person
  • 1 whole cardamom pod or ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Cream


  1. Measure the tea into a saucepan. Add water and cardamom and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and let stand for 2 minutes. Pour the tea through a strainer into mugs.
  3. Add lemon slices or cream to your liking. (Don’t use the lemon and cream together, as the lemon will curdle the cream.)

A meal can consist of borscht (beetroot soup) with bread and pickles, or it can be more elaborate. The soup must be served very hot. All dishes are served at the table from large serving plates. It is appropriate for the hostess to encourage her guests to eat more than they really want to eat.

Along many city streets there are vending machines selling gazirovannaya voda (sparkling water), not in cans or bottles, but dispensed in a glass. The machine includes a cold water scrubbing brush for the customer to use to clean the cup before use. Also readily available are sunflower seeds sold by vendors at open stalls from large burlap sacks. Many Russians eat sunflower seeds daily.

Politics, economics and nutrition

In early 2001, Russians continued to struggle with food shortages. According to a World Bank report, about 3 percent of children under the age of five are underweight and about 13 percent have not reached the right height for their age. Both are signs that a small percentage of young children in Russia do not receive adequate nutrition in their daily diet.

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