Russian food is one of the most diverse and fascinating in the world. It developed over hundreds of years, incorporating Christianity and the changes that it brought, as well as pagan foods and culinary traditions.

Due to the cold weather that lasted up to nine months in some areas, Russians prepared their winter food in advance, during the summer, making various preserves, pickles, jams, and salted, dried or smoked meat and fish. In Soviet times, when store shelves were often empty, many Russians relied on the pickled fruit and vegetables that they had grown themselves at their country plots. Many of those preserved foods remain popular icons of Russian cuisine.

Traditional Russian Foods

  • Russian dishes reflect a rich history of interaction with other cultures, resulting in unique foods and tastes.
  • Many foods were prepared in the summer and used during the six to nine cold months of winter. This created a fascinating culinary tradition with hundreds of recipes of pickles, salted, dried or smoked meat and fish, and foods that kept for months, such as pelmeni.
  • Many Russian dishes originated as a way of utilizing leftovers but became everyday staples.
  • Russian pierogi and other baked foods were originally made on special occasions or as part of a religious ritual.

 Borscht (борщ)

Borscht is arguably the most well-known Russian dish in the West, although it is usually incorrectly translated as beetroot soup, which doesn’t make it sound as great as it really is.

Made with meat and vegetables that usually include potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, garlic, and beetroot, borscht is a staple dish of the Russian culture. There are various versions of its origin, including that it came into Russian cuisine from Ukraine, where it is also extremely popular.

Originally, borscht recipes called for beetroot kvas (a fermented drink) that was diluted with water and boiled. Nowadays, a little bit of sautéed or otherwise prepared beetroot is added at the very end of the cooking process.

There are countless versions of borscht recipes, with each cook convinced that theirs is the right one. It can be made with mushrooms, with or without meat, using red meat or poultry, and even fish. Although originally borscht was a dish for the commoners, Russian royalty soon fell in love with it. Catherine The Great called it her favorite meal and had a special chef at the palace to make it for her.

Pelmeni (пельмени)

Similar to the Italian ravioli, the pelmeni is another staple food, which appeared in Russian cooking around the 14th century. It remained a popular dish in the Ural and Siberian parts of Russia until the 19th century, when it expanded to the rest of the country.

Although there are no exact details about its origin, most theories agree that pelmeni may have come from China, changing and taking on characteristics of the various cultures it traversed. Russians learned to make pelmeni from the Komi people indigenous to the Ural area.

A simple but tasty and filling dish, pelmeni are made from meat, flour, eggs, and water, sometimes adding spices such as garlic, salt, and pepper. The small dumplings are then boiled for several minutes. Due to the simplicity of the cooking process, as well as the fact that frozen pelmeni can keep for months, this dish was popular among hunters and travelers who carried pelmeni with them and cooked them on a campfire.

Blinis (блины)

Blinis come from the Slavic pagan traditions and symbolize the sun and the gods that represent it. They were originally made during the week of Масленица (the religious and folk holiday before the Great Lent) and are still one of the most favored dishes in Russia.

There are various recipes for blinis, including small drop-scones, lacy paper-thin large blinis, sweet thicker pancakes made with milk, and many more. They are often used as wraps with meat, vegetable, and grain-based fillings.

Pierogi (пирог)

Kulebyaka cabbage pie close up. Russian cuisine

The pierogi have traditionally been a symbol of domestic bliss and culinary prowess in Russia and were originally only served at special occasions or to welcome guests. The word пирог comes from пир, meaning a feast, which gives a good idea of the symbolic meaning of this popular dish.

Each different type of pierogi was used for a different occasion. For example, on name day a cabbage pierog was served, whereas Christenings were accompanied by sourdough pierogi that had a coin or a button inside, for luck. Godparents received a special sweet pierog just for them, to demonstrate their special meaning to the family.

Although there are hundreds of different recipes for this dish, they were traditionally made in an oval or rectangular shape.

Eventually, the pierogi became part of everyday cooking thanks to their convenience, as they are made with ordinary ingredients that are available to anyone.

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