Russian Traditional Foods

Russian Cuisine Explained

Traditional Ukrainian cuisine, beet soup borscht
••• A spread of traditional Ukrainian cuisine. istetiana/Getty Images

Unfortunately, Russian cuisine hasn’t made it big in the States. However, that leaves one more facet of Russian culture to discover on your own while you’re traveling. You’ve may have heard something about Russian traditional foods but have had little opportunity to try them. Visitors to Russia are often surprised at the variety and flavors of Russian cuisine. They will have you searching for the recipes you return home!

So what are some of the most common foods on a traditional Russian restaurant’s menu or served at a Russian cook's table?

Russian Soups

  • Borshch, of course, is beet soup, and one of the most famous Russian traditional foods. Beets seem a strange base for soup to many Westerners, but there are plenty of reasons that this hearty soup is one of Russia’s most famous dishes. Full of vegetables and meat, the layered flavors in this soup are especially nice with a dollop of fresh sour cream.
  • Shchi is a typical cabbage soup made from either fresh or fermented cabbage. While different recipes call for various ingredients, shchi often contains potatoes, carrots, onions, and possibly some type of meat such as chicken.
  • Solyanka is a soup that is plentiful enough to be a meal in itself. This soup is made with various types of meat, including sausage, bacon, ham, and beef, as well as vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Chopped pickles and the traditional lemon slice garnish play an important role in giving this recipe its sour flavor.
  • Fish soup is represented by ukha, made with a variety of different types of fish often swimming in a clear broth.

Pastries and Dumplings

  • You may have already heard of pirozhki. These little pastries can be packed full of potatoes, meat, cabbage, or cheese.
  • Pelmeni are pastry dumplings filled typically with meatballs. They can be served alone, slathered in butter and topped with sour cream, or in a soup broth. Definitely a favorite in Russia and abroad!
  • Blini are also served rolled with a variety of fillings: jam, cheese, onions, or even chocolate syrup. At any restaurant where you aren’t sure of any of the other dishes, blini are always a safe bet. Blini are such an important part of Russian cuisine, a festival called Maslenitsa celebrates the beginning of spring with them.

Meat Dishes in Russia

  • Russian kebabs are called shashlyk. Like any kebab, they can be a combination of meat and vegetables.
  • The classic beef stroganoff consists of strips of beef in a creamy sauce with mushrooms or tomatoes, often served with rice, noodles, or potatoes. This recipe has a long history, and many variations for its preparation exist.

Garnishes

  • Caviar, or ikra, is really something to get worked up about in Russia. Briny and sharp, it is often served on dark, crusty bread or with blini, which are like pancakes or crepes. Caviar on buttered bread is a popular zakuska.
  • You can expect to find sour cream, or smetana, accompanying almost any Russian traditional food—with crepes, in soups, and even sometimes in dessert. Often, this sour cream is fresh and often melts into any warm dish, adding to its distinctive flavor.

Russian Beverages

  • Expect to find Russian vodka, tea, mineral water, and soda on beverage menus. Beer is also very popular in Russia.
  • Kvass is a refreshing fermented beverage with slight carbonation. Though it has a very slight alcohol content, it is not considered an alcoholic beverage.

Russian Desserts

  • Russians love ice cream, called morozhenoe. It is common to find it on many restaurant menus with a variety of topping to choose from—like fruit, nuts, or chocolate.
  • Paskha appears around Easter. This sweetened cheese dessert is decorated with Christian symbols as a part of the holiday feast.