Russian food for beginners

When I started highschool I could choose between French or Russian as my second foreign language. I went for Russian and discovered a much more complex language and culture than I ever expected. Throughout the time I more or less dropped my interest in the language itself; I mean six different cases AND a new alphabet! But I never lost my interest in the culture, especially the food.

Think about Russian food! What do you see? Vodka, vodka, vodka and maybe vodka? Nothing against vodka! Russian vodka is the best you can get, but the Russian cuisine offer so much more than excellent vodka. I really must make it brief, otherwise I bore you with pages and pages full of recipes and masses of explanations concerning food. But I will give a good solid overview on some Russian food and where in Rostock you find little Russians to shop and try some of the specialities.

In general, the Russian kitchen is hearty, every so often quite meaty and includes ingredients like buckwheat, beetroots, and fish. Some of the most popular dishes are pelmeni, bortsch and the Oliviersalat.

Pelmeni (пельмени) are dumplings, normally stuffed with meat and cooked in broth. They are typically served with cream and chives. They taste savoury, salty and the cream adds some fresh touch. They are the archetype of filled dumplings and perfect for beginners for the taste resembles tortellini or ravioli, just a bit heavier and meatier. I personally also love them with brown butter and parsley.

Bortsch (борщ) in contrast is something more special and my first memories of it aren´t that good, to be honest. I tried it first when I was 12 and I wasn´t prepared for the bright red colour and the intense sweet sour taste of beetroot. But I must correct my younger, ignorant self and have to assure you, bortsch is just perfect!! I love it!! Honestly, don’t worry about the colour. Bortsch is a soup with beetroot, white cabbage, and other vegetables like carrots. How the soup is served, differs from country to country. In most cases bortsch comes with cream and fresh herbs. In the Ukrainian version the soup is served with a salty garlic cream and in German versions you often find beef. The taste is quite a mixture of sweet, sour, and savoury aromas. It kinda heavy with the cabbage, the meat components, and the garlic.

Last, but not least, in our little introduction to Russian food comes the Olivier salat (салат Оливье). It is not that much known around here, but the salad can be considered as a Russian classic. The recipe was created in 1860 by a French cook called Lucien Oliver. He was the chef of a restaurant in Moscow. The original recipe is still a secret today. But luckily for us, one Russian cook, who worked in the restaurant, copied the recipe. His little “copy and paste”- action wasn´t complete and missed some central ingredients for dressing. Consequently, what we know today under the name Olivier salat is somehow plagiarism with some room for interpretation. Central ingredients are caviar, crayfishes, gherkins, boiled eggs and potatoes as well as some form of meat. Again, the dish is very heathy, filling and creamy. Or in other words, this is probably the unhealthiest salat you can get. It looks similar to our potato salat in northern Germany and is popular on holidays like new year and the orthodox Christmas.

All three dishes are very traditional and only represent teensy-weensy part of the complex universe of Russian food. Sadly, I cann´t transfer the taste or smell directly to you (but I work hard on it my secret laboratory). So, you will have no other chance to try out the dishes by yourself.

A good restaurant to make your first steps into the Russian cuisine is the restaurant Arbat . The restaurant is specialised on Russian food. You can try all three meal I described to you as well as dishes like blini (sort of really flat pancakes stuffed with meat), a wide variety of vareniki (sort of dumplings in half moon form with different fillings) and fish ragout.  It is like a little culinary Russia within Rostock.

Those, who like to cook by themselves need authentic, Russian products to have their little Russia at home. A good store to find these products is Eleonora . The shop only offers Polish and Russian products and has even an online shop. The variety of products are amazing, and it takes some time to eat yourself through sentiment. For youngsters in the Russian kitchen, I would recommend confection, sunflower seeds, and birch sap.

Confections  are traditional sweets in form of little nuggets. They often include nuts, chocolate, sweetened condensed milk or cream. As a sweet tooth myself, I can guarantee you a goodies heaven!

Sunflower seeds might seem a bit off at the first moment. But sunflower seeds are a typical snack and have a nearly holy status in Russia. The seeds are still in their shells and therefore need to be peeled. They are often sold loose, roasted, and seasoned with salt. So the seeds have a crisp-like taste. Moreover, sunflower seeds are part of many snack bars or desserts.

Lastly birch sap! I absolutely love birch sap , especially during the summer. Nothing is better than a cool birch sap on the balcony. Birch sap is extremely traditional and is tapped during spring. The birch sap is a nearly clear, colourless liquid and has a fresh, very mild, slightly sweet taste. You can drink birch sap pure, but you find often birch saps with mint or lemon. A good drink is a vodka with cool birk sap, mint leaves and bit of lemon juice.

Russian food is complex, absolutely delicious and a culinary world worth to explore. So, pull yourself together and try something beyond pizza, pasta and Döner!

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About Katja

Before I moved to Rostock I lived 6 months in Dublin. It was great to enjoy the Irish way of living! Now I am a student at the University of Rostock. I am quite enthuasiastic about food, creative activities and books.

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