Brief History of Russian Cuisine

Russia stretches from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, neighboring many other countries. Russians speak Russian and share the same culture and traditions nationwide. An essential part of every nation is its cuisine. Ethnographers start studying every nation with its cuisine because it can reveal its history, everyday life and traditions. Russian Cuisine is no exception and is a very important part of Russia and its history.

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Russian cuisine dates back to the 10th century.  Old Russian cuisine became really diverse by the 15th century. Of course it was influenced by natural and geographical conditions. The abundance of rivers, lakes and forests contributed to the appearance of dishes made from fish, game, mushrooms and berries.

In the fields they planted different grains like rye, oat, wheat, barley, buckwheat and others. They made grain porridges (каша) from it of different kinds. Porridge (каша) has always been a traditional national dish. Russians eat porridges throughout their lives: young kids eat manna-croup kasha, adults like buckwheat kasha.

As the Old Russian saying goes «Каша - матушка наша, а хлебец ржаной - отец наш родной» - (Porridge is our mother, bread is our father).

From the early times in Russia they used dough to make noodles(лапша), pelmeni (пельмени),vareniki (вареники), brown rye bread (черный ржаной хлеб) without which one cannot imagine the Russian cuisine. By the X century they got wheat grain and an assortment of pastry increased largely -  they started baking karavai (каравай), kalach (калач), pies ( пироги), pancakes (блины), oladii (оладьи) and others.

In the 9th century the most common ingredients were turnip (репа), cabbage (капуста), radish (редька), peas (горох), cucumbers (огурцы). They were eaten raw, baked, steamed, salted, marinated.  Potatoes did not appear until the 18th century, and tomatoes until the 19th century. Up until the beginning of the 19th there not hardly any salads. The first salads were prepared from a certain vegetable. That's why they got names like : cabbage salad (салат капустный), cucumber salad (салат огуречный) or potato salad ( картофельный). Later on the recipes became more complex and many salad were made from many different vegetables, sometimes with fish or meat, and they got more interesting names too: Spring (Весна), Health (Здоровье),  Sea Gem (Морская жемчужина) and others.

Hot liquid dishes appeared from the early times as well: first fish soup (уха), shchi (щи), and later borsch (борщ), rassolnik - sour soup (рассольник), and then different sorts of Soyinka (солянка). In the XIX century these liquid dishes were named Soups (супы)

Among drinks popular were kvass (квас) and different wild berries' drinks. Spices (Пряности) were used extensively since the XI century. Russian and overseas merchants brought clove (гвоздика), cinnamon (корица), ginger (имбирь), coriander (кориандр), bay leaf (лавровый лист), black pepper (черный перец), olive oil (оливковое масло), lemons (лимоны) etc. Russia was trading with western countries and was a passing way to China.

Tea (Чай) was first brought to Russia in the XVII century. As for alcoholic drinks, in the Old Russia they drank low-alcohol drinks based on honey and berries. Vodka was first brought to Russia in XV century, and was immediately banned and did not appear until the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the middle of XVI century. At that time the first Tsar Bar was opened (Царский Трактир).

Russian cuisine was not only unique because of the ingredients they used but because the food was cooked in the Russian Stove (в русской печи). They baked bread in them, brewed kvass and beer, and on stoves they dried food. And they were generally used to heat houses and many people slept on them.

The food cooked in stoves was delicious because it was heated evenly from all sides. Russian stoves are no longer used these days, even in the countryside. They have been replaced by electric stoves and microwave ovens. In the old times the food of the elite class was no different from what the common people ate. By the XVII century the food of the elite became more sophisticated, differing not only in quantity but in the serving manner and ingredients.

Tsar feasts were very pompous and huge with a great variety of dishes. The number of dishes could reach 150-200,

The sizes of dishes increased, and the duration of the banquet.  They normally started at lunch time and continued eating till late night.

XVIII century was a new era in the development of Russian society.  Piter I not only transferred the capital to St. Petersburg closer to the Western Europe and changed the calendar, he changed many traditions. Russia was becoming more and more influenced by western European cuisine, first German and then Dutch and French.

The Russian aristocracy was hiring foreign chefs that totally replaced lady-cooks. The Russian cuisine got dishes like sandwiches (бутерброды), salads (салаты) and bouillon (бульон), and a choice of pan fried dishes (beefsteaks, entrecote, meat patties (котлеты), as well as sauces (соусы), желе (jellies), creams etc. Russian tratirs (трактиры) were replaced by restaurants with waiters and hosts. Most of this did not affect the common people.

Russian food was also diverse in different parts of the country because of the different climates and nature of those parts.




Russian Appetizers РУССКИЕ ЗАКУСКИ

A distinguishing characteristic of Russian cuisine is the abundance of  appetizers. When receiving guests one should offer all kinds of appetizers: sauerkraut (квашеную капусту), salted mushrooms (соленые грибы), pickles (маринованные огурцы), herring (селедку). In a hospitable home  they would greet a guest and welcome him/her to the table served with dishes. Among appetizers you would find many salads. From the old time appetizers were decorated with products that were part of the recipe except for berries and herbs. All in all decoration is something that whets your appetite («чтобы слюнки текли») by mere looking !


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