Some of Russia’s most delicious dishes might be more familiar to your taste buds than you think (dumplings, salads, cakes, & more)
Let’s talk popular traditional Russian dishes that’ll make your taste buds shimmy with all things sautéed, stuffed, heavy, and carbed. Russia’s cuisine is a reflection of three primary aspects: geographical features, religious beliefs, and specific customs.
Though a lot of people choose Asian or South American flavors as their food destination, leaving many countries such as Russia on the backburner, this could simply be a result of limited knowledge.
Let’s take a look at some classic Russian dishes that you just can’t leave the country without trying first (you can, but we recommend trying at least one or eight of these). We won’t list every popular dish in Russia, but we’ll list some unique dishes that you might be able to recreate in your home with ingredients from our international department.
TRADITIONAL SWEET DISHES THAT ARE POPULAR IN RUSSIA
Guriev kasha (Russian semolina porridge)
There are two conflicting stories about the invention of Guriev kasha:
The dish was invented by the Count Dmitri Guriev to celebrate the victory over Napoleon’s army in 1812
The dish was created by the chef of Count Guriev, who served kasha as a dessert and kept his recipe secret for a long time.
Unlike more typical porridge varieties, Guriev kasha isn’t just cooked in milk — the dish is typically sprinkled with sugar and the milk or cream is baked in the oven until a crispy crust is formed on top then removed before being used to separate the semolina layers. The tradition is to layer nuts, fruits, or jams between the milk crust and semolina filling.
Syrniki (Russian cottage cheese pancakes)
This popular Russian dessert consists of fried cottage cheese pancakes that are usually garnished with honey, fruit jam, sour cream, or applesauce. Cottage cheese is traditionally first sweetened with sugar then combined with flour into a dough which is fried in hot oil until it develops a golden-brown color. This dish can be served for breakfast or consumed as a tasty dessert after a large meal.
Smetannik (Russian layer cake)
This cake is usually made with a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and a sour cream frosting consisting of sour cream, vanilla, cream cheese, and milk. The cake is traditionally made in a deep pan. Once done cooking, it’s recommended to let smetannik rest in the fridge overnight. Individual pieces are cut and served the next day. Smetannik is especially popular at birthdays and similar festive occasions
Ptichye moloko (the “reverse” Russian cake)
Not only is this one of Russia’s most beloved desserts, but ptichye moloko is also a decadent cake famous for its reversed cake-to-filling ratio. The thick, but exceptionally light, almost soufflé-like layers of silky custard are separated by thin, fluffy, moist layers of sponge cake, while the whole confection is topped with a rich chocolate ganache glaze. If you’re not a lover of all things sweet and rich, this definitely isn’t for you (calling all sweet toothers to the frontline).
SAVORY RUSSIAN DISHES YOU SHOULD TRY THE NEXT TIME YOU'RE VISITING THE COUNTRY
Golubtsy (Russian cabbage rolls)
The name of the dish means “little pigeons” and refers to the 18th-century aristocratic practice of grilling doves. The poor couldn’t afford to grill doves, so they started grilling doves substitutes, or golubtsy.
These rolls are stuffed with ground beef that’s been combined with either rice or buckwheat. The great thing about this dish is that cabbage stuffed with any ingredient is the only necessary component for it to be called golubtsy, so other ingredients besides rice and meat can be used as a filling — just find whatever you’ve got laying around the pantry and toss it in with the cabbage! This dish is also traditionally accompanied by a dollop or two of sour cream on the side.
Stroganina (Russian sashimi)
Stroganina originates from the Russian Arctic and is a dish that’s prepared with a whole fish that is frozen raw. It’s traditionally prepared with whitefish such as omul, nelma, or muksun.
The name of the dish stems from the word strogat, meaning to shave. This is because, after being frozen, the fish is then skinned and cut with a sharp knife into incredibly thin slices that naturally curl.
Stroganina should be served on ice immediately after slicing, usually accompanied by a combination of salt and pepper, and traditionally paired with vodka.
Pelmeni (Russian dumplings)
Though many people debate about the origins of this dish because countries around the world have their own adaptations of it, it’s impossible to imagine modern Russian cuisine without pelmeni, or dumplings. The filling of traditional Russian dumplings is a mixture of three types of minced meat — beef, lamb and pork. The dumplings are served in a large bowl with sour crème. In many families, it’s still tradition to sculpt dumplings together.
Blini (Russian pancakes)
Though this is a pancake by name, we wouldn’t say it’s in the same category as the pancakes we’ve grown to love in North America. Russian pancakes are thin and not sweet like French crêpes (you can add any filling of choice). The traditional pancakes are filled with sour cream and salmon, caviar or mushrooms and, for those with a sweet tooth, condensed milk or berries.
Russian cuisine has been heavily influenced by religious traditions, and Russian pancakes follow suit — baked round, just like the sun. There’s even a special holiday, Maslenitsa, which happens every year one week before the start of spring.
What do Russians do to celebrate? Eat blini for an entire week, of course. We say there isn’t a better way to celebrate than by stuffing our faces with our favorite foods for a week straight!
Mimoza (Russian salad)
A salad that contains… canned and mashed fish such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, or trout, boiled egg whites and yolks, onions, crumbled cheese, and sometimes boiled potatoes and carrots. The name? The result of the salad looking similar to the spring Mimosa flowers once all the ingredients are assembled.
We know this salad is a lot, but stay with us on this one. Mimoza is prepared by layering the different ingredients we listed above, with each layer separated by a light layer of mayonnaise. Almost all of the ingredients used in the salad are finely grated, and the boiled egg yolks are usually the final layer. The salad is often garnished with chopped dill before serving. All you have to do is dig in. But don’t count on losing weight (or counting calories) with this one… just enjoy the flavors this dish has to offer.
Königsberger Klopse (Russsian meatballs)
This is a savory meal consisting of meatballs contrasted by capers in a white sauce and served with a side of boiled potatoes and sliced pickled beets. These meatballs are mostly made with minced veal and a small amount of either anchovies, sardines, or herrings. Similar dishes have existed since the Middle Ages, but klopse (lit. meatballs) were invented in Königsberg (now known as Kaliningrad) back in the 18th century.
Vinegret (Russian Salad)
This salad differs from the other one we mentioned. Originally invented in the 19th century, vinegret is the oldest, most popular Russian salad. It usually consists of boiled beets, potatoes, and carrots combined with diced pickles, sauerkraut, and onions. The name of the salad is derived from the French term vinaigrette (basically: oily salad dressing).
This salad is traditionally dressed with a combination of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and sometimes mustard, and is often prepared for holidays and on festive events such as New Year’s. As a result, it’s recommended to make the salad a day in advance.
Customarily, the salad is served with Russian black bread on the side, along with meat or fish such as sausages or herrings.
THE BEST RUSSIAN BEVERAGES TO DRINK TO TRULY EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE
Kvass – Fermented Russian Beverage
This drink has a slight carbonation and an alcohol content so slight, it’s not considered an alcoholic beverage in Russia. Kvass is made from black or regular rye bread or dough.
Yorsh (russia’s Beer And Vodka)
This popular Russian mixed beverage is made with a combination of beer and vodka. Meanwhile, in North America we try very, very hard not to mix our liquors… with this drink, vodka doesn’t alter the flavor of beer that much, but it does greatly increase the alcohol content in the cocktail, so it’s suitable for someone looking to get drunk and get drunk quick.
The ratio of ingredients may vary depending on personal preferences. After the ingredients have been combined, it’s recommended to drink the cocktail quickly, as is the custom in Russia, because Yorsh is traditionally consumed in social settings after a toast.
Sbiten (Russian Hot Beverage)
This beverage dates back to the 12th century — back when it was made in copper samovars by sbiten makers who sold it on street corners. Made from honey, water, jam, and various spices, the name sbiten is derived from the Russian sbit, meaning “to beat.” This refers to the act of pounding the accompanying spices and herbs.
For a country so massive in size, some people are often surprised at the variety and flavors in Russian dishes. The surprise element might be because Russia isn’t often the first place to come to mind when you think of your most exciting food destination; the cuisine simply doesn’t get brought up in many food conversations.
But after taking a look at some of these dishes, we see the country’s flavors have been heavily influenced by its connection to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (that food trio sounds tasty, if you ask us).