Food for Thought: The Intricacies of Russian Delicacies
by Alexandra Kiosse
Age 8, lunchtime. We sit down in the cafeteria, exhausted from learning the multiplication tables throughout the first half of the day. With our brown paper bags and superhero lunchboxes, we eagerly rip open our prepared meals, excited to discover what our parents had packed for us. All around me, my hungry peers take out their PB&J sandwiches, juice boxes, and pretzels. I slowly reach into my own pink lunchbox and nervously take out the contents. My classmates look at my lunch with disgust and confusion - another caviar butter sandwich it is.
Food has always been the unifying factor of every culture. We can bond over our own ethnicity’s popular dishes, and break bread while enjoying our culture’s staple foods. However, we don’t always stray far from our own family’s traditions to experience foods outside of our cultural circle. As a self-proclaimed food fanatic, let my demystify some classic Russian meals.
Bliny For the appetizer, bliny are the perfect start to any breakfast, lunch, or dinner. These are ultra-thin pancakes, or crepes. They can be eaten plain, but are typically stuffed with either cottage cheese and topped off with sour cream, meat or fish, mushrooms, or even fruit jams. Bliny are the easiest way to change a meal from an appetizer or entrée, to a dessert.
Caviar Once the bane of my existence during my elementary school years (I hadn’t tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until high school), caviar is something I can expect to see at all family reunions. Caviar is essentially fish eggs, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying some. It can be eaten on bread with butter, or in bliny (proof that almost anything can be rolled in these Russian crepes) Caviar can be expensive, so it usually isn’t a food Russians eat on a daily basis.
Borsht Everyone’s favorite soup. It’s made with beets, tomatoes and other vegetables, beef (or vegetable) broth, and cubes of beef (although it can also be vegetarian). It is usually topped off with cold sour cream. Russian grandparents swear by this soup, even going as far as saying that those who don’t eat borsht, and other similar soups, have a weaker immune system. Maybe this explains why I get sick so often in college.
Herring in a Fur Coat This one gets a bit weird. It is a layered salad consisting of salted herring, mayonnaise, boiled vegetables, and chopped onions - definitely not for the weak at heart.
Kholodets A holiday favorite, Kholodets is jellied meat broth. You read that correctly. This is chicken, beef, or pork broth that is poured over cubes of meat and vegetables, and cooled until it has the consistency of jelly. The day before a Russian reunion, the fridge will be full of bowls of kholodets cooling before the event. I guess this one is a little weird as well!
Kvass No meal can be had without a refreshing beverage. Kvass is a Russian’s favorite (non-alcoholic) drink. It is made of wheat, rye, or buckwheat, and is left to ferment for two or three days. It is essentially a non-alcoholic beer, and is a favorite on hot summer days. We even made a soup out of it (look up okroshka if you really want to delve into the Russian dining experience.)
Although other cultures’ foods may sound unusual, it is important to be tolerant and curious in a growing, multicultural society. Next time you’re craving soup, swap the chicken noodle for some borscht; it might just be the cure for that unrelenting college flu.