Cold. This is one word often associated with the vast territory of the Russian Federation. Located in the northern Eurasia region and host country of the 2014 Winter Olympics, winters in Russia are rather long and chilly.
This climate has affected much of what Russians cook and eat and has left the country with only small portions of land suitable for farming. It is necessary that food provides high levels of energy and keeps the body warm, therefore, mostly potatoes, barley, rye, and millet are grown and used for both food and drinks. But climate is not the only influential factor shaping Russian cuisine – the sheer size of the country and its cultural diversity have also played a significant role.
Russians love soup. They love it so much they have seven main kinds and infinite variations: cold soup, noodle soup, fish soup, light soup, cabbage soup, grain-based soup, and meat soup.
Borscht is a very popular Russian soup. It is made with beetroot juice fermented for color and sharp taste. Vegetables and beef are also added and this traditional recipe is often served with sour cream.
Shchi is a traditional cabbage-based soup which is often paired with rye bread. It became popular because it is easy to prepare, one can take it as a solid anywhere after freezing it, and it is safe to be consumed every day. There’s even a Russian saying that goes: “One may become fed up with one’s own father, but never with shchi!”
Bread is not to be taken lightly in Russia. It is a staple on every kitchen table and no meal is complete without it. It is eaten with everything – soups, salads, meat, potatoes, porridge, and even noodles. Russians often eat wheat bread for breakfast and dinner but have rye bread for lunch.
Bread, together with salt, is so important that it is made part of a traditional Russian wedding ceremony. Guests are also welcomed to a Russian home with bread and salt. It is a show of hospitality.
Pancakes are part of some rituals of pagan traditions in Russia, especially during Maslenitsa (pancake week). Pancakes are associated with the sun and they take centre stage during spring and the end of winter.
Blini is a thin Russian pancake often served during ceremonies such as wakes and during Lent. It can be made from buckwheat and other grains but the wheat version is most popular. It is commonly topped with caviar and sour cream.
A good number of Russian recipes feature various meats on the ingredient list.
Beef Stroganoff is made with beef strips and sour cream. Legend says that this dish got its name from Count Paul Stroganov, a Russian diplomat in the nineteenth century. Stroganov traveled to Siberia with his chef and the latter found that their beef had gone so hard that the only way to deal with it was to cut it into strips.
Chicken Kiev is a modern Russian dish said to be named after the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. It is made by spreading cold garlic butter and herbs on a pounded chicken breast and rolling it up. It is then breaded before frying or baking.
Shashlyk is the Russian version of kebabs. Marinated lamb, pork, or beef cubes are alternated with vegetables on a skewer and roasted over an open flame.
In the past, Russians ate fish mainly during the times when meat was forbidden for religious reasons.
Kulebyaka is a traditional Russian festive dish that dates back to the late 1800’s. It is made by stuffing a crisp pastry with salmon, eggs, and rice that is cooked with lots of dill. Legend has it that Pushkin, a popular Russian poet, loved kulebyaka.
Seledka Pod Shuboĭ, also known as Russian Herring Under Fur Coat Salad, is as interesting as its name. It is also a festive dish often served during Christmas and New Year. This dish has a very attractive purple coat made from boiled, grated beet root and mayonnaise. Inside is a layer of chopped salted herring, vegetables, onions, and mayonnaise.
Before travelling be sure to check the specific time zone of the area in Russia you are visiting. The country spans a total of nine time zones, from Further-eastern European Time (UTC+03:00) to Magadan Time (UTC+12:00).
Russia has four seasons but spring and fall are extremely short. Winters can start as early as October and end as late as April. If the cold doesn’t bother you and you love winter sports, you will find Russia very beautiful and have a lot of fun during this time. You will also get great travel deals as this is considered off-season in Russia – most visitors come in droves during the summer (July and August), and you can’t really blame them.
You’ll need to have your money changed to Russian Ruble (RUB) while you are there.
Airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg are the main points of entry to Russia. While both cities service flights from European countries, Moscow additionally serves flights from Asia, North America, the Middle East, and Africa. There are three international airports in Moscow: Vnukovo (VKO); Sheremetyevo (SVO); and Domodedovo (DME). Keep this in mind when booking your tickets as these airports are quite a distance from each other.
Russia is the world’s largest country and spans two continents. The best way to visit more cities during your stay is to fly. Local airlines such as Aeroflot and Pulkovo can do the job for you but if airfares prove to be too much for your budget, train travel is an option. To avoid crazy lines at the stations you can easily book tickets with your hotel, although they are slightly more expensive.
Tourist buses offer day trip options and you can also ask your hotel to make arrangements for you or make the booking yourself. You will find vendors who offer tours in places like St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospekt metro station and Moscow’s Red Square. Otherwise, you can also rent a car, but it is recommended to get one with a driver. Driving in Russia can be quite challenging and it is better to leave that to the driver and just enjoy your stay.
Get to know more about two of Russia’s famous cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg.