What Are the Staple Foods of Russia?
29 SEP 2017
When anyone thinks of Russian food, they probably think of potatoes and pot roast, carrots and the simple rustic foods. However, Russian foods have actually become part of the American diet. We just don't realize their origin. Think of beef Stroganoff, blintzes, caviar, kasha or pyrohi--all Russian dishes that most of us have eaten or heard of before. There are many variations of Russian foods because of its large land mass and the many smaller countries that line its borders.
Tracing back through Russian history will bring you ultimately to the mention of the Slavs who spread across the region. They were the original settlers of the land and are the ancestors of the Russians, Croatians, Bulgarians, Belorussians and Ukrainians, and the other Russian cultures surrounding the area. Much of the food and cuisines of these different societies have their basis from this early civilization.
Sit down to a tasting of different Russian foods and you will quickly realize that meats, cheeses and other dairy products are the roots of their cooking. Their culture was basically one main meal a day and the food was very high in calories and heavy, probably so it would last them through the day. Meats were relatively cheap and easy to purchase. If their food groups were listed as we do here in the United States, they would be potatoes, bread, eggs, meat and butter, and in that order of importance. Since Russia has so many rivers and lakes, almost everyone has access to fish, which is also very popular in their cuisine as part of the meat category.
Eat a Russian meal and you will be filled with enough calories for a week. The reason for their high-calorie content is simple--it is usually very cold and windy in Russia. Most of Russia has only two seasons, winter and summer, with some areas that never thaw out. Their foods are the hearty foods that would stay with you and cause you to have a layer of fat to protect you from the bitter cold.
Growing crops in Russia takes special considerations. Most of the land has no precipitational influence from the oceans and therefore does not get a considerable amount of rain. There are small areas in the south along the Pacific Ocean that are almost subtropical, but most of the land is very dry and windblown. Vegetables that are grown to be used in their cuisine are hardy vegetables that can withstand some cold temperatures, like cabbage, onions, beets and turnips, as well as quick-growing leafy crops like spinach and kale. Of course, with modern transportation, most any kind of vegetable can be purchased today.
Enjoying a good Russian meal almost always means the inclusion of vodka. Potatoes are one of the most important crops growing in the cold regions and providing the basis for this popular drink. However, it was not always this way. Vodka was a pretty rough drink, made at home by the peasants and distilled crudely. It was added to milk and flavored with various herbs and spices. When the Bolsheviks took over all the privately owned distilleries, some of the Russian vodka makers left the country and moved to Europe. One such man by the name of Smirnoff moved to Paris in the 1930s. He was responsible for opening a distillery in the U.S. with the help of another Russian. However, it was not until the 1960s and '70s when mixed drinks became popular that vodka became a hugely successful liquor in the U.S.