Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life and Foods Commonly Used in Russia


The center of the traditional Russian kitchen is a remarkable stove called the pleeta. Remarkable because it not only often provides the heat for most of the house, serves as a warm bed at night (with a mattress on top), but also cooks meals and bakes foods in either one of two ovens: a slow oven and a fast oven. Further, an area near the ovens is perfect for broiling shashlyk (skewered meats), while a covered hole in the chimney carries the charcoal fumes away from the heating samovar. This latter could be described as the second most important piece of equipment in the traditional Russian kitchen for the huge polished samovar is used to heat water for tea, and unquestionably tea has a special place in the Russian home.

Upon the heavy pleeta can be found an array of practical cooking utensils, almost all of cast iron. These include pots, skillets, and the special griddle, which is actually a series of round “nests” all in one piece, used for preparing blini. Of special importance is the earthenware pot used especially for baking kasha. Characteristically there are no individual-sized baking or cooking dishes, because limiting anyone’s food is contrary to Russian thinking. A big wooden table for working, wooden mixing bowls, and a set of scales complete the important items for cooking and baking.

In the country areas of modern-day Russia, the traditional kitchen and utensils are still used. But many people living in urban apartments have little time to fuss over cooking. They prepare simpler meals in smaller kitchens.

Traditionally, home preserves of fruits and jams and barrels of pickled vegetables and cured meats all formed a part of the family’s winter supply. More and more, foods are purchased on an almost day-to-day basis as city dwellings have little storage space and refrigerators are costly. In fact very few electrical appliances or gadgets are used, which means that water boiling, pureeing, etc., are all done by hand as needed rather than by electric kettles, juicers, and blenders.


The staples of Great Russia are few but are prepared in many classic variations that form a hearty and filling repertoire of cookery. Basic grains include dark wholegrain rye breads, coarse wheat breads, and the all-encompassing kasha which usually refers to whole fluffy grains of buckwheat but may also refer to barley, corn, or millet.

Basic year-round vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes, beets, and mushrooms appear in the guise of thick soups, tart and tangy pickles, well-cooked casseroles, or encased in satisfying envelopes of chewy noodle doughs, flaky buttery pastries, or airy yeast doughs. Liberally laced through the grains and vegetables are generous servings of soured milk, cream, sour cream, and especially butter. Russians are fond of butter and like to add some to almost every food. Beef, game and fish, like fresh salad vegetables, are enjoyed when available.

Fruits are relished hut are most commonly used in some cooked form. To the Russian, such hearty natural foods require little seasoning except perhaps dill and garlic, sugar, sour (acid) crystals, and usually a little more butter. There are many fermented drinks, soured milk drinks, and fruit drinks, hut tea and vodka are the most important. Tea is elevated to an important social ritual with the samovars while any gathering is an excuse for endless toasts with vodka.

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