Russian cuisine is unique.
Russia is located between West and East. Russia’s huge territory with a lot of different peoples, diverse climate – from the extreme north to the subtropics, many different events that change people’s lives – all of that influenced the development of Russian food culture.
Food in Ancient Russia
Russians used to settle along river banks, on the plains. They engaged in farming, replenished their tables by hunting and fishing.
At that time dishes made of flour, mainly rye, were popular. Rye, unlike wheat, can grow and ripen in the northern regions.
Other foods included cow’s milk, fish and sometimes game.
Christianization of Russia
With the arrival to the Russian lands of Orthodox Christianity, Russian food culture endured significant changes. Gradually, in accordance to church traditions, food was divided into non-vegetarian (meat, eggs, milk) and lent (bread, vegetables, fish, mushrooms).
Around that time, soups emerged, among which Russian shchi (cabbage soup) was the main soup.
Separation of Food into Farmers’ and Princes’
In Russia, the difference between peasant and the prince’s food was not particularly noticeable. It was rather expressed in the amount and availability of food on a table rather than its form.
With the emergence of privileged classes, on which a prince could rely, Russian food culture became different for different classes.
Over time, people close to the princeincreased their influence. Prince received the title of a tsar, and those close to him became boyars.
Boyartable was a very long lunch, lasting several hours. Boyar table could have up to 50 dishes. But those were fairly simple dishes in terms of cooking technology.
Boyartable was decorated by whole roasted geese, swans, sturgeon, beluga, fruitbrought from the east.
The main efforts of chefs were directed at table decorations. These were gilded details, wrapping in gold foil, precise restoration of the original appearance of the animal. For example, roasted swans in their appearance were almost no different from the real ones.
Peter the Great’s “Window to Europe” Russian-German Empress Catherine II
Peter I was actively implanting European traditions. Catherine II continued his undertakings.
In reality, the innovations affected only the ruling classes. The peasants were allowed to wear traditional dresses and beards, and traditional Russian table also remained.
Russian food culture of the ruling classes, however, changed dramatically. It could hardly be called “Russian”. Foreign chefs, mostly European, were invited. Best chefs were lured from one noble family by another.
At that time, dishes made of minced meat – burgers – emerged.
Interestingly, among Russian nobility of that time it was common to be speaking French.