Understanding cultural foods and the cultural aspects related to food preparation is a great way to learn more about a nation’s ethos. Food habits are believed to be a vital thread to understand human psychology. It is also known to be a mirror through which a nation’s customs and traditions can be understood.
Food ways they say are rarely static; they always change with time. Yet, in Russia, there are plenty of dishes that have been served exactly the way they were hundreds of years ago. In fact, food is known to play an important moral and spiritual role in Russian culture.
As with any other culture, food in Russia too, can be divided into distinct categories: one that was reserved for the royalty, and one that was reserved for peasants. While the peasant homes used large stoves, where they baked, and slow cooked soups and stews, the royalty and the bourgeoisie feasted on the freshest of apples and pears, imported from France and the best butter and bacon imported from Germany.
The stove has always formed an integral part of Russian culture. Women gathered around it to bake the ‘karavai’ or bread and celebrated with songs, dance and merriment. The relevance of the stove can be seen until today through the several fairy tales and songs that revolve around the stove.
As earlier said, food formed a vital aspect that divided the rich from the poor. Thus, while the peasants thought that it was morally wrong to eat more than required, the rich indulged in food habits that were grand. In fact, it was the norm for an average lunch in a rich Russian’s house to have two hot dishes, two types of soup, two cold dishes, four sauces, two stews, and two savory pastries, not to mention the desserts that were prepared fresh every day.
Food habits during the Communist era were marked by the regime rationing food. Hence,wastage of food was considered sacrilegious.
Today, nearly two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, food habits have shown a favorable tilt towards western concepts. However,these have not managed to completely overtake traditional food. Vodka for example, remains a favorite, with the average Russian swigging it neat in one shot, along with a pickle or some other salty food.
Unlike the peasant food of yore, meat forms an integral part of the Russian diet. Sausage, beef, pork, salted fish, mutton, chicken, veal, duck, sturgeon, salmon…the list is endless. Besides these, potatoes, peas, cabbage and cheese also form an integral part of their diet.