Home Europe Russia Russian Food Culture: The 9 Best Local Dishes in Russia

Russian Food Culture: The 9 Best Local Dishes in Russia

If you like food, then you’ll love Russian food culture. A vast nation spanning from Finland to North Korea, Russian cuisine takes inspiration from both Europe and Asia. The result is a unique range of foods that are hearty and satisfying. Russian food is designed to get you through cold and dark winters, bringing communities together to share in the joy of eating.

Russians love to combine a vast range of ingredients to create unique and substantial dishes. Traditionally, though, this has relied on cheap, readily available food items. You can expect plenty of grains, potatoes, and vegetables. Of course, as the Russian people became wealthier, more and more meat was added to the mix.

Below, you’ll find our nine favorite Russian dishes to help you eat well in Russia. We hope this helps you learn all about Russian food culture and opens your mind to a new culinary experience.

Solyanka

Solyanka is a delicious Russian soup
Credit: Seriously Low Carb, Unsplash

Throughout history, Russians have had to stretch their ingredients a long way and get creative to ensure they get the most out of limited ingredients. This need for innovation led to the creation of many soup dishes that are still eaten to this day. One of the most popular is solyanka. This ancient recipe dates back to the 15th Century but it’s still as good as it’s ever been.

It’s a thick, hearty meal designed to fill you up. There are meat versions containing beef or chicken, fish versions, or mushroom alternatives for vegetarians. Along with pickles, cabbage, and a variety of other vegetables, it’s all combined to create a meaty soup. This will get you through a long difficult Siberian winter.

Pirozhki

Pirozhki is a staple of Russian food culture
Credit: Vaibhav Jadhav, Unsplash

When you’re sick of soup and looking for a tasty treat, try pirozhki. On the surface, they look like standard bread buns but bite inside to experience a world of flavor. These leavened dough products tend to be stuffed with your favorite ingredients, including meat, potatoes, egg, and cabbage. There are also sweet versions, which are usually filled with jam or fruit.

The bread can be baked or fried and is often served as street food. When you’re just craving something dense and satisfying, this should be your go-to option while in Russia. It’s comfort food that the Russian people turn to in bad times and good. It’s a way to celebrate or a pick-me-up when things aren’t going your way.

Pelmeni

Pelmeni: Russian dumplings
Credit: Tengyart, Unsplash

Anyone visiting Russia is bound to come across pelmeni. It’s generally considered the national dish and something that all tourists should try. The concept is simple: tasty fillings wrapped in a thin pastry. Dumpling dishes like this are found across the world. They’re similar to pierogi in Poland and are even found in Cambodian cuisine. However, each country has its own unique flavor combinations and this is certainly true for Russia.

Pelmeni is usually filled with typical Russian ingredients: potato, cabbage, minced meat, and mushrooms. These make them surprisingly filling so don’t order too many. Even a couple makes for a decent-sized appetizer. You can order pelmeni from street stalls or in fancy restaurants. Either way, they’re bound to be good because the Russians have been cooking them for centuries.

Pashka

Pashka: a sweet and delicious dessert from Russia
Credit: Kofi Okyere, Unsplash

Not all Russian food is made of heavy ingredients like cabbage and potatoes. They also have some light and fun dishes, including this pashka. It’s the ideal dessert if you’re craving something sweet. Pashka is a kind of cheesecake but it differs somewhat from what you’ll find in New York. Cream cheese is mixed with custard to create a light, fluffy, and creamy dessert. This is then topped with berries.

In Russian food culture, this is traditionally eaten at Easter. However, you can, of course, have it at any time of the year. Whenever you fancy something sweet and tasty, pashka is the perfect treat. Russia is a religious country, though, so it may be worth visiting during the Easter period to eat this dish while learning about Russian Christianity.

Smetana

Smetana is a cream that goes with all Russian food
Credit: Anshu A, Unsplash

Smetana isn’t an entire meal but something that accompanies many other dishes. It’s a dairy product that you probably know as sour cream. Sour foods are such an essential component of Russian food culture, which is why you’ll find smetana just about everywhere.

You can add smetana to your breakfast porridge, dollop it on top of your pelmeni dumplings, or mix it into your borscht soup. The versatility of this cream is off the scale. You might not be used to it but Russians put it on just about everything. After a while, you’ll come to appreciate the unique taste of smetana and will use it to enhance other dishes. Furthermore, it’s bursting with health benefits, giving you even more reason to add this to your diet.

Shchi

Shchi is part of Russian food culture
Credit: Matthew Hamilton, Unsplash

If you’re looking for a warm and delicious soup but don’t eat meat, then your best option may be shchi. Made from cabbage or sauerkraut, it can also include spinach, nettles, and many other nutritious ingredients. That’s what makes it one of the healthiest dishes you can consume while in Russia. It’s also great for helping you get better if you’re sick.

Shchi is easy to find but you could also make it yourself. Like other kinds of soup, you can make this in bulk and then freeze it, defrosting as required. This meal has been cooked and eaten since at least the 9th Century. If they were able to make it way back then, you can make it now. It’s a time-tested staple of Russian food culture.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff forms a classic part of Russian food culture
Credit: 8-Low Ural, Unsplash

Looking for something warm and filling to get you through a cold Russian night? You have to try beef stroganoff. If you’ve never had it, it’s simply sautéed beef chunks in a sour cream sauce. This meal is now popularly eaten around the world but it originated in Russia in the 1800s. The name comes from the Stroganov family, a highly successful and powerful Russian family.

It’s thought that the dish was invented by French chefs who were working for this family. They wanted to create something fit for the most elite members of society. Since then, the cost of beef has come down. Now, anyone can enjoy a lovely plate of beef stroganoff.

Ukha

Ukha: delicious Russian soup
Credit: Farhad Ibrahimzade, Unsplash

We weren’t joking when we said soup makes up a large proportion of Russian food culture. There’s just no getting away from it. But that’s fine, right? Everyone loves soup. The great thing is if you don’t like one variety, you can always try something else. One option you might be interested in is ukha. This is a clear soup made from fish, making it perfect if you love seafood.

Russians generally use catfish, pike, or bream, which are readily available. By eating this dish, you’re supporting the local Russian fishing community that certainly needs your support. For extra nutrition, you can supplement the fish with root vegetables like leek and potatoes. Add your favorite seasonings and enjoy.

Borscht

Borscht: quintessential Russian food
Credit: Max Nayman, Unsplash

Borscht is famous across former Soviet states and the Russians love it as much as anyone. Made from beets, this sour soup is one of the most widely eaten dishes in the country. It’s thought that borscht originated in Ukraine but it was certainly popularized by the Russians. This has become a staple of Russian food culture because it’s so easy to make, it’s cheap as anything, and it will last for weeks.

If you love beets, then you should consider making a large batch as soon as you arrive in Russia. Then you’ll know that you always have something delicious for lunch. For extra creaminess, a dollop of sour cream on top goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to mix it up with other vegetables, either.

What is traditional food in Russia?

Russian food culture is as vast as the country itself. It dates back to pre-soviet times and consists of plenty of hot and cold soup, meat, and potatoes.

What is Russia’s most popular food?

Pelmeni is considered the national dish of Russia and remains its most popular food. These are dumplings that can have a variety of fillings. In Russia, it’s traditional to eat pelmeni with a dollop of sour cream.

What is a traditional breakfast in Russia?

Russians tend to start the day with a type of porridge called kasha. They combine this with boiled eggs and a single piece of bread topped with butter and ham. While in Russia, this is a typical energy-packed breakfast that you’ll expect to eat.

What makes the food in Russia unique?

Russia is a huge country that spans both Europe and Asia. As a result, Russian food culture draws inspiration from a variety of other countries. This leads to a surprisingly large variety of ingredients used in the dishes, creating distinct and delicious flavors.