Russia's size accounts in part for its rich culinary heritage. Fertile plains provide grains for breads, brews, pastries and cereals. Rivers and seas offer fish, including the coveted caviar-laden sturgeon. Tundra in the north provides wild game, while the southern and eastern reaches introduced Middle Eastern and Asian influences.
Russian cuisine was just one area that benefited from Peter the Great's wide-ranging 18th century program to Westernize his country. Peter encouraged European chefs to come and practice their art in Russia and promoted the importation of European foods. Many dishes we associate with Russian cuisine were developed and refined during this time.
Soup for You
In a land of harsh winters, it's no surprise that soul-warming soups are a mainstay. Undoubtedly the most recognizable to Westerners is borscht, a beet soup served with sour cream. Cabbage, potato, fish and mushroom soups provide additional comfort during the long Russian winter.
Other familiar traditional Russian foods include blinis (thin, yeast-risen pancakes traditionally made with buckwheat flour) and pirozhki (sweet or savory turnovers). And let's not forget Caspian caviar and beef stroganoff. Cucumbers, sour cream and mushrooms are also important ingredients, as are dill, horseradish and pickled vegetables.
The Potato's Slow Road to Popularity
Introduced into Russia in the early 18th century, potatoes took a slow route to popularity. Despite continual governmental encouragement to plant them, peasants remained skeptical of this tasty tuber until the 19th century. Today Russians cook potatoes in every conceivable way.