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    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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    The Emerald Isle is world famous for its landscapes, foods, beers, and culture. Explore Ireland!

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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Russia

WARNING: Russia's border with Ukraine is unstable and tensions are high, read this travel warning before going!

Culinary Influences

Historic Russian food is based on surviving the cold, long winters. For this reason, Russian food is based on animal byproducts, including meats and fats, and heavy vegetables, like potatoes and other carbohydrates. Additionally, due to the short growing seasons there are few fruits or vegetables in the traditional diet other than mushrooms.

Over time, other ingredients have been introduced as bread products and cakes have exploded in popularity as both are now regularly served. As a slowly expanding nation, however, there have been few outside influences on Russian cuisine.

Rather, the largest influences on Russian food are by the nationalities that the Russians took over. Few of these foods have made the national dining table, but they do allow for vast variety from region to region within Russia.

Staple Foods

Bread: the Russians love their breads from standard white bread to pastries with fruits, nuts, and chocolate; one of these varieties is served with nearly every meal

Regional Variations & Specialties

Not surprising for a massive country stretching about one third across the planet, Russia has too many Regional Variations to mention. Differing areas have different ingredients available, creating hundreds of dishes unique to particular regions, plus Russia is a very diverse country and contains significant minority populations of dozens of ethnic groups. Each of these groups has traditional dishes, most of which haven't expanded in popularity beyond the local region's borders

Like the numerous Regional Variations in Russia, there are also dozens of specialties. The following are just a couple of the more commonly known, due to local popularity or to their foreign presence:

Beef Stroganov: beef cooked in a cream and mushroom-based sauce, sometimes served over noodles
Borsch: beet soup served in hundreds of versions based on the region and chef; typically served with sour cream
Pelmani: bread-like dough stuffed with any number of combinations, from fruits to meats
Pickled Herring: herring served cold, a common snack in Russia and some Scandinavian countries

Dining Etiquette

Although the Russians don't believe they're superstitious, they are the exact opposite so before arriving for dinner there's at least one superstition you must be aware of. As you arrive to a Russian's house for dinner, don't even think about offering your hand to them until you have completely crossed the threshold. The arrival, however is the most complicated part of dinner.

Arrive on time and with a cake; enter the house or apartment completely, then offer to shake hands. After this you must remove your shoes and you're ready to move on. You will most likely be treated as an honored guest and you should return this favor by dressing nicely. If you are male you are expected to socialize with the other men, if you are female you should offer to help prepare the meal and the invitation will almost certainly be accepted. Men who offer to help in the kitchen are commonly laughed at and if you make it into the kitchen you will most certainly be kicked out with a nervousness that you are crossing a cultural barrier.

Once the meal is served, eat in the continental style (fork in the left hand, knife in the right), keep your hands within sight (but don't put your elbows on the table), and wait to be served. Russians tend to serve the oldest or most honored person first so wait until they determine your status has arrived.

To continue on the differing roles for each sex, women don't cut bread nor do they pour drinks; the men must take on these roles so if you see a woman's drink empty fill it up and if you are a woman, it won't be long before a fellow diner fills your glass. Before emptying your glass though, you have to start drinking and before that begins you must wait for a toast, which is typically first given by the host.

It is considered rude to turn down food or to clean your plate. Try everything offered to you and once you're finished eating, leave a little food on the plate to show that the amount served was more than enough; this is a great compliment to the host. The only exceptions to this are that you must finish your bread and your alcoholic drinks.

If dining in a restaurant, the host or inviter is expected to pay. If you are a guest, you are expected to offer to pay, but this offer will most likely be turned down.

Tipping is not common in Russia and after experiencing the standard poor service nearly everywhere you won't be inclined to tip anyway. The only exception to this rule is in nice restaurants catered to foreigners, particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Service in these locations substantially improves and tips are expected in the form of about 10% for a meal.

Drinks

Russian Food - Vodka
Vodka

All popular non-alcoholic drinks are available in Russia and they have a great selection of juices. Tea is among the most popular drinks in the country, as is mineral water, both still and carbonated water.

However, Russia is first and foremost known for their vodkas. There are hundreds of local vodkas distilled in the country, but in today's culture, beer is more commonly drunk. At celebrations though, the traditional vodka dominates. The country also has numerous other drinks, including international beers, wines, and hard liquors.

The tap water in Russia should not be consumed because in many places it is not safe.

This page was last updated: March, 2013