Characterizing features of Russian national cuisine held better through the ages than most other cultural aspects like clothing or architecture. Russian national cuisine was and still is simple, rational and practical, which along with many other cultural features is caused by the harsh climate of Russia. Along with the necessity for food to be high in nutritional value, harsh climate also brought the need to save food for the winter, which also played a huge role in the development of the cuisine.
Arguably the most important staples of Russian cuisine are black rye bread, a variety of soups and porridges, pies and other products from yeast dough. Moreover, through the ages Russian cuisine borrowed countless other dishes from various cultures, that are now seen as traditional and inseparable from the cuisine. For example, now famously Russian pancakes “blini” were borrowed from the Varyag cuisine along with kompot, which is a drink made from fruit; cutlets, steaks, jelly, mustard and mayonnaise came from European cuisine; kebab and shashlik were borrowed from the Crimean Tatars; even the famous red beetroot soup Borscht is a national dish of ancient Rome, which came to Russia along with Orthodoxy from the Byzantine Greeks. Moreover, many dishes invented by the French chefs-restaurateurs who worked in Russia in the 19th century – such as, for example, Lucien Olivier, who gave name to the famous salad – are now considered not only the staples, but foundations of modern Russian cuisine.
Historically, bread was the single most important part of the cuisine. As a confirmation of this Russian language has numerous proverbs about bread, such as “Хлеб всему голова” (bread is the head to everything). The combination of bread and salt was and still is a symbol of well-being, wealth and hospitality. Nowadays traditional rye bread is made with all kinds of additives, such as species, raisins and seeds. The most famous and popular variation, “Бородинский хлеб” (Borodinsky bread) is sweetened with molasses and flavored with coriander and caraway seeds. A popular but unsubstantiated legend states that this bread traces its name to Margarita Tuchkova, a widow of Napoleonic Wars general Alexander Tuchkov, who perished at Battle of Borodino. His widow established a convent at a former battlefield, an abbess of which she eventually became, and its nuns had reportedly come up with the bread’s recipe to serve at mourning events, thus, a dark, solemn color, and with round coriander seeds representing a deadly grapeshot. That may be a little dark, but the bread is genuinely tasty and worth a try!