I have lived in Russia for many years, but I’m, of course not a Russian. That’s why to understand the Russians attitude to the meals of the day I conducted a small survey among my friends and acquaintances. I hope you find the results as interesting as I find them.
So what and when do Russians eat? Like in most countries, Russians have 3 meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Out of these three meals, lunch is in Russia the most important meal.
That however doesn’t mean other meals are not of importance in Russia. Russian breakfast, for example, has some unique dishes that are quite interesting to try.
Breakfast in Russia
Although, according to some linguists, zavtrak, the Russian word for breakfast, consists of the following elements: zavtra (tomorrow) and vecher (evening). According to these linguists these two elements indicate that Russians were already preparing food for their breakfast the evening before. But reality was a bit different.
Althought Russia is, of course, not completely isolated from the rest of the world, some thing that people have for breakfast in Russia are very much typically Russian.
Without his beloved kasha (that’s porridge in Russian) a Russian person just doesn’t feel at home in this world. Kasha can come in many different varieties though. Kasha can be prepared with different kinds of cereals : oatmeal, buckwheat, rice, corn, wheat, millet. These cereals may be cooked either in water or in milk. A true Russian will then also spike up the calories in his kasha by adding butter and honey.
Eggs, omelette, boiled eggs
Many Russians believe eggs are very healthy. They are without a doubt a good source of protein and contain some fatty acids that are beneficial to our health. Russians have their eggs in different ways. Some Russians like to eat their eggs boiled, whereas others like to make an omelette out of them. Preparations vary, but almost all Russians love eggs.
Another thing Russians absolutely love to eat for breakfast is cottage cheese (tvorog In Russian. They like to bake up their cottage cheese in all kinds of different ways. For example by making syrniki from them, which in English you call cottage cheese pancakes. They are sweet and very nourishing. They probably contain even more calories than the buttered up kasha!
I already wrote about the Russian pancakes (bliny in Russian) in my blog post about the places to eat in Saint Petersburg, so definitely check that out if you would like to try some bliny in Saint Petersburg.
If a Russian tells you he doesn’t love bliny, you should ask to see his passport, because probably he’s not Russian at all. The sweet smell of bliny can make a sane Russian person lose his mind.
Russians love bread and a lot of Russian proverbs give a positive opinion about bread. For example
Хлеб всему головаRussian proverb. Meaning: Bread is the head of everything. In other words: bread is the most important part of the meal.
Russian like to get creative with their bread and make some interesting sandwiches. With pickles and sugar for example.
Instead of with coffee many Russians like to start their tea instead of coffee. Even if they do drink coffee, they still start their day with tea. After many years in Russia, this is something I still can’t wrap my head around.
Like with the porridge, Russians also like to spike the calories of their tea by putting a couple of sugar cubes in there, so that it gets very sweet.
Lunch In Russia
Like is often the case linguists don’t agree about the origin of the Russian word for lunch, which is obed. Without going to deep into the theory of it all, I will point out that I like the theory according to which the word obed is related to the verb объедаться, which means to eat a lot, or even to overeat. It’s a good theory, because indeed lunch is the most important meal of the day in Russia.
There is not a lot of difference between what Russians eat for lunch and what they eat for dinner. Both meals are usually warm. But they are not of equal importance and people attach different meanings to both meals as well. Lunch is usually associated with work or business.
Мany Russian restaurants offer a so-called business lunch (spelled бизнес ланч). The name is kind of funny, but it has absolutely nothing to do with business. It’s just a two- three or four course meal offered at a huge discount when ordered as a set rather than as loose dishes a la carte. Business lunches are a great way to get to know an otherwise expensive restaurant. Despite these relatively cheap business lunches, many Russians bring their own lunch to work.
Russians usually have lunch around 1-2 PM. Ideally the Russian lunch is extensive and consists of three dishes: soup, a main course and a small salad on the side. Of course Russians don’t exclusively eat Russian food, but when they do, they like to eat the following:
Schi is a hard to pronounce word and I often feel awkward pronouncing it. But still I do pronounce it often, because I love this soup.
You may or may not have heard about the mysterious Russian soul that noone can grasp. Be that as it may, the Russian spirit can very well be grasped as it is in the schi, according to experts.
Щи да каша — пища наша.Russian proverb. Literally it means: Schi and porridge – that’s our food. It’s used to underline the importance of simple food.
ГДЕ ЩИ — ТУТ И НАС ИЩИRussian Proverb. Literally it means: Where the Schi is – that is where we can be found. It clearly underlines how deep the Russian love for this wonderful cabbage soup goes.
Pelmeni are essentially dumplings of minced meat wrapped in dough. They are quite easy to prepare (if you get the frozen ones, rather than preparing your own from scratch) and very tasty.
Logically, home-made pelmeni, has got a better reputation. Since making pelmeni is quite a lot of work, people usually only eat part of the pelmeni they prepared and freeze the rest.
Solyanka is a spicy a sour and spicy Russian soup. According to some, the soup should have meat in it. According to others the soup might as well contain fish or even mushrooms instead. without loosing its identity. What it absolutely must have though is a sour and salty taste. One of its key ingredients is therefore salted cucumbers.
For the brave people, the ones not afraid by weird looking dishes, this is for your. Kholodets is a Russian meat aspic dish. The first description of an aspic dish was found in a French cooking book from 1375. So the “Russianness” of this dish may be a matter of debate, but slavic people and Russians in particular feel this dish is theirs.
Russians love buckwheat so much that they like to call it by its diminutive, Grechka.
Grechka is usually not a separate dish, but part of a dish. A garniture you might say.
Buckwheat is not a grain, so this is great news for people who are on a gluten-free diet. Besides that, buckwheat contains a lot of viber. On the image at the top of this blog post you’ll see a picture of how Russian eat Grechka.
Some people believe that the Russian name for buckwheat indicates that it originally comes from the country Greece, because the words are very similar, but this is not the case. Research has show that buckwheat in fact comes from the Himalayan mountains. But it has been part of Russian culinary traditions for a long time already.
Dinner in Russia
Russians are a Northern people and Northern people usually don’t have dinner very late. Around 19:00 is a normal time to have dinner in Russia.
The Russian word for dinner, “uzhin” has the old slavonic root “yug” in it, which means south. As is often the case with old words, its meaning made quite a shift. It used to mean meal at noon (so lunch rather than dinner).
Things Russians Like To Have For Dinner
The name of this dish is derived from the French word for vinegar (vinaigre). This interesting salad is made on the basis of vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Although there are different ways to prepare this cold salad, it should definitely contain beetroot and pickled cucumber. Quite an interesting salad and very Russian indeed.
Herring under the fur coat
Another salad on the basis of beet root with a very interesting name. The fur coat under which the herring is hidden is made out of beet root egg and lots of mayonnaise. It’s quite funny that Russians love to eat to make their salads high in fat and calories in such a way. So be aware about this when you’re counting your calories.
Russians like to call the famous Olivier Salad the king of salads. An unusual name for a salad you might say. This king of the salads was named after Lucien Olivier, a Russian chef of French and Belgium origin. Mr OIivier was the owner of the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow, a famous restaurant in the city in the 1860’s. Mr Olivier died in 1883, but his restaurant kept on operating until 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power. But the famous Olivier salad lives on and is loved very much in Russia.
Olivier is also a rather fat salad, which is rich in calories. Its main ingredients are:
- Ham or Russian sausage
- Green peas
- Dill (also a very Russian ingredient)
- A lot of mayonnaise (preferably home made)
What I mean with this category are “zakuski”. Small savoury bites, like pieces of meat and cheese are very common in Russia. They can be eaten either before a big meal, but they are also often consumed in their own right.
Russians like to have an entire table full of different kinds of zakuski. Especially when drinking alcoholic drinks, Russians believe it to be very important to have some small snacks near. Even when a Russian is not hungry, he might still have a tiny piece of bread in his hand when downing a shot of vodka. But, instead of eating this piece of bread, he might just inhale its smell very deeply. As I pointed out above, Russians love their bread.
Russian Men and Russian Women Have Different Food Preferences
Russia is a country in which people often don’t shun stereotypes. According to one admittedly not exclusively Russian stereotype men prefer fat and simple food with a lot of meat. Women, on the other hand prefer light food and more sophisticated dishes with a lot of vegetables in them.
So when a new steakhouse open its doors, it can try to attract customers by appealing to the supposed masculinity.
I am not sure what is so incredibly masculine about ordering a big steak and eating it, but I guess that’s just the way it is perceived.
What Do Russian Women Like To Have For Dinner
Despite the above mentioned preference for more sophisticated dishes Russian women are often on a diet and they for example don’t eat after 18:00 in the evening. Or, they might eat just a salad. They even might have just a dessert for dinner.
What do Russians associate Dinner with?
Whereas lunch in Russia is often associated with work or business, dinner is the time of leisure. Which means it’s also the time for romance. Since courtship in Russia is a bit more traditional than in many western countries, a dinner date is quite common in Russia.
As I described in my blog post about the best bars in Saint Petersburg, Russians establishments sometimes are a mix of a bar and an eatery. It’s quite normal to be able to order food in a club in Russia.
How much do Russians spend on food
According to research from 2017, Russians spend 31,2% of their income on food. Is that a lot or not? For Europe that’s quite a high percentage. But if you take into account the average salaries in Russia, it’s really not that much I think. In the city this comes down to an average of 6151 per person per month and in the Russian village to 5343 per person per month.
In the poorest Russian regions, like Dagestan, people spend on average 59,3% of their income on food every month. And in Ingushetia they even spend 60%.
What the Russian government thinks Russians need to eat
The Market Basket of Food
The Russian government has established what its citizens need in order to remain healthy and retain their ability to work, this is the so-called market basket of food. Here are the numbers (in kilos).
|Milk and dairy products
|Bread, pasta, cereals and legumes
|Vegetables and gourds
|Sugar and pastry
|Vegetable oil, margarine and other fats
|Salt, tea and spices