No matter where you travel as an international student, tasting local food will surely be part of your experience. Russian food does not top popularity charts in the United States, which makes the culinary experience for our students even more exciting and (in many ways!) unexpected. From trying their first borscht and kefir to getting used to eating dill – CIEE students on Business and International Relations program delve into the world of Russian food from their very first day in Moscow.
Russian cuisine: not just potato and cabbage
Mix geographical diversity, cold climate, and national traditions – and you will get the rich and nutritious flavors of Russian cuisine. Start with Russian borscht – beetroot soup with beef and vegetables. Every Russian family has their own recipe of borscht, which is passed down in a family for generations. Usually borscht is the first dish that our students try in Moscow, and (surprise!) not everyone likes it. But those who do usually bring the recipe of this beetroot soup back home to treat their families and friends!
Our culinary journey continues with pelmeni – meat dumplings filled with beef, lamb or pork. Top it with some smetana, Russian sour cream. Don’t worry if you are a vegetarian: you can find plenty of vegetarian options of pelmeni with mushrooms, potato and other fillings in Moscow cafes and restaurants.
If you are looking for something exotic, get yourself a khachapuri, a pie boat with cheese and egg yolk. 'A Georgian pizza', as this dish is sometimes called here. Of all CIEE Moscow students of all years, we've never had someone who didn't like khachapuri!
For dessert, we are going to treat ourselves with blini, thin Russian pancakes, with some berry jam. Blini are so incorporated in our culture, that even the word ‘blin’ is used in everyday communication – to express dissatisfaction or frustration (but don’t overuse it if you don’t want to appear rude!).
One great thing about blini is that they are ‘multifunctional’. Want to have a quick breakfast on a lazy Sunday? Make blini with honey or strawberry jam. Looking for gourmet blini with red caviar or smoked salmon? In Moscow, you will find a variety of places (both buffets and haute cuisine restaurants) where you can try them. During the CIEE-organized Russian evening, our students learn the skills of making & flipping the thin pancakes!
Dill with it!
In soups and salads, on pizza and French fries – dill (ukrop) is everywhere in Russia. For CIEE Moscow students, getting used to seeing dill every day is surely part of their study abroad experience (somewhat challenging at the beginning) .
Russia’s obsession with this green herb can be traced back to the Soviet times, when fresh vegetables and fruits were in high demand (especially in winter), and eating dill, as well as other herbs like parsley and cilantro, was an easy way to get vitamins. We have become so accustomed and immune to this herb, that many Russians – believe it or not – do not even notice the taste of dill in food!
The Cult of Bread
There is a Russian proverb: Хлеб всему голова (Literal: Bread is the head of everything). An average Russian consumes 134 (!) pounds of bread a year. In ancient Russia, there was a tradition of greeting guests with bread and salt – symbols or prosperity and health. The ritual is as follows: break off a small piece of bread, then dip it in the salt, and eat. While in everyday life this tradition did not survive, you can still encounter it at Russian weddings and other celebrations.
No wonder that bread has had a very special place on the tables of each Russian family throughout the history. Bread is traditionally eaten with soup, but usually stays on the table throughout the entire meal. There is even a beverage made from rye bread called kvass, which is especially good on a hot summer day. As one of our Moscow students said: ‘Drinking kvass is like drinking bread!’
As an exchange student, you will have no problem finding a meal in Moscow, regardless if you are looking for authentic Russian or comfortingly Western food. And if you want to have a truly unusual food experience, then Moscow will impress you as well: just book a table at Metro Diner, or at a Cat café, or at a North-Korean restaurant…But that’s a different story!