June 01, 1996

Eat Your Blues Away

Two hundred years ago, the poetic Russian word golubtsy had many meanings. It could refer to various items with a pleasant tint of blue in them: ladies’ ear rings, fur collars made of blue fox, or blue-grey horses. But it could also mean a dish of cabbage leaves filled with meat, probably because of the slight touch of blue on the stewed leaves (which beginners in cookery, believing so fervently that anything palatable must have a rosy or yellow touch, are so afraid of).  

Whatever the reason, it’s not obvious why and when cooks borrowed the word golubtsy to christen this dish. Nor do we know the exact date of their first breakthrough to the Russian dinner table. 

After all, the word kapusta (cabbage) has been borrowed on too many occasions, and the associations it generates are not always poetic. For instance, it is the new slang word for money, a kind of Russian equivalent of ‘dough’ — maybe because, for the new generation of Russians, cabbage leaves are reminiscent of crisp new bank notes. 

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