Russians eat a lot of bread: soup, salad, pelmeni, potatoes, pasta, kasha, tea – bread goes with everything. There’s even a special Russian dessert invented during the days of bare grocery-store shelves: a slice of bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar. In Russia, bread is put on the table for every meal. Why is that?
First of all, a meal without bread just feels wrong. This may be the genes of our hardworking peasant ancestors talking. Their main source of energy was kasha cooked with water (rather than milk) and rye bread. They ate chunks of bread with meatless cabbage soup, fresh and pickled cucumbers, boiled peas, scallions, and radishes, or sometimes just sprinkled with salt accompanied by a cup of kvas. We no longer have the need to stuff ourselves with bread, but somehow a meal just doesn’t seem complete without it.
Second, bread serves as a sort of utensil. In Russia, people know what to do with a fork and knife, but the latter tends to only make appearances for special occasions. During everyday meals it’s perfectly acceptable to maneuver food around your plate with bread when you need to prevent something from slipping away from your fork or to wipe up the last of your mashed potatoes. And although it may not be considered the height of refinement to clean the sauce off your plate with a piece of bread, at least it’s better than using your tongue.
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