March 02, 2000

Mealtime in Russia

Mealtime in Russia

As in many cultures, the kitchen is the favorite or central spot of the home. Russia is not different. It is where families gather for meals, friends get together to chat over a cup of tea and welcomed guests feel the warmth of Russian hospitality.

Depending on where you are from, we refer to the three meals of the day differently. To most Americans, these are breakfast, lunch and dinner or supper. Russians start the day with breakfast or zavtrak. It is a hearty meal, unlike most Americans who either skip breakfast or just grab a quick bagel. A Russian breakfast will include a protein such as eggs, sausage, cold cuts and cheese. This is accompanied by bread and butter with tea or coffee. Hot cereals are particularly popular with mothers. Yes, Russian children get their first shot of energy from a hot bowl of oatmeal, just as most of us did! Cold, boxed cereal was introduced to Russia in the early 1990's and is, generally speaking, found only in speciality stores.

Russians don't have a meal called lunch. In fact, this was a generally not understood term until the early 1990's. The second meal of the Russian day is taken about around 1 o'clock p.m. and is called obyed or dinner. This is the main meal of the day. Appetizers, or zakuski, highlight this meal. One can easily make the mistake of making a meal out of a selection from such delights as caviar {ikra}, pickles, smoked fish and various combinations of vegetables. Soup, or pyervoe, is a part of dinner along with the main course of meat or fish, vtoroye. The main dish is usually accompanied by a starch; potatoes, rice, noodles; and vegetables ; fresh or marinated. Finally, there is dessert! Tretye might be cake, stewed fruit or chocolates.

The evening meal is served around 7:00 p.m. or later. It is supper or uzhin. It is similar to dinner but without the soup and, often, dessert. One notable exception is, in the agricultural regions, field workers take their soup with supper and not with dinner.

Children and the elderly enjoy a mid-afternoon nap followed by a snack. Everyone, young and old, enjoys a nice cup of tea. It is the most common breakfast beverage. Orange juice is not a breakfast staple in Russia. Water or soft drinks may be served with dinner or supper. Americans would find it unusual to drink their cola at room temperature. Coffee and tea are offered at the end of these two meals. Of course, festive occasions and celebrations mean the presence of wine, vodka or cognac!

Traditional Russia cuisine is a delight to see and to eat. Popular and best known dishes include caviar {fish eggs}, served with beet soup or borshch, pancakes or bliny and, my favorite, beef stroganoff. The latter was actually created by a French chef for the Russian, Count Stroganov. What do you do if you have unexpected company? Serve up a spread of bliny, caviar, herring, sour cream, jams and a bit of vodka, of course!


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