November 04, 2019

No Shortage of Soup and Porridge!


No Shortage of Soup and Porridge!
Yes, a stereotype of Russia. But soup is the rare kind of stereotype that is even more accurate than people think. Juerg Vollmer | Wikipedia
Part 1: Shchi

Are there any foods more Russian than shchi (cabbage soup) or kasha (porridge)? Not according to Russian folk wisdom.

“Щи да каша – пиша наша.” Shchi da kasha – pisha nasha. Cabbage soup and porridge are our food.

Both of these foods not only have an illustrious history in Slavic lands, but are also staples of the Russian diet today. The saying might be using “our food” to refer to Russian cuisine, but Russians surely don’t object to sharing these warming foods with everyone. Indulge in a Russian soup or kasha this chilly autumn!

This week, we bring you:

Soups

Pervoye bludo may literally translate as “first course,” but when a Russian says it they don’t mean a salad or snack. Pervoye can only be one thing: soup. Soup is the mandatory starter of Russian meals; find it in every stolovaya (cafeteria), at daily lunch in kindergarten, and on the stove of any Russian household that claims to value their health. Don’t forget your dollop of smetana (sour cream) – or mayo if you must – without which no Russian soup can be properly enjoyed!

1. Shchi
Russian shchi
Victoria Vasilieva | Flikr

The most Russian of all Russian soups is made with cabbage, pickled or fresh. Onion is also mandatory, as is water; all other ingredients are optional. It was invented as soon as cabbages themselves first appeared in Russia, around the eleventh century. Shchi is so fundamental to Russian cuisine that the word is probably derived from the ancient Russian words for “food” and “eat.” Want to eat it? Try our recipe (and read how Russian writer Turgenev succinctly explains the difference between peasants and aristocrats through shchi). 

2: Borshch
Russian borshch
Ivabalk | Pixaby

Borshch is very similar to shchi, down to the frightening consonant cluster shch that really just approximates the single Russian letter щ. Borshch is basically shchi with beets in it; the word might mean “red shchi” (unless it was named after a weed).  Indeed, this bright red soup has come to symbolize Russian cuisine to foreigners, even though it is actually didn’t appear until the fifteenth century, long after shchi, and is by all rights Ukrainian. That doesn’t stop you from giving our Moscow version a try, though. 

3. Solyanka and Rassolnik
Russian rassolnik soup
Kagor | Wikipedia

These two soups are grouped together because they both date to around the fifteenth century and are characteristically salty (you can tell from the presence of the word for salt, sol, in the names). Rassolnik is made from pickles and pickle juice, whereas solyanka derives it salt and sour more broadly, not only from pickles but also kvas (a fermented wheat soda) and olives. While they can be made with any meat, or vegetarian, modern day versions most typically include thin slices of sausage. Bonus: rassolnik is a great hangover remedy, and solyanka used to be, almost literally, a community melting pot

4. Ukha
Alex80 | Pixaby

In modern Russia, ukha is unequivocally fish soup. However, it was originally a soup made not only from fish, but also meat or chicken, and only became exclusively pescetarian by the eighteenth century. In fact, the word ukha might have come from ukho, meaning ear; the broth gets its flavor from boiling all parts of the animal, including its head. You might not find many ears in fish soup, for obvious reasons, but if offered some homemade ukha, watch out for floating eyeballs – or make it at home and fish them out yourself.  

5. Mushroom Soup
Russian mushroom soup
Zdorovoye pitaniye s naslazhdeniyem | Yandex Zen

Russians like mushrooms, and they like soup, so it is no surprise that as soon as they started gathering mushrooms from the forest, they started putting them in soups. Mushroom soup is the star of the show in fasting periods before Christmas and Easter, during which believers eat only vegan food. Check out not one, but two mushroom soup recipes from the Russian Life archives. 

6. Chicken Noodle
Russian chicken noodle soup
Pxhere

Chicken noodle: While no one is claiming chicken noodle soup is traditionally Russian, it is now one of the most common soups on stove tops and in restaurants today. Yes, they still add sour cream to it, and that’s the only real requirement of a Russian soup anyway, right?

7. Okroshka
Leonid Dzhepko | Wikipedia

We would be remiss in our duties if we did not add okroshka to a list of Russian soups, but it is at the end of the list because you might want to hold off making it until next summer. This cold soup is traditionally made from small pieces of meat or fish and vegetables, with a broth of kvas, a fermented wheat soda. During the Soviet era, sausage substituted for pieces of meat, and kefir, a fermented dairy product, was sometimes added instead of kvas. Lenin even used the soup as a symbol of eclecticism: a bunch small pieces of different things brought together. If you don’t like following recipes, okroshka is a great way to unite your random leftovers. 

 

Coming soon: Part 2: Seven Kasha's To Live By...

You Might Also Like

Mushroom Soup
  • December 01, 1995

Mushroom Soup

A primer on Russia's "forest meat," and a recipe for sauted mushrooms you'll love.
Anti-Hangover Soup
  • February 01, 1997

Anti-Hangover Soup

Rassolnik is the most Russian of all national soups. The secret is its stock--rassol-- or pickle juice...
Souper Cool
  • July 01, 1996

Souper Cool

Okroshka -- the hearty Russian soup based on kvas.
A Soup for Real Men
  • July 01, 1997

A Soup for Real Men

Ukha -- fresh fish soup, is popular across Russia. Here's the recipe!
Hogweed instead of Birches
  • July 01, 2019

Hogweed instead of Birches

The Caucasus had a fast-growing plant that the Soviets wanted to plant up north to use for animal feed. What could possibly go wrong?
A Soup for the New Year
  • January 01, 2006

A Soup for the New Year

Yelena Ivanovna Molokhovets was the author of Russia's most famous cookbook, A Gift to Young Housewives, first published in 1861. Here is a warm duck soup from her book, plus a bit of history on this important tome.
The Soup of Life
  • March 01, 2004

The Soup of Life

Most Americans consider borshch the quintissential Rusian soup, but the truth is that shchi -- cabbage soup -- holds that honor. Here we look at its history and offer a tasty recipe.
This Takes the Cake!
  • June 09, 2019

This Takes the Cake!

A brief history of the Russian bakery, from imperial times to the Internet age.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955