Russian food doesn’t exactly top the popularity charts in America, which is a shame, really, because this huge country has a lot to offer besides vodka and caviar.
If you ever find yourself in Moscow, these are the 18 Russian foods you definitely need to dig your teeth into:
What does it taste like: Like a chunky, cold stew eaten straight from the tupperware at 2 in the night to satiate a midnight hunger run. The sour cream balances out the sweetness, and the red of the beet looks incredibly pretty.
2. Beef Stroganoff
What is it: Strips of beef sauteed in a sauce of butter, white wine, sour cream (called ‘smetana’ in Russia), mustard and onions. Eaten either straight or poured over rice or noodles.
What does it taste like: Wholesome and hearty. Although it derives its name from the influential Stroganov family in Russia and you can find variants in fancy restaurants, it still tastes like a no-fuss dish you’d make on a Sunday evening.
3. Sweet-and-Sour Cabbage
What is it: Cabbage cooked in red wine vinegar, applesauce, butter and onions. Diced apples, sugar, bay leaves and cloves added on top.
What does it taste like: Just as the name describes – sweet and sour. The apple and applesauce balances out the sourness of the red wine vinegar and complements the crunch of the cabbage.
4. Solyanka Soup
What is it: A hearty soup made from thick chunks of beef and/or pork, cooked for hours over a low flame with garlic, tomatoes, peppers and carrots.
What does it taste like: This dish was originally from Georgia but can now be found all over Russia. It’s hearty and home-like. Eat it with Georgian lavash bread and it’s a meal by itself.
What is it: Shredded or minced beef wrapped in cabbage and steamed/boiled until cooked. Found all over Eastern Europe, though the Russians like to add some sour cream on top, which really brings out the flavors.
What does it taste like: The boiled cabbage texture can be off-putting for some, but the practice of adding sour cream on top makes up for it. Either way, you either love golubtsy and think it’s the greatest thing on Earth, or you hate it completely. There is no middle path when it comes to golubtsy.
What is it: Potatoes, pickles, bologna, eggs, and carrots swimming in a bowl of mayo.
What does it taste like: Olivie – or Olivier Salad – is the most quintessential of all Russian salads. Every cook has his own recipe and it’s a staple in every Russian home. It tastes like gooey goodness, especially when the mayo is fresh and homemade.
What is it: Thin, crepe-like pancakces made from unleavened dough, usually topped with savory or sweet toppings such as minced beef, caviar, or apples.
What does it taste like: Like crepes, but only more savory. A Russian favorite is to top blinis with caviar, which makes for very interesting breakfast fare.
8. Potato Okroshka
What is it: A cold soup made from buttermilk, potatoes and onions, garnished with dill.
What does it taste like: Surprisingly delicious, given the simplicity of the recipe. The quality of the potatoes and the freshness of the buttermilk is what makes it. Okroshka soup can also be made from other vegetables, though Russian potatoes work best.
What is it: Mashed potatoes, ground beef, onions and cheese filled inside thick dough pastry and deep fried/baked.
What does it taste like: Like a cross between a calzone and a samosa. It’s stupid simple to make and you can find variants that include everything from fish to olives. A staple throughout Eastern Europe.
What is it: Dumplings of ground beef and cilantro.
What does it taste like: Like Chinese dumplings, except with more Eastern European flavors. The secret of their deliciousness is that the filling is not cooked before being filled into the dumplings. This way, when the filling cooks inside the dumpling, all the juices stay trapped inside.
What is it: Thick, crusty bread shaped like a boat and filled with varieties of melted cheese.
What does it taste like: Freshly baked bread is delicious. Freshly baked bread with 4-5 types of cheese on top is even more delicious. Some people like to throw in an egg on top, which takes the deliciousness level all the way to 11.
What is it: A stew made from beef, potatoes, carrots, parsley, and celery, lightly spiced with garlic, cloves, and dill. Served hot with sour cream.
What does it taste like: Like home. This is a Russian comfort food that is easy to cook and can accommodate tons of different ingredients. You’ll find the zharkoye on dining tables all across the country.
What is it: Dumplings made from thin, unleavened dough and filled with minced meat, onions, mushrooms, and sometimes, turnip.
What does it taste like: Like a particularly Russian variant of the Chinese dumpling. The dough is what makes this special. It’s also pretty flexible and can accommodate any kind of ingredient, which is why it is a favorite among bachelors and students in Russia.
What is it: A kind of shesh kebab made over an open fire. You can use any kind of meat, though Russians prefer pork. The marinade ingredients vary from region to region as well, ranging from red wine to vinegar to pomegranate juice.
What does it taste like: You can’t go wrong with grilled chunks of meat. Russia loves its shashlik and you can’t walk two blocks in Moscow without coming across a shashlychnaya – tiny restaurants that specialize in shashlik. Traditional Russian shashlik is made over a wood fire with herb leaves often tossed in to enhance the flavor.
15. Tula Gingerbread
What is it: Spicy gingerbread made from honey and filled with jam or condensed milk. It is customary to imprint the bread with intricate designs and engravings.
What does it taste like: Spicy, sweet, and wholesome. The Tula Gingerbread is a very Russian take on the classic gingerbread recipe. It occupies a significant enough place in Russian cuisine that Tula even opened a museum dedicated to the bread in
What is it: Pastries filled with potatoes, meat, cabbage or cheese.
What does it taste like: Sweet and savory. The dough is the star and the meat is just the supporting actor in this recipe. Traditional pirozhki is glazed with egg and baked, though it isn’t uncommon to deep fry the pastry.
What is it: Russian ice cream. Creamier and richer than its American counterpart.
What does it taste like: Cold and creamy. Russians love their ice cream as much as they love their vodka. You’ll find little morozhenoe push carts on every corner in Moscow. The ice cream uses a lot of rich dairy and is usually topped with chocolate or strawberries.
What is it: Deep fried balls or little logs of unleavened dough and topped with hot honey syrup. The pile of honey coated dough balls is usually left to harden before eating.
What does it taste like: Deep-fried dough and honey is a combination everyone ought to taste at least once. Chak-Chak is particularly popular among the Tatars, where you can find it being sold in every city and village.
Russia is a huge country and this post doesn’t even begin to cover the variety of its cuisine. But if you ever feel like experimenting with Russian food beyond borscht and vodka, this list is a pretty good place to start!