With the Winter Olympics in full swing at Sochi, there's been a lot of talk of all things Russian -- from figure skating prodigies to hotel room surveillance. Naturally, we here at HuffPost Taste took that as a cue to start thinking about Russian cuisine.
The Russians have been taking in their fair share of gold medals this Olympic season, and we can't help but wonder if the food has something to do with it. You see, Russian cuisine is shaped by its country's unique landscape -- and Russia is cold, hard and intense (all the makings of a killer athlete, by the way).
Because of its brutal winter and incredibly short summer season, Russian cuisine is one that indulges in fats (you need them to keep warm), has mastered how to preserve summer ingredients (to make it through the less productive months of winter) and celebrates vodka. It is bold -- and, well, pretty hardcore.
You have to be hardcore to make it in Russia, so it's only natural that their food would be so too. Behold, 10 times Russia's food proved that they are way more hardcore than the rest of us could ever hope to be.
Flickr: AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker
Because summers pass by in the blink of an eye and winters drag on forever, pickling is an important part of Russian cuisine. In order to preserve the harvest of the summer, Russians pickle everything they can -- from cabbage to mushrooms to apples to whole tomatoes. And often times they serve these pickled vegetables to accompany vodka drinking, which we think is a great idea.
We can barely even handle the fact that Jell-O salads exist
, let alone accept and celebrate meat Jell-O as a rich part of our cuisine.
Vodka has been interwoven with the history of Russia since the 15th century. During that time, it was sometimes referred to as burning wine (which seems terribly appropriate). Russians drink an average of 38 pints
of pure alcohol
per year -- if you convert that into bottles of vodka, the quantity is almost beyond human comprehension.
Russians enjoy more than one kind of pancake. They have olady, blini and syrniki, just to name a few. Blini -- tiny round Russian pancakes -- are served with caviar, jam or sour cream and can be eaten any time of day. (They were traditionally served to celebrate the end of winter.) And syrniki, a sweet quark pancake, are normally enjoyed for breakfast. So many excuses to eat pancakes -- it's great.
Dressed herring is a layered salad composed of diced salted herring covered with layers of grated boiled vegetables, chopped onions, and it's all covered with beet root and mayonnaise which gives it that striking purple color. INTENSE.
You are looking at cured slabs of backfat. This. Is. Serious. Salo is sometimes eaten straight up, along with a (much needed) shot of vodka. Other times it's fried and used to top soups (of course). It's a whole lot of pork fat -- and sometimes a little skin.
Russia borders part of the Caspian Sea, where beluga sturgeon -- which produces the costliest and rarest caviar -- swim. Enough said.
While we're replacing sour cream with Greek yogurt to be more health conscious, the Russians are still liberally adding it to just about everything. Russians use sour cream to garnish soups, to mix into sauces, and of course, on top of pancakes. They get that it's an instant upgrade to all foods and they aren't scared to use it.
Known as the Olivier salad over there, Russian salad is like US potato salad on steroids. They don't stop at the potatoes, but add pickles (of course), hard-boiled egg and peas. And that's just the base for many, many variations.
Maybe it's because so many parts of Russia are ice cold or maybe it's because they just know that soup warms the soul like no other dish can, but Russians eat A LOT of soup. They even make a fruit soup for dessert known as kissel.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post suggested that the image of the pancake was a blini when it is in fact an olady. All pancake confusions have been taken care of.
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