Only a few dishes of Russian cuisine have received an international renown, but the inclusion of both hearty and finesse foods in Moscow equally serve the needs of comfort and gourmet dining. When temperatures can drop to -30°C (-22°F) during Moscow’s winter, it’s no surprise that Russian food is typically hearty, with potatoes, bread, pastry and sour cream featuring as common ingredients. Yet delicate smoked fishes, thin papery crêpesand red and black caviar are equal contenders in Russian cuisine. You may feel French influences in several dishes, although the Russian versions stand on their own merit and creation. Restaurants are not cheap in Moscow, however, classic Russian dishes are just as good from street stalls and fast-food eateries as they are from high-end restaurants, although the latter do provide exquisite variations.
This beet and cabbage red soup is a delicious belly warmer on Moscow’s colder days, served with or without meat, potato, herbs (usually dill) and a dollop of smetana, Russian sour cream. Accompanied with a piece of rye bread or garlic bread topped with the melted cheese, this dish is hearty enough to serve as a meal, although it is usually eaten as a starter. A staple of Russian cuisine, it would be an offense to leave Moscow without trying this soup at least once– although its surprisingly tasty flavour will certainly leave you wishing you had tried more local variations. Other common Russian soups to try are ukha, a seasoned fish and vegetable broth, and schi, a cabbage-based broth.
Blini are the Russian version of the thin French crêpe and a staple on most Moscovian menus, typically made with buckwheat for savoury fillings or white flour for sweet toppings. You’ll see accompaniments of smoked salmon, creamy mushrooms, sour cream, jams and condensed milk– to name a few– but the high-end, revered combination is a spoonful of red salmon or black sturgeon caviar. Another tasty Russian pancake is the cottage cheese version called syrniki, a denser form of ricotta-pancakes, which are eaten for breakfast or dessert. They’re best served with the homemade jams made from Russia’s large array of berries, although condensed milk, honey and sour cream are also served as condiments.
This hardly needs mentioning seeing as ‘Russian salad’ is one such dish that has spread internationally, and chances are you’ve tried a version in your home country. However, the Russian version is fresher and crispier with a light smattering of mayonnaise– quite the opposite to the ratio of the soft-boiled, mayonnaise-heavy international versions. This could be due to the use of fresh cucumber or crunchy Russian pickles, although the base of diced potatoes, peas, eggs and mayonnaise/sour cream remains ubiquitous. In Moscow, however, it’s known as Olivier salad, named after the chef Lucien Olivier who created the ‘secret’ recipe there around the mid-1800s, although the original ingredients have been swapped for cheaper, more available foods. You’ll also find a variation of similar cold Russian salads that will equally vie for your attention.
Smoked, salted and marinated river and saltwater fish feature widely in Russian cuisine, and are expertly prepared to have a delicate and fresh flavour. On menus you’ll typically find marinated or smoked salmon served alone as a dish or with pancakes, and salted herring served in salads, a typical one colloquially named ‘herring under a fur coat’ or shuba, which covers salted herring with layers of grated boiled vegetables, beets, onions and mayonnaise. Tartareis is also commonly found on menus in Moscow. Other common fish served in Moscow includes a trout, carp, zander, sturgeon and sterlet, also know as the Tsar fish.