Voices from Russia

Monday, 6 January 2014

A Culinary Daydream Back to the USSR

00 Unknown Artist. Demand Sausages Everywhere! 1937

Demand Sausages Everywhere!

Unknown Artist




Editor’s Note:

There are recipes “hidden” in this post. Hover the cursor over all the links, and the ones with “recipe” in the description that pops up lead to a page with a recipe. Have some fun! It’s Christmas, after all!



As of late, nostalgia for the Soviet era has become very popular, even amongst those who never really experienced it. However, the USSR never really went away. Whether people like it or not, its symbolism, traditions, social politics, education system, healthcare network, and cultural legacy established today’s norms in modern Russia. Soviet cuisine and food products aren’t an exception to this. Passing enthusiasm for 1990s imported foodstuffs in glitzy packaging gave way to the taste of childhood memories and comfort foods. Many Soviet goodies give foreign competitors a run for their money in modern supermarkets and corner shops… Alyonka milk chocolate bars48-kopek half-kilo (1.1 pounds) vanilla ice-cream bricks, Stolichnaya vodkaMoskovskaya vodkaVologda dairy butterDoktorskaya boiled sausage {made to the old recipe in Bobruisk, costs 7.40 USD (245 Roubles. 7.90 CAD. 8.25 AUD. 5.45 Euros. 4.50 UK Pounds) per kilo (3.36 USD (112 Roubles. 3.60 CAD. 3.75 AUD. 2.50 Euros. 2.10 UK Pounds) per pound), a fair price: editor}, and many more. Experts calculate that there are around 3,000 former Soviet-era brands doing well on the market today, and their number is growing. In several cases, they have new packages, whilst the old Soviet-style packaging is all part of the appeal in others. For example, one sees the famous Soviet pelmeni (dumplings consisting of a filling wrapped in thin unleavened dough) in their dreary cardboard boxes, or sweetened condensed milk in blue-striped 9-ounce cans.

This nostalgia clearly represents a yearning for a lost past. Soviet-era food products are becoming a benchmark for forgotten quality and natural flavours, especially in medium-sized and smaller towns. Consumers fondly recall the Soviet Quality Mark that used to appear on food packaging and grumble that no equivalent of the GOST (mandatory and nationwide quality standards) system exists today. Meanwhile, commercial outfits that succeeded Soviet-era producers are fighting for the right to represent particular Soviet brands to consumers. Soviet nostalgia has reached the grocery baskets and dinner tables of average citizens. Of course, the sky is the limit when it comes to preparing meals at home, thanks to the effects of globalisation. Yet, new dishes remain a fantasy or a whim, whilst traditional Soviet and Russian cuisine still makes up the mainstay of Russian eating habits.

People in Russia prefer sourdough rye bread, especially the much-loved Soviet Borodinsky bread… steam-cooked rye bread enriched with molasses and whole cardamom seeds. Russians also enjoy a huge variety of dairy productscurd cheese (tvorog), sour cream (smetana)ryazhenka (a sour milk product made from fermented heated milk), and kefir (a fermented milk drink). The Soviet-era Mikoyan and Ostankino plants still produce frankfurters and salami for the domestic market. You make kasha from buckwheat, oats, and millet; one can make semolina kasha either with milk or with butter. People enjoy open sandwiches with cheese or slices of sausage. One serves eggs boiled or fried, or as omelettes. A mid-day three-course lunch is still traditional… a hearty soup, such as shchi (cabbage soup) or borshch (beetroot soup); meat or fish, served with a potato or grain side-dish; with tea or fruit compote. Such is the legacy of Soviet eating habits.

Today, many families often make Soviet-era recipes, such as the erstwhile favourite Makaronya po-flotski… large chunky macaroni dressed with fried or boiled minced meat and fried onions. One often sees Soviet rissoles on menus. They’re quite similar to European croquettes, but lean toward the style of an American hamburger. Hamburgers so impressed Stalin-era commissar Anastas Mikoyan, the father and ideologue of mass catering in the USSR, during his visit to the USA that he decided to produce something along the same lines on his return home… the Soviet rissole for public catering that eventually became part of Russian home cooking. Another example is Mikoyan’s Soviet goulash… stewed meat in a tomato sauce served with buckwheat kasha. An irresistible Soviet-era hors d’oeuvres was selyodka pod-shuboi (herring under an overcoat)… chunks of herring fillet mixed in layers, with cooked diced beetroot, potato, and carrot, liberally doused with mayonnaise. Gobies in tomato sauce, along with sprats, are still popular. Gobies are a small fish from the Black Sea; sprats are traditionally smoked and canned in oil. People serve Russian pancakes with many fillings… meat, cottage cheese, and yeast-raised pancakes were always popular with Soviet families. Today, nearly all Russia’s medium-sized and major cities make pelmeni . Experts believe that 80 percent of frozen convenience foods in Russia are pelmeni… a favourite amongst the country’s bachelors. Finally, home-bottled salted or pickled vegetables have always been the pride of Soviet housewives and stay a staple today… although today they’re often bought in shops or at the market, not made at home.

It makes sense that the further one goes from the capital or major cities, the closer home cooking clings to old Soviet traditions. Yet, even in well-to-do households in major cities, Soviet cuisine… perhaps, embellished with a few imported ingredients… still makes up a happily nostalgia-laden table for lunch. The shortages of food items in the Soviet era, a topic of continuous annoyance back then, have now transformed into a touching memory… even, a source of pride. Before our very eyes, new myths come into being about the recent past… about the health benefits and natural taste of Soviet-era foodstuffs, about how simple they were, and about how easy they were to get. A new generation of Russians… born on the cusp of the USSR’s demise or shortly afterwards… is very happy to enjoy these Soviet culinary traditions. Often, one can hear parents vying with each other about how their children love this or that Soviet dish, all made at home for them. The attitude younger Russians have toward Soviet dishes often boils down to a simple formula, “Why didn’t we have this before? It’s delicious stuff, nicer than those foreign dishes and recipes”.

2 November 2012

Sergei Roganov

Russia Behind the Headlines


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Thursday, 5 December 2013

5 December 2013. A Russian Picture Dictionary: Clothes

00 Nataliya Mikhailenko. A Russian Picture Dictionary. Clothes. 05.12.13


9 November 2013

Nataliya Mikhailenko

Russia Behind the Headlines


Friday, 22 November 2013

22 November 2013. Have A Cleansing Laugh… “Paper Has A Grand Future”

00.0d Laughing Animals. 08.06.12. Gorilla



Have a laugh, you need it…


Monday, 21 October 2013

21 October 2013. From the Russian Web… “A Herring and a Carton of Milk, Please…”

00 Cat in Russia. A Herring and a Carton of Milk, Please... 21.10.13


Have a smile… the world is being its usual screwball self…


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