The custom of serving starters or hors d’oeuvres (zakuski) is said to have arisen in Russia. The traditional Russian starters are caviar, cured and smoked fish and meat dishes. The harsh climate taught people to keep large stores of food at home. This explains why fish, meat, poultry and game were salted, pickled and hoarded in abundance.

The main courses are heated – rich and nourishing cabbage, beetroot and fish soups – supplemented by pasties. Meat, fish and vegetable pasties are the first courses in Russian houses, both on everyday and special occasions.

One of the staple Russian fares has always been kasha or porridge, which also has a ritual significance. It was eaten to celebrate the birth of a new baby or to remember the dead. The bride and groom cooked porridge at their wedding, leading to the popular expression “you won’t cook porridge with him or her.”

Bread and grain are the two main foodstuffs in Russia, reflected in such national adages as “buckwheat porridge is our mother and rye bread is our father” and “borsch without kasha is a widower and kasha without borsch is a widow.”

After cabbage soup and porridge, the third national dish in Russia is probably pelmeni (dumplings). The staple food of the inhabitants of the Urals and Siberia, they are filled with meat, fish, mushrooms or potatoes.

Drinking tea with spice cakes, gingerbread, biscuits, pies or pancakes is a popular custom. There is something magically enchanting about coming in from the cold and enjoying a hot cup of tea from a traditional charcoal-heated samovar.

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