If you think you know anything about Russian cuisine, you're probably wrong. But it's alright, don't worry, I'm here to catch you up.
Here are the basic points you should know:
1) We eat and drink more than just borscht and vodka
2) Russian cooking is... what a good friend of ours calls "labor intensive"
3) If you ever go up to your Russian friend and try to describe that one food you tried last week, "you know, the one with meat inside of dough, it's really good, you know it?" there is a good chance they'll laugh at you. There are at least 5 different foods I can think of off the top of my head that are variations on meat inside dough.
4) You will never, ever, under any circumstance, go hungry in a Russian household. Not ever.
I've always known that what my parents cook at home is "Russian". Duh. I just never realized how legitimately authentic our home cooked meals are. In Ukraine, I walked into restaurants expecting to get to try really real Russian food. What I was served was almost exactly what I could have gotten at home (so y'all are all welcome to skip the expensive airfare and come over to my house instead).
There are variations on dishes, of course, just like in any cuisine. Some people add carrots in their salat olivye, some put sugar in varyeniki, and some make okroshka on mineral water instead of kvac. But what holds true for most dishes is the cooking process. I don't mean the ingredients for each dish (although if you have meat and dough you're like 90% there), but the mentality. Russian dishes are not easy to make. There are different doughs for different dishes, varied lengths for cooking, but always a lot of time spent in the kitchen. My mom often prepares Russian dinners for holidays; they usually take a full two days to prepare.
Nevertheless, Russians will continue to spend such time on their food. Food is a big part of culture. "Well, duh, Jess, just like in any other culture". No, no, I mean like food is a central component, not just for meals but for socializing, at any level. When you walk into a Russian household, we will offer you something to eat and drink. If you say you're not hungry, we'll only bring out 2/3 of what we've prepared. If we ask about seconds, you might as well say "yes". "No" will only cause the babushka (pronounced BA-bush-ka, not ba-BUSH-ka, it's a pet peeve of mine) of the house to tell you "nonsense, you're too thin, have some more". Resistance is futile; we will feed you.
On the bright side, you can relax and just enjoy the meal- it'll be delicious and mostly healthy. None of this additives nonsense; we like things natural and home grown (like actually, in our backyard, where my uncle keeps 5 cows, 3 calves, a plot of tomatoes, a start to some grapes, and still expanding). Once you've eaten, I'd recommend you stick around for tea and chocolate; we have really good chocolate. I'm pretty sure that in 3 weeks in Ukraine, I drank more tea (a cup after any and every meal, of course) and ate more dessert than ever in my life.
Anyways, I hope this short look into our culinary world has been enlightening. And don't forget- Kansas is probably much closer than Ukraine, so stop on by and we'll fill you up.
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