9 Russian Foods You Need to Know

By Kathleen Squires  |  February 13, 2014
Credit: Darlene Horn

With the current world focus on the Winter Olympics going down in Sochi, Russia, interest in the cuisine and culture of the former Soviet Union has perhaps never been greater. While Russian food varies greatly by region, its cuisine in general can be described as robust, cross-continental, marked by variety while consistently comforting. With Sochi on the tips of global tongues for the next few weeks, here are some dishes the athletes from around the world are likely gaining sustenance from right now, and where you can try them, too.

  • Khachapuri

    Man may very well be able to live on this delicious, cheesy bread alone. This Georgian specialty comes in many shapes: round and pizzalike; oblong and baguette-ish; or layered, like a lasagna. Sometimes, an egg is added for an extra shot of protein. Because it is such a staple, the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University use the price of the bread as an index of inflation.

    Where to Try: Mari Vanna in Manhattan serves two versions; Romanov Restaurant and Lounge in Los Angeles includes it on the Russian side of the menu (the other half is French).

  • Borscht

    Legend has it that this nutritious soup was invented by the Cossacks in Southern Russia in the 17th century. It endures as a beet-heavy bowl in a rich, meat-based broth. Various vegetables, such as potatoes and cabbage, sometimes make an appearance in the mix, and a dollop of sour cream is the classic garnish. Though it can be eaten hot or cold, you can bet that it will be served steaming at Sochi.

    Where to Try: DC’s Russia House Lounge serves a Moscow version with oxtail, brisket and caraway. Palace Royal in Philadelphia does it up Kosher-style.

  • Caviar and Blini

    Always associated with luxury, the glistening pearls of salted fish eggs are perfect to celebrate that gold medal. Though Russia’s Caspian Sea was historically rich with beluga sturgeon, today the roe is often imported to preserve the local fish population. Blini are the buckwheat pancakes, the perfect, spongy vessel on which to smear the eggs. Other traditional accompaniments include chopped hard-boiled egg, crème fraîche, chives, red onion and a shot of ice-cold vodka.

    Where to Try: Ornate Firebird in New York City offers caviar “flights.” They're also on the menu at Petrossian Bar at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

  • Golubsti

    Cabbage is Russia’s favorite vegetable, a part of most meals and used in versatile ways. In this dish, cooked leaves serve as a wrapper for chopped meat, rice, barley or vegetables. No matter what the stuffing, the bundles are always simmered in tomato sauce.

    Where to Try: Katia’s in San Francisco tucks beef, rice and onions inside theirs. Café Glechik’s version, in the Russian enclave of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, is a local favorite.

  • Credit: Piroshki Seattle


    These humble turnovers are either baked or fried, with meat, cheese, seafood, veggies or fruits tucked inside a thick pastry dough. Usually served as an appetizer or accompaniment, and sometimes as a dessert, pirozhki are recognized as one of the country’s most traditional dishes for their sheer simplicity.

    Where to Try: Seattle’s Piroshki makes nearly two dozen varieties; Baltimore’s Vernisage tucks chicken into theirs.

  • Credit: Mari Vanna


    Flour, water and egg provide a utilitarian wrapper for these dumplings, usually filled with meat, fish or mushroom and finished with a dab of sour cream. The name translates to “ear bread,” referring to the shape of the fold. If they remind you of something you might find in Chinatown, it’s because they were born in Siberia and modeled after neighboring China’s jiaozi.

    Where to Try: The brand new Moscow 57 in NYC enhances theirs with spicy mustard and dill sauce. At Boston’s Bar Stoli, diners get a platter of six pieces filled with ground beef and turkey.

  • Shashlyk

    These skewered meats, grilled over charcoal, are the ubiquitous street food that spectators at Sochi are likely grabbing between events. Whether lamb, beef or pork, shashlyk are easy to eat on the go, and the competitive vendors keep their marinades a well-guarded secret, though pomegranate juice is often a key ingredient.

    Where to Try: Rus-uz in DC offers a choice of beef, veal, chicken, mutton or fish. In Boston, the chicken version is tops at Café St. Petersburg.

  • Solyanka

    This rich, salty, sweet-and-sour stew is a staple item in Russian cuisine. There are three major types: meat, fish and mushroom emboldened with olives, capers, pickles and cabbage. No matter which kind, sour cream is served on the side, as well as thick slices of rye bread to sop it all up.

    Where to Try: The eclectic Lula Kebab House in Miami serves it steaming, even when temperatures run high.

  • Credit: Christopher Cina


    This well-known stew includes beef strips and mushroom finished with sour cream and served over noodles. Named after Count Paul Stroganov, the classic makes use of cheaper cuts and leftover meats. A starchy, meaty, bone-warming one-pot meal, stroganoff is perfect to fill up on after the thrill of victory, and especially comforting after the agony of defeat.

    Where to Try: Red Tavern in San Francisco does a straight-shooting classic version. Russian Tea Time in Chicago laces theirs with a bit of Madeira wine.