Russia produces a diverse culinary repertoire. Restaurants, cafes and other eating establishments have made vast inroads since the fall of Communism and there's a surprisingly good choice in Moscow, St Petersburg and other big cities. Elsewhere the choice is more limited, which is why we include meals in provincial Russia on our group tours.
Caviar, smoked sausage, pickles, field mushrooms, cheese and soured cream are the basis of zakuski (hors d'oeuvres or appetisers) - a popular dish. Also try savoury piroshki (a stuffed pastry) and blini (savoury stuffed pancakes). The Russians excel at hearty meat and vegetable-based soups. The tsar of all soups is borsch, a beetroot and cabbage combination served with plenty of dill and sour cream. The sour and salty solyanka is also good, crammed with pickled cucumber, olives, capers, tomatoes, lemons and salted mushrooms.
Well-loved classic mains include beef Stroganoff (invented in Russia, as was chicken Kiev), pelmeny (Siberian-style dumplings) and spicy Georgian cuisine such as shashlyk, a form of Shish kebab originally made of lamb. Russian rye bread is flavoursome and most often eaten without butter. Fish varieties include omul (similar to salmon and from Lake Baikal) and sturgeon - often poached and served with a sauce or mushrooms. The Russians excel at the art of ice-cream making and St Petersburg is particularly renown for its varieties.
A word on garnishes - dill reigns supreme in Russia and its use is not limited to fish dishes. You'll find dill zealously sprinkled across many dishes. Russia even produces dill-flavoured potato crisps.
Russia has many indigenous alcoholic beverages that were once widely consumed but have now been replaced with more popular international varieties though one particular Russian drink has become a staple across the world and that's vodka. Made from fermented cereal grains and potatoes, vodka in Russia is often taken neat with food. Beer is another popular drink with a long history in Russia. Another favourite is kvass, a bread-based drink that although classified as non-alcoholic usually has a marginal alcohol content around 0.5%.