Exploring Russia’s culinary heritage

This Russian  mulled honey drink is a common beverage served in Russia. Served warm, it is similar to mulled cider. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
This Russian mulled honey drink is a common beverage served in Russia. Served warm, it is similar to mulled cider. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Many students dream of boarding a flight to Sochi, Russia, to witness the Winter Olympic Games but don’t have the opportunity to actually make that dream a reality. With shallow wallets and strict schedules, it’s rare for college students to experience the unique culture of foreign lands so far away.

Instead students can experience the unique food of Russia without leaving their apartments. With a few simple ingredients and a basic recipe found online, students, like sophomore Josh Woods, can dine like the Olympic athletes on the other side of the world.

Woods, a 22-year-old BYU student double majoring in chemistry and Russian, likes to make Russian foods at his apartment. Woods first experienced Russian food while serving his mission in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.

“I cook grechka often,” Woods said. “Grechka is a grain that can be prepared by boiling like rice. We feed it to horses in America, but in Russia it is toasted until it is brown and boiled for people to eat.”

Students can add to their Russian dishes with kvas, a non-alcoholic, bread-based beverage that has been popular in Russia for centuries. The drink can be found at Many Lands market located at 1145 N. 500 West in Provo.

Students who want to stick to Russian custom should avoid putting their drinks on ice because Russians prefer their liquids at room temperature.

“Russians do not drink beverages with ice,” said Professor Victoria Baird, faculty coordinator for the Russian house in the College of Humanities. Baird said even though she has lived in the states for 17 years, she still drinks her beverages without ice, like she did when she grew up in Russia.

Students who are hesitant to acquire a taste for foreign food can try starting with a hearty Russian beet soup, known as borscht, that is pretty simple to make.

“(Borscht) is a great food for anyone to try because it is delicious but has a mild taste that everyone will love,” Woods said.

The highly popular soup usually has people suspicious at first since it is made mostly from beets, but when the other ingredients of beef broth, carrots, onions and potatoes are added to the mix, the flavor becomes rich and earthy.

“Basically everyone who tries well-made borscht likes it,” said Woods. “It’s also fairly easy to make.”

Braver souls can challenge themselves with a Russian treat known as kholodets. Kholodets is a little trickier to make and has a more unique taste. Baird said she has only met one American who liked kholodets, but she personally doesn’t mind it, especially if her mother cooks it.

Kholodets is a traditional Russian treat that is especially popular for holidays and other celebrations. It has a base very similar to American Jell-O but also has an addition of animal fat, meat, peppercorns and garlic. The dish takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but multiple recipes can be found online for those seeking a challenge.

Whether it’s for a party with friends or a unique date night with a significant other, trying new foreign foods can be a fun alternative to the everyday options. With the Olympics right around the corner, now is the perfect opportunity to test those taste buds on some authentic Russian favorites.

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