Peculiarities of Russian cuisine abroad

There are thousands of different Russian restaurants across the globe. Nowadays you can find these places with catchy kitsch-y names like Old Moscow, Samovar, Rasputin or Balalaika in every big city.

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The insides are usually colored in red and decorated with numerous folk household items (which also applies to any other national cuisine restaurant), such as samovars, matryoshka dolls, sooshkas (ring-shaped cracknels), Gzhel ceramics and waiters running around in national red shirts.

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Interior design is not of course the only thing that incorporates the Russianness.  Flipping through the menu you can always find the most popular dishes like borsch, Olivier salad, pelmeni, kvas and vodka. Sometimes, however, there is not much Russian behind the names.

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The thing is, it is often quite hard to find Russian products outside of the country, and so many “Russian” foods are cooked with local product substitutes. Take beets, for instance. One of the most important ingredients for many national specialties like borsch, dressed herring and Vinegret salads is not only impossible to find in some regions, it is hard enough to explain what exactly you are looking for in a grocery store. And I am not talking about some exotic distant locations like South America or Oceania, where beets are just not part of national cuisine, but also Western European countries like Italy and Spain, where it is also quite difficult to find at local markets. So it’s common to put tomato paste in the borsch soup to give it the right color, but not the taste. You can hardly expect to get Russian dark bread, buckwheat or smetana as well.

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Various piroshky fillings can also be quite surprising for a Russian to try as most Russian restaurants adjust national meals to local tastes. I have seen piroshki filled with curry chicken, spinach and parmesan and even licorice jam. Of course, a certain part of Russianness is sacrificed in order to please local guests.

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Sometimes it seems that it’s impossible to recreate a genuine Russian food outside of the country, and why would anyone try? Most Russian meals don’t exactly fit into restaurant timing frames as time is what you really need to make Russian food. It will take you a whole day to brew Holodets meat jelly, up to several weeks to pickle cabbage, cucumbers and tomatoes, and you should wait till winter rolls around to make pelmeni.

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