How To Host The Perfect Russian Dinner Party

Vodka can’t carry this one alone, so you better come prepared with plenty of hearty Russian food too.
russian food

Do your fantasies come with a healthy serving of pickled things and root vegetables? Is a trip to Russia not in your near future? Perhaps your next mission (and a pretty good consolation prize) is to host a Russian dinner party. A typical spread of Russian food will almost always be excessive in quantity, but it’ll never be more than you can handle (as long as your leftover game is strong). Here’s a menu of quintessential Russian food that’ll have your guests lingering around the table long after you’ve clinked glasses five or six times.

Drink: Kvas

By Andrij Bulba (originally posted to Flickr as Kvas) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
You might be thinking vodka. And that’s okay. You should absolutely get your shot glasses out. But if you really want to signal your insider knowledge of Russian culture, you should serve kvas too — a cold fermented drink made from brown bread and yeast that will save you on a hot summer day. If you make it yourself (and you should if you want the real deal), this is something best prepared ahead, as it requires a couple days to ferment. The result: a sour (but kind of sweet, kind of carbonated) beverage that’s almost like iced tea, but unlike anything you’ve tasted. Here’s a two-day recipe that’s sweetened with sugar and raisins.

Appetizer: You’re Gonna Need A Few

A typical spread of Russian food favors multiplicity: you’re gonna need a little bit of everything. Not to be missed are pickled vegetables, soups, various root vegetable and/or cabbage salads dressed with mayonnaise (seriously, there’s mayonnaise in everything), and bread (you can’t skip the bread — when in doubt, stick with rye). Here are three classic dishes to get you started.

Selyodka Pod Shuboy (“Herring Under A Fur Coat”)

herring under fur coat
By Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Though this dish actually has roots in Sweden, Russian legend has it that it was invented by a barkeep in Russia who wanted to sober up his patrons with a hearty, filling meal to keep them from smashing everything in his establishment. The result was a layered salad of potatoes, pickled herring, beets, carrots, grated egg and mayonnaise. Eventually, it became a symbol of national unity in Soviet Russia. At the time, it was called shuba, which means “fur coat” but was also an acronym for an anti-chauvinist political slogan. Here’s how to make it.


Via Erin Pawlicki

You can’t forget the borscht. In the American imagination, at least, Russian food is synonymous with this colorful beet soup, which can be served hot or cold and with or without meat, depending on your preferences. Be sure to serve it with dill, a dollop of sour cream and dark bread. Here’s a recipe.

Olivier Salad

olivier salad

It’s basically potato salad, but more Russian, and much more essential to the Russian dinner spread. A typical olivier will include peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, meat, pickles and eggs. Oh, and mayonnaise. What did you think this was? This recipe should do the trick.

Main Course: Kotleti

By A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) [FAL or CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Kotleti (“cutlets”) are kind of like hamburgers or meatballs, but they’re not exactly like anything we’re familiar with as Americans. The fried, ground meat patties were a staple among the Soviet working class, and they continue to be a nostalgic comfort food among Russians today. You can serve them hot at dinner or cold the next day, and even throw them into a sandwich for lunch. Since we’re talking “dinner party,” make sure to serve yours with boiled or mashed potatoes for maximum effect. Here’s a good take on how to make them with beef, though you can use just about any kind of meat you desire.

Dessert: Tea And Medovik

By Sweetlovers [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
After-dinner tea is practically a must for a Russian meal. And if you’re gonna have tea, you’re gonna need to serve fruit, chocolates or cake to go with it. A very typical and beloved Russian cake is the medovik (“honey cake”), which contains several layers of honey-sweetened cake and (usually) a sour cream filling in between. It’s not exactly quick and easy, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Here’s how you do it.

Key Russian Phrases

I’m hungry —Я голодный. (m) / Я голодная. (f)
Ya golodniy. / Ya golodnaya.

I’m full —Я наелся. (m) / Я наелась. (f)
Ya nayelsa. / Ya nayelas.

Please — Пожалуйста

Thank you — Спасибо

You’re welcome — Пожалуйста

Enjoy your meal — Приятного аппетита!
Priyatnogo appetita!

This is delicious! — Это очень вкусно!
Ehto ochen vkusno!

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