Hearty, palatable and conventional – that’s what Russian cuisine feels like to most Slavs. Or does it? Blini, beef Stroganoff and pelmeni will make you drool over your babushka’s kitchen table, but not everything is exactly as mouth-watering as a carefully selected Pinterest board with Russian foods. Don’t believe me? Here are just some of the most famous traditional Russian recipes that most foreigners would definitely find unbelievable, to say the least.
Yeap, you read that right. Pickled apples. For non-Slavs these two words may sound odd when used together in the same sentence, but they do go hand in hand in many Russian pantries. Also known as brined apples, they may seem perplexing at first, but they are indeed a key aspect in longstanding local traditions.
Your typical Russian babushka would know a plethora of ways to make brined apples. Some recipes call for a rather sweetened brine that incorporates honey, cardamom, cinnamon and other similar spices in a fall-inspired infusion. But the real pickled apples are made in ways similar to kvass. These fermented pickled apples are an excellent substitute to store-bought winter “harvests”. Similarly to sauerkraut and all pickled veggies in general, pickled apples do preserve a substantial amount of their nutrients and have a longer shelf life than raw apples.
Nyanya (the feet soup)
Again, you read that correctly. The oldest records ever found of this ancient Russian recipe date back to the distant 9th century. One of its most notable mentions is in Nikolai Gogol’s famous novel Dead Souls where Sobakevich eulogizes the Nyanya soup’s taste.
The soup is actually a blend of sheep minced meat from the animal’s head, brains and feet. Other ingredients include cabbage, buckwheat and onions. Traditionally Nyanya was served in the sheep’s rennet bag. It should come to no surprise that even some Russians weren’t fans of this dish throughout the ages since its main meat ingredients aren’t for the faintest of hearts. Additionally, the Orthodox church banned the original recipe back in the days due to the fact that it held a sacred value for pagan Russians.
Stroganina (the weirdest sashimi ever)
If you think a slice of harmless sashimi is too extreme for you, Stroganina will definitely make you want to gouge your eyes out. This authentic raw dish is actually a popular delicacy in Siberia. Eating it can be hands down one of the weirdest experiences even for sushi lovers, but if you’re brave enough to try it, you needn’t travel all the way to Siberia since the Stroganina bar in Moscow serves it too.
So what is Stroganina? It’s basically a long, thin strip of raw frozen fish. Siberian Artic fish are used in this dish and the meat is usually eaten shortly after being caught while it’s still frozen. Served as a ribbon-like curl, the strip can be made more palatable with salt, black pepper, frozen fresh milk and as you might have already guessed – vodka, of course.
Selyodka pod shuboy (neither cake, nor salad)
There’s hardly a Russian millennial whose taste buds haven’t been treated with a slice of Selyodka pod shuboy. If you’ve never heard about this recipe before, let me put it this way – it’s simultaneously the most WTF cake and the unhealthiest salad you’ll see.
While it may resemble a cake at first, it’s actually a sort of a salad. I’m saying “sort of” because it’s definitely the unhealthiest Slav salad mankind has ever known. Also dubbed Dressed Herring, you’ll either love or hate this layered salad because there’s simply no way to remain impartial once you’ve tasted it. Everything starts with a pickled herring on the bottom and then layers of potatoes and veggies are laid over it. The cherry on top of the cake that marks the summit of this traditional dish is a layer of mayo. Yeap, mayonnaise is the closing act of the show. Like I said – not a healthy salad option.
Holodets (pork aspic)
No, this isn’t your typical knock-off jello salad made with gelatin and other artificial stuff that’s trying to pass as aspic in some fancy restaurant. Holodets is the real deal. All Russian babushkas and dedos know how to make the jelly out of real animal fat. Even though there are variations of this meat jelly in other Slav and non-Slav countries, the Holodets recipe lacks artificial gelatin mixes and is usually made with pork.