French style meat with mayo

Why Russians Love Mayo, Sour Cream and Dill?

Traditional Russian dishes are not spicy. Why we do not use pepper? And why do we use mayo, sour cream and dill in way too many dishes?

Why Russian Food Is Not Spicy?

There are two main reasons:

winter forest in Russia web

We live in a cold country

a) We live in a cold country. Spicy foods are more typical for tropical countries than for cold northern countries, where there is no need to use antimicrobial properties of spices.

b) Another reason Russian food is not spicy is that Russia does not grow most spices on its territory, so they always had to be imported. Russia was mainly an agricultural country, peasants did not have access to imported spices and their food was quite simple.

syrniki with sour cream

One of typical Russian breakfasts for kids – syrniki (cottage cheese pancakes) with sour cream, Photo provided by http://www.vikalinka.com

Food preferences are shaped in the childhood. Here is the amazing article on that topic, which shows that it is possible to prep your babies for liking a variety of food even before they are born and certainly when they are still toddlers.

Since most Russians do not like spicy food, most ethnic restaurants in Moscow go light on spices or the waiter will ask you, how spicy you want your dishes to be. I usually opt for spicy, since I like spicy food, but it will still never be too hot. From my personal example – I think that tolerance to spices is something you acquire in your childhood. Food in our house was not spicy when I grew up, but when I was a kid, we lived in Kenya where there was a big Indian population and, as a result, I could enjoy spicy samosas etc. Since I had been exposed to spicy Indian food, now I can eat (and enjoy) even a very spicy Indian dishes, but have lower tolerance to spicy Mexican food .

What Is The Typical Russian Cuisine?

schi

Schi – traditional Russian soup made of cabbage and meat

Traditional way of cooking food in ancient Russia was to cook dishes in clay oven (which usually was the center of the house and served as a heater). Food was cooked in gorshki (clay pots), main food was a soup (most typical – schi – made of meat and cabbage and grains or potatoes. Pies were also very popular and baked in the oven. Even now, oven-cooking is central for the majority of dishes.

Kasha

Kasha – grain porridge )in this case buckwheat)

The most popular condiments used for making food less bland in Russia are salt and black pepper (always used in moderation). Salt is also widely used for conserving food for winter – mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. Almost any Russian kitchen will have bay leaf, no soup goes without it. Russians like to use a lot of herbs, most popular one is dill. Dill is part of the salads, dill is on top of boiled potatoes, dill is added to the soups. We love dill and add it to so many dishes, it drives foreigners mad. We also use parsley and cilantro, but not as much.

Our food is rich on onions and garlic. However, we do not have any traditional recipes, where onion or garlic would be a main ingredient (like French onion soup or Czech garlic soup). Onions are typically minced and fried and added to dishes and garlic is used either diced and raw as part of salads or to enhance a flavor of meat or vegetable stews.

 Why Do Russians Love Sour Cream And Mayo?

Sour cream was used in Russia since ancient times. Sour cream is a product, made from cream. It is high on fat, but is quite healthy despite that and is easily digested even for lactose intolerant people.  Why do we need to add more fats to our dishes? Again, living in a cold country calls for more nutritious food. Sour cream is definitely more healthy than butter. Sour cream is typically used as a sauce for salads, it makes all traditional soups (schi, borsch, okroshka, mushroom soup etc.) taste better, it tastes great with boiled potatoes and million other dishes.

Russian salad on a plate

Do not let this dollop of salad fool you. I recreated the restaurant serving of Russian salad in my kitchen… but the usual portion is several times bigger

When it comes to Mayo – things get more complicated. Mayonnaise is a sauce that came to Russia from French cuisine. It all makes sense. Our most “Russian” salad was designed by the French Chef Olivier. Fresh mayonnaise is made from olive oil and yolks, it is very high on fat content, but in the French cuisine it was not meant to be eaten in large quantities.

 

How Russians Use Mayo?

Here is where things get scary. Russians use mayo in industrial quantities. Usually this sauce is not prepared at home, people use store-brands. Most typical variety is Mayonnaise Provençal, 67% fat content. Mayo used to be expensive long time ago, then it was part of deficit products during Soviet times, now it is really cheap and widely available.

People add mayo to most salads, a lot of people use mayo as sauce for all main courses and instead of sour cream for soups.

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But the most scary use is dishes baked under the coat of mayo. Meat, fish, chicken, veggies – all gets more tasty under the thick coat of mayo (even if the ingredients are of sub-par quality). One of the most popular main courses of the 90s is “Meat French style” – meat, baked under the coat of mayo AND cheese.

There are several hugely popular food blogs, devoted to cooking with mayo. Any ingredient that you could think of is represented there. And presentation of the dishes is often very elaborate.

Fried mayo

Fried mayo, no kidding

But the apotheosis of mayo-related cuisine is… fried mayo! Yes, you can fry that stuff! Just freeze it, make a ball, using ice-cream spoon, coat with breadcrumbs and deep-fry in heated oil!

Which kind of brings us to the question – How do Russians stay in shape?

 

 

Leave a Reply

  • Lola J. Lee Beno - 4 years ago

    Deep fried mayo? Oh, my goodness gracious!

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Lola, that was exactly, what I thought!:) So, your comment made me smile :) I guess people, who live in cold climate are crazy about fatty food. We do have a movement towards healthy food though. I think that is similar to trends that are in the West now. Correlates with income. People, who are well off are eating salads, running marathons and avoiding mayo. But the percentage of such audience is still very low.

  • Marina - 4 years ago

    Even though I am originally from a former soviet country myself I thoroughly enjoyed reading most of your posts. I like how much insight you give in your posts and since I was born in the late 80s and do not remember anything much, reading this stuff really opened my eyes to a lot of things I previously did not understand :)

    If I may give you a suggestion though, since I see you have used one of my fellow blogger’s picture in this post and did not give credit to the source (http://vikalinka.com), I am guessing you’re not aware that it’s considered copyright infringement and while you most likely will not get into legal trouble, I think it’s proper etiquette not to use pictures without the permission of the author. Just an FYI :)

    Keep up great work Tanya!

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Hi Marina,
      Thank you very much for all your great comments!
      And an additional thank you for pointing at the picture, that has been misused. I was not exactly sure which picture you are talking about, please let me know and I will take it down immediately. I take copyright very seriously and either use my own photos or use advanced google search for pictures, free to use for non-commercial purposes or look for pictures in free photo banks. However, unfortunately, one cannot be exactly sure about the ownership of the photos yet, using the search methods. I have never visited the site vikalinka.com (great blog, will read it from now on and will share a link to it with my readers), so whatever photo was wrongly used – it was not intentional and will be corrected immediately.

      • Marina - 4 years ago

        Hi Tanya,
        The picture I was referring to was the one of syrnyki. It has a logo on the picture itself so you can visit Julias website and find that picture on there (here it is – http://vikalinka.com/2012/11/17/saturday-morning-brunch-russian-sweet-cheese-fritters-syrniki/) :)

        I am a food blogger myself and most of the people that publish recipes or food pictures online do not like their hard work published without permission or at least proper credit. I wasn’t aware that you could search specifically for copyright free images through google search until you pointed it out :) I guess to be safe, if the image has a logo you can just google the name and it surely will come up in the search in the first coupe of search results.

        And of course I am not telling you to take down the image because I am not the owner of it, but I think you can ask Julia of vikalinka.com (she’s a great gal, by the way :) ) and she could let you know if adding a link with credit under the picture is good enough :)
        Sorry, not trying to be a pain in the rear, just wanted to bring this to your attention since not everyone is aware of how this kind of stuff works :)
        And thanks for being so understanding to this kind of stuff :)

  • Lola J. Lee Beno - 4 years ago

    Are you sure this photo really does belong to Julia? I compared the one posted here with the other photos in the blogpost linked here. The plates are different; Julia uses raspberries and has the cream dolloped right on the plates. While the one used in here, strawberries and cherries are used and the cream is in a little pot. I’m not seeing any logo embossed, either.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Thank you very much ladies,
      I will write to Julia now to discuss that, apologize if I indeed used the copyrighted photo and ask whether she would prefer the picture to be taken down or kept, with the link to her article.

      • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

        Dear Marina and Lola,

        I have contacted Julia and explained the situation to her. She said that that particular photo did seam to be present all over internet, which explains why I found it in the free search. Julia appreciated me contacting her and said that I can continue using the photo, with credits. I have added credits and I have also added a link to the recipe of syrniki from the other post (What Russians eat for breakfast). I hope to cooperate with Julia in future and will read her amazing blog myself.

        Thanks again for helping me to give credit to the author of the photo and for making new friends!

        • Lola J. Lee Beno - 4 years ago

          Looking forward to trying the recipe on Bright Monday!

  • jayden - 3 years ago

    You forgot to add what they put sour cream ON..

  • essay editing service free – edit-ing.services - 2 years ago

    This kitchen looks rather unusual for us, although most dishes are very tasty and fragrant.

  • Amber - 1 year ago

    Is mayonnaise in Russia sweet, with sugar added? What about the type sold in Soviet times? I’m just curious about it. I prefer a savory mayo with no sweetener at all in it.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 1 year ago

      Hi Amber, there is some sugar in mayonnaise, according to the label, but I am not sure, how much. There is also mustard in it. Taste does not differ from Soviet times, I guess that’s because people prefer the taste they are used to. For more health conscious there is reduced calories mayo and mayo made with olive oil.