Welcome to the world of Russian cuisine!

Russian cookery is known the world over. On assimilating the best culinary traditions of the ancient civilizations of the West and East, Russian cuisine has acquired a distinctive character of its own. The original features and variety of cookery in Russia are largely due to the rich natural gifts of its land - the abundance of fish, poultry, mushrooms, berries and honey. Rye, wheat, barley and millet grown in Russia were used for producing bread, different kinds of cereals, kvass, beer and vodka. It is remarkable that many secrets of cookery were revealed and preserved during the early periods of Russian history in monasteries. Orthodox monks created many recipes which later became pride items in cookbooks. Suffice it to mention such typical Russian special-ties as fish monastery style, suckling pig roasted in dough, honey cakes and fruit liqueurs.

From the middle of the fifteenth century, after the Orthodox Church had established itself as the state religion, the mode of life of the Russian people, its daily life and eating habits markedly changed. Fasting periods and festivals were clearly fixed, a choice of meals in homes became more definitely specified. The calendar was strictly divided into the days when meat, milk and eggs were appropriate and the lenten fare when vegetable food prevailed in the diet.

The severe Russian climate made the consumption of meat and other nourishing foodstuffs with high calorie content necessary. The slaughter of livestock and poultry for food was timed to coincide with the severe frosts of the Nativity and Epiphany days. Traditional festive meals during the Nativity day included roast goose or suckling pig and home-made pork sausages. The Russians' favorite drink on festive occasions was vodka, a reliable protection from catching cold and good for warming oneself on a frosty day. After abundant winter meals and before Lent there came a short merry period of Cheese Fare when people were already supposed to abstain from flesh, but cheese and milk products were still allowed. According to the age-old tradition, during the Cheese Week it was customary to bake blinis, or a sort of pancakes, served with butter, fish and caviar. This brief period was followed by Lent which ended with the most popular Christian holiday, Easter. The symbols of Easter were coloured eggs, Easter cake and paskha (a sweet cream-cheese dish prepared in a special way). This spring festival was also celebrated as the day of general love and mercy.

In the eighteenth century Russian cuisine was enriched with achievements of Western European culinary art. That period saw a vogue tor foreign, usually French, cooks who were invited to the Imperial court, homes of aristocrats and were employed at restaurants. It was then that the diet of the Russian kitchen began to include dishes which later became traditional Russian specialties. These are all sorts of broth, pates, sauces tormeat and fish dishes, and cakes. In Moscow, nevertheless, distinctly Russian dishes still prevailed. They were usually served in taverns, especially famous among them being the Yegorov Tavern which won general renown for its savoury blinis and Moscow rasstegai, an open-topped variety of pasty.

The best traditions of Russian cookery have been carefully retained to this day. A fine place to try dishes of Russian cuisine today is The Podvorie restaurant, a cosy nook where the cooking traditions of the olden days have been revived. The restaurant is located near the picturesque park of Pavlovsk in the world-famous suburbs of St Petersburg. Here, in a wooden Russian-style terem palace crowned with a tower which is perched by a golden fairy-tale cockerel you will find a warm welcome and will have a chance to savour the choicest, truly Russian dishes.