In Russian, brunch translates literally to “late breakfast.” Now, we’ve posted several times on the varied definitions of brunch (the time and place and menu, etc.), but in the most basic sense, brunch is merely a hybrid of breakfast and lunch, or, as the Russians say, late breakfast.
For those of you who don’t know, I spent the spring semester of my junior year in St. Petersburg, Russia, living with a family and studying at St. Petersburg State University (fun fact: Putin is a СПГУ alum). My host mom wasn’t much of a cook, so I didn’t get much of a culinary education while there. Breakfast was always out on the table when I woke up and generally consisted of yogurt, a hardboiled egg, jam and toast or a pastry and, if I was lucky, some fruit. I’m not really sure “brunch” as we think of it–late, leisurely, a huge meal–is a thing in normal Russian life.
However, Russians are known for their hospitality and for providing guests with elaborate spreads of food, and surely more than a dish or two could be combined to make a brunch menu. Set aside all your notions of beets and cabbage–there is a lot of that, and it’s actually really good–because there’s a lot more to Russian food than that. Here are a few of my favorites:
Blini are essentially miniature pancakes. They can be served with sour cream (just like everything else in Russia), caviar, jam or chocolate and are the one of the most buttery and delicious dishes around. Russians also celebrate Shrovetide, or Maslenitsa, the equivalent of our Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, during which they eat lots of blini to represent the sun and the welcoming of spring. My host mother actually did pull together a Maslentisa meal, which involved huge stacks of blini and lots of tea. This was one of my more enjoyable “family” experiences.
Pirogi are mini pies and can be filled with fruit, meat or veggies. There’s this great restaurant called Stolle in Petersburg that serves the absolute best pirogi in the world. Think of these as the Russian danish equivalent.
Kasha, or buckwheat, is a bit like Russian oatmeal. I often had this as a breakfast option as well. It can be served sweet (butter, sugar) or savory (salted with veggies) but either way is warm and filling on cold winter mornings.
Coffee cake isn’t Russian, per se, but sweets are certainly important to Russian meals. Cinnamon rolls, biscuits, Easter cake, etc. all have a special place at the table. As Lynn Visson, author of The Russian Heritage Cookbook writes, “Dessert, for Russians, marks not the end of a dinner but the beginning of a kind of second meal, a selection of cakes, cookies and candies to accompany the inevitable and repeated cups of steaming hot tea.”
More to come on Russian recipes and traditions in future posts. And I imagine Rachel will be able to weigh in on her abroad experiences as well.