The 5 Grossest Russian Foods of Your Childhood

by Semechka on June 24, 2013

If you grew up American in a Russian immigrant family, school lunches might’ve been an ordeal for you. The other kids just didn’t understand how half a kotleta slapped on a piece of black bread was your Grandma’s idea of a hamburger. While they indulged in their smorgasbord of American delicacies, you sulked that your lunch never came with a plastic toy, and that your baby bologna sandwich was decidedly less appetizing than the Oscar Mayer/Wonderbread pairing so popular amongst your peers. And try as you did to score some Gushers when shopping with Mama v Shopraitye, the answer was always the same: “A popa ne slipnitsa?

gamburger

 mmmda.

School lunch isn’t the only source of food-related grief one encounters growing up in a Russian household. When I was a kid, meals were a dreaded affair. Somehow my grandparents never grasped the concept of child-size portions, and were thus unsympathetic to my desperate pleas to escape the dinner table. Not to mention that Russian food isn’t the most “kid-friendly” cuisine. Case in point…

 The 5 Grossest Russian Foods of Your Childhood

1. Holodets

Whoever decided that encasing shredded meat in a blob of salty jello could be even slightly appetizing was probably high off exhaust fumes. One morsel of this snot-flavored appetizer would send me reeling out of my dining chair in violent fits of nausea. If any one food could make headcheese look tasty by comparison, this would be it.

holodets

meat Jell-O, anyone?

2. Pickled Fruit

Want to gross out your American friends? Direct them to the section of your Russian grocery with the open vats of pickled tomatoes/watermelon/grapes/apples/cabbage/anything. When it comes to marinating produce, nothing in the Russian culinary tradition is sacred. At some low point in history, we decided collectively as a people that the question “Should we pickle it?” is entirely rhetorical.

“Can we pickle it?” “Yes we can!!!”

3. Salo

“Hey, let’s take some sliced pig lard, spice it, and serve it on black bread as a vodka-chaser.” Sliced. Pig. Lard. Need I say more?

mmm, spicy pig back.

4. Silyodka Pod Shuboy

Literally translates to “Herring Under a Fur Coat.” I’ll tell you something — there’s nothing vaguely resembling a “shuba” in this dish. This is a “salad” of marinated herring, topped with layers of boiled potatoes, eggs, beets, and copious amounts of — what else? — mayonnaise. One bite of this is a mouthful of Nope.

Masquerading as a cake, are we? Nice try.

5. Kvass

Basically carbonated bread juice. Similar to beer, except without all the pleasant side effects. Sometimes they put raisins or other random crap in it to mask what tastes like fermented dirt. If you have kids, spare them the displeasure of drinking this liquid rankness.

Bottoms up.

Other common Russian ingredients that are generally disagreeable:

Beef tongue, chicken gizzards, tripe (intestines), beef/goose/cod liver, milt.

….but the one treat that redeems it all?

Screen shot 2013-06-23 at 11.34.11 PM

hell yes.

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As a child in a Russian immigrant family, between the time I spent kicking back na dache, joining my grandpa na ribalke, being forced into eating Farina kasha against my will, and reading stories from books like Doctor Aybolit, I spent obscene amounts of time watching cartoons.

My parents gave me a VHS of Nu, Pogodi! and a few other Soviet classics at a young age, and I watched them obsessively throughout my youth — only further cementing my role as Token Russian Girl of suburbia.

Here are some mul’tiki of note:

Nu, Pogodi!

 

Nu, Pogodi! (“Well, Just You Wait!”) was the USSR’s take on the “catch-me-if-you-can” cartoon (like Tom & Jerry, but with hooligan Russians). The antagonist, Volk, is a a chain-smoking,  jalope-driving, guitar-playing schlub in bellbottoms, whose sole purpose in life is getting his paws on the cute bunny (Zayets) evading his harebrained attempts at capture. Between the retro soundtrack, cheeky cultural references, and timeless animation, this show is still one of my all-time favorites.

subtle.

Also, it probably contributed in some capacity to my Eugene Hutz/Gogol Bordello obsession because, I mean, come on — the parallels are too obvious:

volkzhenya

oh, Zhenya.


 

Cheburashka

 

Cheburashka is some kind of monkey hybrid thing who falls into a crate of oranges and ends up in Soviet Russia. According to Wikipedia, he’s about the size of a 5-year-old child (which, for all intents and purposes, is downright horrifying to think about). His best friend is a crocodile named Gena who is far better dressed than a reptile has any right to be, and plays the accordion (or garmon, for you pedants out there).

Cheburashka captured the hearts of millions and spawned a cult following still thriving today, in the form of creepy YouTube parodies and this weird Che Guevara meme:

1313930817_chebur03

It’s a pun, get it?


 

Bremenskie Muzikanti

 

When I watched this cartoon my Russian was rather limited, so understanding of whatever the heck was going on was reduced to interpreting the antics of the characters as they bounced around on screen. Luckily, that was more than enough to captivate my attention.

ochin’ psychodelichno.

Loosely based on The Beatles a Brothers Grimm story, Bremenskie Muzikanti was the premier animated rock band of Soviet times. The band is comprised of a dog, a cat, a donkey, a rooster, and a dreamy blonde troubadour whose attempts at courting a fair princess are met with much strife.

As we all know, music and love always prevail in the face of Hollywood adversity, so the fair princess ends up eloping with her hunky young bard, and they gallop off into the distance with their groovy brigade of dancing animals.

But the real reason I watched this cartoon was for this scene alone:

Priceless.


 

Vinni Pukh

 

Kazhetsya dozhd’ sobirayetsya.

I was never much of a Winnie the Pooh fan, but find the differences between the American and Russian versions of this classic children’s tale to be striking. Let’s compare.

winniepukh

Also, kind of relevant:

*cough*. ’nuff said.

Did I miss anything? Comments comments comments! Please and spasibs.


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Let’s take a moment to discuss the curious phenomenon of the Ruskiy Ristoran (Russian restaurant).

For an eatery to be considered a Ruskiy ristoran, it can’t simply slap some Russian food on a table and call it a day (though shashlik is compulsory at any and all Russian eating establishments. Have you ever heard of a vegetarian Russian menu? Neither have I).

No, for a ristoran to be truly Ruskiy in the Café Tatiana/Paradise/Rasputin sense, it must adhere to a few established tenets of Russian Extravagance, and have an RDBQ of at least 7.5 (see figure below).

 Presenting: the Russian Douchebaggery Quotient (RDBQ)

a Richter scale of douchiness.

rdbq

A Ruskiy ristoran is usually inside of a venue with a dance floor featuring strobe lights. The strobe lights must at the very least be capable of inducing seizures, especially when played during 90s dance music. When you were a kid, you likely chased around those fun star-shaped projections in frenzied mania, cursing at the sky as they just barely escaped your clutches. This is because strobe projections are the human equivalent of laser pointers for cats.

Yay seizures!!!

If a person uninitiated to the culture of the Ruskiy ristoran sits down at the table during appetizers, he or she will likely gorge him or herself on the endless supply of hors d’oeuvres, not realizing that that is the first course of approximately seven more to come. By dessert, the person will be comatose.

Fun fact: leftovers from one Ruskiy ristoran party can sustain a small third world country for about a week.

During and between bouts of face-stuffing, Ruskiye ristorani typically blast various Russian and English hits that were in vogue approximately 25 years ago. Sometimes, they will hire an overdressed woman to stand awkwardly on stage and sing from a book of lyrics while instrumental music plays over the sound system. This is a custom not entirely unlike karaoke, except only one person gets to participate and spectators don’t have a say in the matter. Before the end of the night, expect to hear an up-tempo rendition of “Happy Byorzday” sung at least four times, for four different parties.

“Opa!” or something.

If you are at a particularly swanky Ruski ristoran (or your cousin’s bar mitzvah), the night isn’t over until the show. At some point during the night, babushki will run around herding their deranged grandchildren, shouting “seichas budet show!” to rouse them from their strobe light mania. Once everyone is seated, an ensemble of scantily-clad men and women in dazzling cosplay outfits dance uniforms will saunter onto the dance floor, thrashing their bodies in synchronized motion to the tune of a song you would never be caught dead listening to unironically.

“Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a dancing church.”

Finally, when the night is over, Mama will drive home (because Papa had one too many) and you will eat leftover shashlik and napoleon for the next three days, because nothing says “fortified breakfast” like fistfuls of cake and steak.

Sing it, Zhenya.

Have anything to add? Tell us in the comments!

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