While there is plenty of menu variations across a country this size, there are some dishes that are national favorites. The word to look for in Russian reads to an American as “Pectopah”—it’s pronounced nearly the same as “restaurant” and is displayed prominently on the exterior of most establishments. It goes without saying that vodka is the drink of choice, so here’s a toast to our favorite Eastern European delicacies!
- Beef Stroganoff is native to the city of St. Petersburg, and culture lovers will doubtless find themselves there for the ballet, the many historic palaces, or the Hermitage. The Stroganov family still lives in the city, and their original recipe is served at the Grand Hotel Europe, their hotel of choice for generations.
- Pelmeni in their most perfect form are subject to differences of opinion, like most varieties of dumplings. Some like them doughy and dense, some like them light and delicate, some like them soft, some like them chewy, but everyone can agree that these boiled meat dumplings (the filling is ground beef and finely chopped onions) are a true taste of Russian home cooking.
- Borscht, the traditional beet soup, is a Ukranian dish made rich with a beef broth base, made a rich magenta by boiling in cubed beets. Often, the squares are left in the bowl for serving, along with a dollop of sour cream and dill or onions as garnish. Borscht can be served hot or cold, although hot is certainly preferable during the cold Russian winters.
- For a splurge, nothing beats an order of blini and caviar, which is available in many levels of quality to suit different price ranges. Blini are delicate, yeasty buckwheat pancakes that are an accompaniment to many meals, but are most famous smeared with caviar and topped with a spoonful of delicate crème fraiche. The caviar most prominent in the public imagination is beluga, but as it’s no longer available legally anywhere in the world, Ossetra and Sevruga are the names to look for on the high end wild-sturgeon caviar labels.