Top Five Russian Pasta Dishes

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in Culture, History, Russian food

Last weekend I asked my husband and son to help me prepare a Russian dish for dinner. After I told them that the process was going to take about four hours, the genuine desire to help they might have had up to that point went right out the window. Nevertheless, I persevered; I proceeded to explain that the upside of such a lengthy process is the fact that you end up with enough food for 4 meals. I also added a few beers to the experience, let my son have his favorite snacks and before you know it, the lengthiest dinner in the history of the Banks family was complete!

The experience of making пельмени (pel’meni) and вареники (vareniki), stand by for description, brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. I too used to be subjected to the pelemeni/vareniki making experience with my grandparents and other relatives. Generally, if you are going to make this type of pasta, you make enough to cover at least 2 meals, preferably 3 to 4. It is a long, tedious process, but with the right ingredients, such as positive attitude and patience, it sure pays off :-)
When it comes to Russian pasta dishes, there are five that immediately come to mind: пельмени, вареники, манты, лапша, and клёцки . To say that these dishes are authentically Russian is simply a bad idea. It definitely seems that many countries have similar versions of certain pasta dishes; in many cases, it has become pretty challenging to discern where a particular dish originated and who borrowed it from who. For that reason we will focus on look and taste rather than origin.
1. Пельмени (pel‘meni) – if I had to describe pel’meni to an American person, I would say pot stickers would bear the closest resemblance. In many cases they are both shaped the same and stuffed with ground meat. Traditionally pelemeni are filled with ground beef/pork/sometimes lamb mix and boiled in salted water, some people prefer to pan fry them after. Pelemeni is served with sour cream, mayo, horseradish sauce, occasionally with broth that they were cooked in. The great thing about pelemeni is that they freeze well. You can make a bunch in one sitting and split them up in multiple meals.

2. Вареники (vareniki) – most people agree that vareniki came to Russia from Ukraine. It seems as though Ukraine, in turn, borrowed the dish from Turkish lands and after a few minor adjustments, made it their own. The only difference between pel’meni and vareniki is that pel’meni are made with meat filling and vareniki are dumplings with any filling other than meat. Vareniki are essentially the same as Polish pierogi, with the exception of the fact that they come with more filling variations: potato, cabbage, onion, mushroom, berries, etc. Preparation and serving methods are essentially the same as pel’meni; berry filled vareniki, however, are often served with sugar.

3. Лапша (lapsha) or homemade noodles hardly need any explanation. My grandma never had a pasta maker and always cut her noodles with a knife. Delicious is all I can say :-).
4. Манты (manty) is another pasta dish that came to Russia from Central Asia. It is typically filled with finely chopped lamb, onion, and fat, it is then cooked in a multilayered steamer (big pot with 3-4 perforated layers that rest on top of each other). Despite what Wikipedia says, boiling manty is not the right way to cook them. Manty is a very hearty, fatty dish. One should not drink any cold water while eating manty to avoid hardening of the fat; if you prefer to wash down your food, follow it with something hot.

5. Клёцки (kletski) is something my family used to make once we ran out of the filling for pel’meni or vareniki. It is essentially the same dough (water, flour, egg, salt) minus the filling. You shape the dough into small to medium balls or lumps and then add them to soups or just boil them plain. Either way, they are super easy to make. The closest comparison available in your local supermarket would be gnocchi :-).
If you are planning a trip to Russia any time soon, this post might make the task of sorting through the menus a little less intimidating. As for my family’s experiment with pel’meni and vareniki, they may not have turned out as pretty as they can be, but we surely made enough of this deliciousness to last us at least four meals.

P.S. Apparently, you can also buy most of these items in bulk, quality not guaranteed :-).


Всего хорошего! 

Information Equals Power?

Posted on 20. Jan, 2015 by in Culture, History, News, Russian life, Soviet Union

It was reported a while ago in the Business Insider that in America, six corporations control about 90 percent of everything Americans read, watch, and listen to. The news they get from television, radio, and print all come through these six corporation. Even movies and music that they love pass through the six giants. These corporations, while not owned by the government, are owned by shareholders. Many of the majority shareholders definitely have a political bias which shape the opinions they present, however, they are not owned by the government. This got me thinking about what the situation looks like in Russia. Many would assume, given the nature of the government and its history, that the government owns or controls it all. This is what I hope to find out.

In October of 2014, President Putin signed a bill that, by the year 2017, would limit the amount of media assets that could be owned by foreigners to 20 percent. The author of the bill, lawmaker Vadim Dengin, was quoted as saying, “We understand very well that those that own information own the world.” It makes sense then that they would like Russians to keep control of Russian media – though only select Russians.

In an article in November of 2014, the BBC stated that two of Russia’s three main federal television channels were run directly by the Kremlin or companies with close ties to it. Channel One and Russia One were directly controlled by the government. NTV, the third channel, is owned by Gazprom – the state-controlled energy company. Given that a majority of Russia people get their news from the television, you can see that news which is “fair and balanced” is not likely to be seen nor heard. During the last year or so, many independent media outlets that reported the truth, whether in print, radio, or television, have been closed, blocked, or redirected. This has set a precedent going forward – “If we wish to remain in business, we will not tell the whole truth, but rather some version of it.”

Pro-Kremlin companies and figures have bought out and restructured many news organizations that tended to offer opinions and report stories that painted the government in a more truthful light. On many occasions, reporters that were brave enough to report in-depth stories at these organizations about corruption, rights abuses, or organized crime, themselves became sources of news because they were killed or attacked. Media freedom watchdogs have long criticized the Russian government for its actions. Even ex-FSB members that were critical of Putin and the Kremlin, such as Alexander Litvinenko, were not safe. He was the first recorded person killed by polonium 210 induced acute radiation syndrome in 2006 while living in London – all eyes point to the Kremlin as the perpetrator. Also, since 1993 there have been hundreds of disappearances and murders of Russian journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya’s murder in 2006.

Even the internet, which in so many countries is largely unfiltered, is becoming more and more restricted in Russia. The Russian government has passed laws that allow them the legal means to block websites “without explanation” that are not pro-Russia. The government can also demand access to user’s information on any website. Bloggers are also required to register with Roskomnadzor, a federal executive body responsible for media control and supervision.

There was so much information found that I could fill twenty blogs with it. It appears that in Russia, the state owns or controls most of the media and it will likely continue to tighten its grip. You can argue that there is no real “freedom of the press” in any country, but in some countries, its easier to prove than others. It is my sincere opinion that ALL governments, including the world’s major religions, will do whatever is necessary to effect change and maintain some form of control over their masses. They could likely all be found guilty of distorting the truth, propagandizing, starting wars in the name of freedom or whatever adjective you choose, and killing civilians when necessary. In the end, it may be like Mr. Dengin stated, “those that own the information own the world.”

Etymology of Russian Fruit and Vegetable Names

Posted on 19. Jan, 2015 by in language


Image by Patrick Feller on

I have recently read an article about different words for oranges in Spanish. According to the article, the word for an orange in the Dominican Republic is china because Spanish settlers of the country were aware of its Chinese origins. This made me think about the Russian word for “orange” which reflects the same thing. I thought it might be interesting for learners of Russian to look into the origins of Russian names of fruits and vegetables.


The Russian word for orange, апельси́н, comes from the Dutch appelsienwhich was literally translated from the French pomme de Chine, or “Chinese apple.” Oranges originated in China and were brought to Europe by Portuguese sailors. The first attempt to cultivate oranges in Russia took place in 1714.


There are two competing words for tomato in Russian — тома́т and помидо́р. Помидор is the word you are most likely to hear in everyday, informal conversation. Томат is normally reserved for formal writing, although this may be the preferred word for older people. Most adjectives are derived from томат — тома́тный сок (tomato juice), тома́тная па́ста (tomato paste). Томат is, of course, a cognate of “tomato” and is derived from the Aztec tomatlПомидор comes from the Italian pomo d’oro (“golden apple”).


The funny thing about the Russian word баклажа́н is that is comes from the same Persian word as the English “aubergine.” Eggplants are also known as си́ненькие in the south of Russia and Ukraine, literally “little blue ones.”


We’ve covered words that mean different things in Russian and other Slavic languages, and арбу́з (watermelon) is one of them. In Ukrainian and Belorussian, гарбуз means “pumpkin.” This word came to Russian from Persian, where it meant “melon,” or literally “donkey cucumber.” According to Wikipedia, watermelons were brought to Russia by Tatars in the 13th and 14 centuries.

Are there any names of Russian foods you were surprised to learn? Are there any that are similar to your language?