Originally published June 14, 1984
There are ten distinct Russian cuisines and we won’t attempt a description of each of them, as you probably plan to only try your hand at one or two dishes. The cooking styles are as varied as Russia’s vast territory as it’s history suggest, ranging from cuisines reminiscent of the Middle East, Germany and Scandinavia to the French influence stemming from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when everything French was held in high esteem by people of fashion.
Apart from all the outside influences, there is much that is uniquely Russian. Perhaps the most fascinating is the Zakuska (sometimes zakusky or akuski) table which was in many housholds set up at times for travelers or visitors - a welcome kind of hospitality in a country where distances were long between towns, transportation slow and weather severe. The zakuska table consisted of dozens of cold dishes with hot ones, too, becoming customary in the early twentieth century. In addition to serving as a kind of free lunch extraordinaire, zakuska were frequently eaten before or after the theatre or merely as a prelude to a meal.