In Russia, it’s all about the vodka. Vodka is to Russians what rice is to the Chinese, what tea is to the English. It’s everywhere – ranging in price and quality from stuff that’s cheaper than water and almost impossible to drink without shuddering in quality, to some of the finest booze you’ll drink anywhere on the planet. Russians are fond of sitting around a table and offering shots of vodka – while visitors won’t be under any pressure to drink if they don’t want to, it sure helps to have an appreciation of the national drink and at least give it a go.
Piva is also hugely popular and of a pretty decent quality. The Baltika range is one of the best, and reasonably cheap by western standards. And if you’re super thirsty, you can buy beer in giant, three-litre plastic bottles.
The Russians love caviar. Again it ranges from super cheap to ludicrously expensive. Unlike the vodka though, the cheapest caviar is still tasty (and definitely worth a try for non-vegetarians). The taste is distinctive, but not unpleasant, and definitely livens up the sometimes stodgy food. In case you’re wondering, caviar is fish eggs. Possibly some of the best fish you’ll ever eat is smoked omul, caught and cooked fresh from Lake Baikal. A must-eat if you’re in that region.
Borscht is a soup made from beetroot that’s a staple of Russian meals, and often includes stewed meat. It tastes much better than it sounds, and looks.
Beef stroganoff was invented in Russia, for the super-wealthy Stroganoff family. It’s a delicious, creamy beef stew.