Sunday, April 24, 2011

Russian Drinking Habits (and a Few Random Facts)

Although the majority of this blog post will center around drinks popular in Russia, I wanted to start with a short breakdown of meals in Russia. Dr. Denner explained these several times in class, but I'm not sure if we ever went over exactly what Russians eat at every meal, so here they are (in a revised form):

Завтрак: Breakfast. This is normally a light meal for Russians, often involving bread with cheese and ham, in addition to coffee or tea. Those who believe that breakfast is necessary for a good work day, though, may also eat buckwheat pancakes, omelets, and sandwiches containing cured or salted meats. These sandwiches are sometimes eaten in large amounts. Каша, a porridge made from buckwheat and associated with peasants, is common and also very healthy for younger children. It is generally topped with sour cream, but can also be served with meats, fish, or berries.

Обед: Lunch, commonly eaten at mid-day. Обед is the largest meal of the day in Russia, probably equating to most American dinners, and consists of a number of courses. The first course is normally a salad served with salted meats or poached fish, and is considered to be an appetizer. Soup / борщ is generally the second course for this meal, although this sometimes may serve as the main course. The latter form of soup has become the national soup of Russia and is generally comprised of beets and cabbage, served (again) with sour cream. Assuming that soup does not fill this role, the main course is often red meat or fish, in addition to two sides. The first side generally includes roasted vegetables (капуста!), whereas the second is often cabbage, potatoes, or the каша porridge. Finally, some Russians may finish the meal with a dessert course, commonly consisting of various fruits; these normally aren't found in American dessert dishes... unless they're perched atop a cake or pie.

Ужин: Dinner. This is significantly smaller than обед and is normally comprised of a small plate of bread, vegetables, and maybe some slices of meat. These are commonly served with hot tea or vodka.

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So, on to the drinks! I mentioned coffee and tea very briefly, but here's a more in-depth description:

Chai (tea) and Coffee: Along with the British and Japanese, Russians are among the top three consumers of tea. It is mostly served black with sugar and lemon (have you seen how many flavors we have in the coffee shop alone?), and is often consumed with sweet cakes or small dishes of fruit.
Coffee is common in Russia, as well, but is not nearly as popular. Most people prefer to stick to tea, unlike the majority of Americans today.

Vodka: The national drink of Russia. Vodka is often purchased unflavored, but Russians sometimes flavor their vodka with cranberries, lemon peel, pepper, or other herbs. It is normally consumed alongside sour cucumbers, pickled mushrooms, black bread (sound familiar?), or salted herring.

Wine: I'm not exactly sure how I believed that Russia was the world's third-largest producer of wine... so I did a bit of digging and learned that they only produced 2.24% of the world's wine in 2009. A large majority of this Russian wine stays within the country, and many of the wine-growing areas also produce excellent brandy. Russians often prefer fortified wines sweetened with sugar, and drink these as an alternative to vodka at times.

Beer: Just as popular in Russia as it is in Europe, Russian beer is commonly made through traditional, home-brewing methods. Kvas, as Dr. Denner mentioned, is a summer drink that is made from fermented rye bread. It has a small alcohol content and a taste reminiscent of licorice. Also, the Coca-Cola company has recently started to produce their own bottled forms of kvas, in an attempt to regain control of the soda markets (more below).

Other drinks: In addition to the above drinks, fermented milk drinks are popular in the country. Kefir is made from fermented cow's milk and is thick and refreshing. Prostokvasha is made in a similar manner, but is thicker as a result of the additional whey and overnight fermentation.

Soda: So, the article that I originally found had nothing to say about the popularity of soda in Russia, and I couldn't really find anything about soda on Google. A current Stetson student studying in Russia, Rachel Orr, noted that she rarely sees soda outside of fast-food restaurants.
Apparently, it isn't nearly as popular as hot tea or juice, and is often served without ice. Although Burger King and McDonald's provide ice for drinks, many Russians seem to think that ice makes you sick (well, apparently some fast-food restaurants in America were found to serve ice with strains of E. Coli, according to a few friends of mine...). Coke seems to be more common in Russia, but that is undoubtedly because it made it to the country before Pepsi.
Also, she said that Russians have a brand of soda called Mirinda, which is like Fanta but "much, much better."
Finally, I found an article that mentioned that Pepsi and Coca-Cola were once much more popular than the commercial brands of kvas in Russia. Recently, kvas has been marketed as a patriotic alternative to soda and has caused the soda market to plummet. In 2008, Coke introduced its own brand of kvas, seeking to regain sales, and this has recently started to make its way to America (I believe as a result of Medvedev's visit to our country last year).

Other Sources:

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