At the Cafeteria Among Soviet Citizens

Where 'the only constant was the cabbage'

By Federal Agency for Tourism

Soviet posterFederal Agency for Tourism

At a factory cafeteria...

Soviet citizens usually had lunch at a factory cafeteria, where the menu was nothing fancy and consisted of simple and nutritious dishes.

Operation Y and Shurik's Other AdventuresMosfilm Cinema Concern

Soviet cafeterias provided the same sort of food that people cooked at home, with the same flavor accents that characterized Soviet cuisine, some of which still surprise tourists on menus to this day...

...such as the tendency to garnish almost all savory dishes with finely chopped dill. Other distinctive features are mayonnaise as a popular dressing for most cold appetizers (zakuski) and salads and a fondness for mashed potatoes and kompot. Scroll through the menu to learn more about its contents.

Vitamin Salad by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

"Vitamin Salad"

This was the cheapest and most popular salad in cafeterias, made year-round from chopped cabbage and grated carrots and apples. Depending on the region and season, the salad could be dressed with sunflower oil, smetana, and mayonnaise, be garnished with dill or other herbs, raisins could be added, or cucumbers could be substituted for carrots and apples. The one constant was the cabbage.

Vinaigrette Salad by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

"Vinaigrette Salad"

This slightly simplified pre-revolutionary recipe became a prominent dish in the Soviet period in home cooking, at cafeterias, and at restaurants. Everyone everywhere used cooked beets, potatoes, and carrots.

Vinaigrette with herring by Dinara GimaldinovaFederal Agency for Tourism

Canned green peas were used very often. The savory ingredients varied and spanned pickles and sauerkraut to herring and sprat.

Stolichny Salad by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

"Stolichny Salad (capital city salad)"

As the story goes, stolichny salad is the successor to the legendary Olivier salad. The recipe was simplified after the revolution and eventually arrived at its current ingredients: boiled chicken or some other fowl, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, pickles, mayonnaise. 

Versions with sausage, boiled tongue, beef, and other types of meat were usually called ‘meat salad.’ While there were a variety of takes on stolichny salad, Olivier salad, and meat salad prepared at home, food service recipes adhered to strict standards.  

Squash Caviar by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Zucchini caviar (spread)

Soviet housewives and cooks adored canned foods, because they could use them to stock up on provisions for a long time, and most canned foods could be served as appetizers on their own.

Two of the most popular types of vegetable caviar (vegetable spread) were zucchini caviar, which was more common, and eggplant caviar, which was less common but just as appreciated.

Eggs with Mayonnaise by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Eggs With Mayonnaise

A hard-boiled egg sliced in half and served with mayonnaise and green peas was an inexpensive and nutritious cold appetizer. Since this dish was so easy to make and so popular, it was served everywhere, from factory cafeterias to expensive restaurants. 

LIFE Photo Collection

Sprats

Lightly smoked sprats preserved in oil decorated the dinner table for celebrations as they were, still in the can. Cafeterias, cafés, and restaurants served them on rye bread or with lemon.

Marinated Fish by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Marinated Fish

The recipe for Spanish escabeche was brought to the Russian Empire by Jewish people, most likely in the 18th. century, evolving on its way there and then entering Russian cookbooks as a simple yet effective appetizer. 

Carrots, green peppers, cucumbers and cabbages (2019)The Centenary Project

During the Soviet period, the established combination of carrots and onions with vinegar, tomato paste, and spices could play up fish of any quality, even Alaska pollock that had been frozen three times, which is why it became a pillar of both food service and home cooking.

BorschtFederal Agency for Tourism

Borscht

Borscht has a centuries-long history, but during the twentieth century, this hearty soup became a key element of cafe menus in several countries, including Russia.

Cookbooks featured different versions, including Ukrainian borscht (with ground salo, or fatback, and garlic), Moscow-style borscht (with assorted meat – bacon, sausages, boiled beef), and even flotsky (navy-style) borscht (with red pepper and smoked pork).

Chicken Soup by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Chicken Vermicelli Soup

Chicken broth – the easiest soup, enjoyed by all – with vermicelli. This was how it was usually served in cafeterias, garnished with finely chopped dill. 

Restaurants added a boiled egg to the broth and served it with pirozhki, or buns with fillings.

Okroshka by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Okróshka

This soup, one of the oldest types of cold soup in Russia, was made with sour white kvas, summer greens, and vegetables. During the Soviet period, people added potatoes and boiled sausages to okroshka.

Great Dinners: Boiled Dinner (1966) by John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

It was around the same time that a version of okroshka made with kefir sparkling mineral water became widespread. While okroshka in the pre-revolutionary period did not feature potatoes, nowadays it does almost everywhere. 

Soup with eggFederal Agency for Tourism

Green Shchi With Eggs (sorrel soup)

This was a summer soup served hot or cold, where the temperature depended on the weather.

Nettle cabbage soup (shchi) and balyk (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

It was always made with fresh sorrel and served with smetana and an egg.

Naval Pasta by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Navy-style Macaroni

This was one of the bestselling dishes at Soviet cafeterias. It consisted of any type of pasta (macaroni, noodles) and boiled ground meat fried with onions. 

Minced Meat Cutlets by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Cutlets

Minced meat cutlets were well-known in Russian cuisine, but it appears that they became popular nationwide shortly before the war, when Anastas Mikoyan tried to bring American hamburgers to the Soviet Union.

Cutlets (21st Century) by Arkadiy NovikovFederal Agency for Tourism

He started producing premade frozen burgers and buns but did not get very far. Nonetheless, the production lines, industrial meat grinders, and technologies remained, and cutlets became widespread.

Cabbage rolls by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Golubtsy (stuffed cabbage)

Golubtsy, a rare example of a seasonal dish in Soviet food service, was usually prepared in the fall and winter, when cabbage was plentiful. Cabbage leaves were filled with ground meat and then stewed. 

Curd ring by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Tvorog Rings

A variation on éclair and profiteroles, where the custard was replaced with Russia’s favorite filling – tvorog.

Kartoshka Cake by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Kartoshka Cake (potato cake)

This cake was invented as a way to use up leftover cake scraps at confectioneries and was named for its appearance. Kartoshka cake was a brown oblong cake made from sweet biscuit crumbs with cream, condensed milk, and chocolate, decorated with ‘shoots’ made out of cream. 

By the end of the Soviet period, kartoshka was being made with biscuits and margarine and was not healthy at all. The original form of this dessert is delightful and fits right in with the contemporary trend of food waste reduction.   

Donuts by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Donuts

Donuts were a rarity at cafeterias and cafés. They were usually made at a specialized donut stand called a ponchikovaya that featured a huge deep fryer. The only good donut was a hot donut, but people loved them so much that donuts rarely had time to go cold before they were eaten up. 

Kissel by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Kisel

Traditional Russian kisels were unsweetened and viscous, sometimes so thick that they were shaped and sliced with a knife when served.

Berries by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism

Sweet berry kisels that could be drunk were most likely the result of Polish influence, but the concept spread in the USSR like wildfire, and the 1970s even saw the production of a dried semi-processed product that could be diluted with water and boiled.

KompotFederal Agency for Tourism

Kompot

Kompot was usually the only cold drink offered at cafeterias. In the summer, it was made with fresh berries and fruit, and in the winter, the ingredients included dried fruit, usually dried apples or pears.

Kvass (21st Century) by tm agencyFederal Agency for Tourism

In the summer, it was made with fresh berries and fruit, and in the winter, the ingredients included dried fruit, usually dried apples or pears.

Lemonade by Proximity RussiaFederal Agency for Tourism

Lemonades

Everyone in the USSR enjoyed lemonades, or soft drinks, of which there was a huge variety. Price lists featured citro, dyushes, tarkhun, cream soda, Buratino, Sayany, Kolokolchik, and the Soviet answer to cola – Baikal.

Apart from bottled lemonades, there were also homemade soft drinks made with syrups from homemade jam and carbonation coming from a siphon and a tank of carbon dioxide. Streets in cities had vending machines selling sparkling water - three kopes if you wanted syrup, one kopek without.

Credits: Story

Сhief Сonsultant — Ekaterina Drozdova, restaurateur, gastronomic entrepreneur, food and social activist, Contributors — Anna Kukulina, Proximity Russia, Alexander Averin, Translation Services Win-Win, Andrey Shmakov

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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