Mackerel (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism
Black Sea Fish
Major Black Sea fish species have long gone down in folklore songs. Known far beyond Sochi, here is where they usually stay sold at local stores to be dredged and fried which is usually the fate of barabulya, lufar and stavrida.
Smaller khamsa, a subspecies of European anchovy, can be salted and consumed or added to fried Kuban peppers, tomatoes and vegetables.
Returning Fishing Boats (1883) by Winslow HomerHarvard Art Museums
Kalkan, also known as the Black Sea flounder and a distant relative of turbot, can be fried on its skin before baking. A true gem is sargan with its head more like a pterodaktyl’s beak. This fish is grilled or pan fried.
The Azov tulka, so loved by the locals as to receive a pet name, will be salted, dried and consumed in a paper cone like sunflower seeds.
Holiday sketch at Coogee (1888) by Tom RobertsArt Gallery of New South Wales
This shell-shaped Pacific clam was introduced into the Black Sea relatively recently. According to the most widespread version, it was brought to the bay of Novorossiysk from the Far East by warships in the late 1940s.
The rapana have since devoured a place for themselves in the ecosystem sparking a decline in the population of the Black Sea mussel and completely eliminating the Black Sea oyster.
Today, the main Black Sea seafood is fished everywhere. The shells are sold as a souvenir, while the dense, fleshy clam is used to make all known varieties of stews, pickled in spices and oils for appetizers and salads, stuffed into pies, plovs, and pizzas. Kebabs of rapanas (and mussels) on a wooden stick is a popular street food.
Black Sea oysters are gradually finding their way onto restaurant menus from sea and lake farms that dot the region.
Tomatoes (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism
Grown in the Rostov, Volgograd, Krasnodar and Astrakhan regions, tomatoes are a staple of southern Russian cuisine, and its greatest food.
The June-to-September tomatoes season covers local markets in giant carpets of tomatoes of all shapes and colours.
Neither the shape, nor even the taste is key, as buyers look for the right variety to put into a salad or borscht, to preserve or to fashion into a sauce, to dry or to cook into a pasta, and so on.
Mayfly, Red Campion, and Pear (1561–1562; illumination added 1591–1596) by Joris HoefnagelThe J. Paul Getty Museum
The smoked Circassian pear is an ancient recipe from the area stretching from Anapa to Adler, which, before being integrated into the Russian Empire, was the home of the Circassians (Adygs). The Circassians cultivated more pears than they could eat, and smoking was the way to preserve the product for later consumption.
In storage, black hard sweet smoked pears will not spoil. They are grated or sliced to be used in infusions or for flavouring, as seasoning for any cold dishes or as addition to stewed or roasted meat.
Persimmon (21st Century) by Yuliya RomashikhinaFederal Agency for Tourism
A dried fruit that is not made into a compote but consumed as a stand-alone dessert. Black Sea persimmons of various varieties and shapes ripen between September and October. Once peeled, they are hung on a thread to be dried outside for a total of six weeks.
In the process, persimmons lose moisture and become sugary with a natural white glaze while remaining brown on the inside.
The freshest and juiciest variety, more like a jam than dried fruit, can be found on the markets of Sochi and its suburbs at the end of November: by mid-winter, persimmons lose half their weight, sweetness and culinary appeal.
Sunflower (21st Century) by Aleksander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism
Sunflower oil is a fragrant symbol of Kuban. First introduced into the Kuban region in the 19th century, sunflower quickly became its agricultural staple and has retained this status ever since. Its oil, Russia’s most common vegetable variety, is obtained by cold-pressing and extraction, but the industrial product is very different from the artisanal ones.
One of the brightest gastronomic experiences in the south is tasting homemade unrefined sunflower oil. Its diversity bears no description. One of the local know-how is pressing oil from roasted unrefined seeds.
Sunflower (21st Century) by Alexander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism
Sunflowers are also the main ingredient in sweets, such as halvas and kozinaks. The iconic product par excellence is roasted sunflower seeds, truly the Russian national snack.
Jam by Rustourism, Berger KseniaFederal Agency for Tourism
Varenye and Jams
In Russia’s south, feijoa, cherry plums, cherries, plums, grapes, peaches, watermelons, melons, medlars, ziziphus, persimmons, mulberries, figs and (in some places) even kiwis ripen enough to be made into varenye, compotes and jams.
All that is traded on local markets. A must-try is the sweet and sour cornelian jam made from unripe (and still soft) walnuts.
Basket of Peaches, with Quinces, and Plums (after 1641) by Louise MoillonLos Angeles County Museum of Art
The well-deserved specimen of local Rostov cuisine serves as a garnish for meat, goes well with smoked bacon or brisket, and is excellent both on a plate of pickles and as a stand-alone snack.
The most common recipe for brine to soak the plums mixes salt, sugar and mustard powder, but the plums themselves must be quite fleshy, large and not over-ripe.
Ukha (21st Century) by RustourismFederal Agency for Tourism
Another name for this soup is cockerel ukha because chicken broth will be boiled first before adding small fish with more subsequent boiling. Once there, a burning log will be dipped into the mix to give it a special smoky flavour, then the dish is allowed to rest. The chief Don varieties, such as Zander, European carp or bighead carp, will be thrown in next. This is just one of many available recipes.
Crayfish (21st Century) by Aleksander AverinFederal Agency for Tourism
Rostov's main delicacy is the crayfish from the cold, clear and swift waters of the Manych River, a tributary of the Don, with their meat sweeter than in other varieties. In fact, any stanitsa on the road from Rostov to Krasnodar will invite you to join in the noble local tradition of sitting down for a bowl of crayfish. In terms of the dish size, less than a small basin won’t do since eating crayfish is not so much a meal as a group cultural event.
Still, the quality of the product (as well as of the company) is important. Experts say that larger crayfish are not worth buying because they have little meat. Don crayfish are medium in size and, unlike, for example, Volga crayfish, have a darker shell.
When cooked, they turn dark red, not orange. In the classic Rostov style of crayfish cooking, a piece of butter should be added to the salted boiling water before throwing in fresh crayfish.
Сhief Сonsultant — Ekaterina Drozdova, restaurateur, gastronomic entrepreneur, food and social activist, Contributors — Natalia Savinskaya, Proximity Russia, Denis Yershov, Alexander Averin, Arisha Zadunayskaya, Andrey Kolodiazhnyi, Anton Kochura, Ivan Glushkov