• Weird History

Unconventional Foods People Ate To Survive In Soviet Russia

List RulesVote up the most impressive culinary innovations.

The Soviet Union took shape after a series of revolutions during the early 20th century. Characterized by some of its best-known leaders, namely Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union spanned thousands of miles and was made up of hundreds of ethnic groups.

As the administrative and cultural hub of the Soviet Union, Russia was the largest socialist republic. After WWII, Soviet Russia and the whole of the Soviet Union found itself under the authoritarian rule of Josef Stalin, the dictator who implemented collectivist policies, gulags, and other repressive tactics to maintain his power. Standards of living declined and people struggled to survive, often scrounging for whatever food they could find.

As the Cold War progressed, Russian leaders such as Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev brought changes to the Communist stronghold, but finding enough to eat remained a problem for millions. To survive, people often resorted to unconventional foods, drawing upon culinary traditions as much as whatever resources were available. The unconventional fare that found its way onto Russian dinner tables and into the stomachs of hungry Soviets reflected the multiculturalism of the Soviet Union itself while highlighting issues of scarcity and innovation in the kitchen.

  • 1


    Syrniki, or cheese pancakes, were made from tvorog, a dry-curd cheese, and were a staple for breakfast in the Soviet Union.

    Often cooks added fresh or dried fruit to the pancake or included some compote. Once a mixture of cheese, eggs, flour, and other items to taste was ready, it was poured into a buttered skillet and cooked until brown on one side. It was then flipped and browned on the other. 

    Syrniki could be served with more fruit or with sour cream

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • 2


    Falling somewhere between a meatball and a hamburger, kotleti includes minced meat mixed with vegetables like cabbage, carrots, and beets. The mixture may or may not be breaded but is always fried.

    Kotleti didn't always indicate chopped meat and additives, it once referred to cutlets of meat

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • 3

    Chicken Kiev

    Thought to be a dish invented during the 1800s, Chicken Kiev has long been considered a delicacy, even during the Soviet period. The dish featured chicken fillets with a bone sticking out of the side. The meat was filled with a butter of sorts and came to be served at restaurants throughout major cities in Russia. It later found global attention, especially popular among tourists as they were introduced to Russian cuisine at Intourist restaurants, which were sponsored by the official tourist agency of the Soviet Union. 

    Both Russians and Ukrainians claim ownership of Chicken Kiev, something that found new attention when George H.W. Bush gave his so-called "Chicken Kiev Speech" in 1991. The talk, delivered from Kiev, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time, indicated Bush and the United States did not support Ukrainian independence as the breakup of the Soviet Union loomed. 

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • 4


    Perhaps the most identifiable Russian meal, borscht was generally made up of broth, beets, and cabbage with countless other additives, including potatoes, beans, eggs, vegetables, and cream. The dish was served chilled or piping hot depending on the season and preference. Borscht also took on regional differences. In some regions, like Romania, fruit was often added and seasonal availability of foods often dictated what was thrown into the mix. 

    As a meal consumed by poor Russians long before the rise of the Soviet Union, borscht was touted as a healthy, relatively easy, and delicious meal by military men, Soviet premiers, and cosmonauts alike. Borscht even appears in historical events, like the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin, and in literary works, like Master and Margarita.

    During the Cold War, recipes for borscht remained well-guarded. When it was finally released by the CIA, a traditional borscht recipe from 1948 revealed how beets, fat, bouillon, tomato paste, and vinegar were combined in a closed pot before adding flour, laurel leaves, and seasoning. With cabbage and potatoes incorporated into the mix, borscht was served after subsequent stewing. Borscht could also include sauerkraut, beet leaves, and millet, depending on what a cook had on hand. 

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?