Cuisine of Belarus
Belarusian national cuisine has evolved over the centuries. Belarusian culinary traditions represent a mix of simple recipes used by commoners and a sophisticated cuisine of the nobility, an extensive use of local ingredients and unusual way of cooking.
Old Belarusian recipes have preserved till nowadays, and interest in them amoung county’s visitors is increasing .
In restaurants with national colours you can taste not only Belarusian traditional cuisine but also exquisite dishes that were served up in residences of Belarusian magnates.
The local cuisine can be tasted in farmsteads where the cooking is often unique, common only in particular area with using only fresh farm products.
Here bread is baked according to old recipes and technologies, they cook homemade meat delicacies, cheese from cow or goat's milk, and sweets from honey, apples and cranberries.
Today many traditional dishes are also popular in home cooking of Belarusians.
The most popular are pork stew (machanka) and vereshchaka, homemade sausages, draniki (thick potato pancakes), kolduny, kletski (dumplings), babka (baked grated potato pie), cold sorrel soup, mushroom soup...
Old Belarusian Cuisine
Belarusian cuisine was formed under the influence of two main factors:
- active farming and extensive use of local produce;
- influences of neighboring countries and migrant settlers
Since the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the national culinary traditions have been interlaced with Baltic, Slavic, Jewish and partly German cuisines.
Therefore, Belarusian cuisine is one of the most diverse on the continent. It is similar to the Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, but it is unique in its own way, hearty and delicious.
In the old days, each social class had its own gastronomic traditions so that Belarusian cuisine was divided into cuisine directions: peasant and bourgeois, shlyakhta and high nobility cuisines.
In Belarusian cuisine local products are widely used:
- vegetables and greens (cabbages, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, potatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic, sorrel, nettle, quinoa, orpine roots)
- pulses (beans, peas, lentils, kidney beans)
- grains (rye, barley, oats, buckwheat)
- mushrooms (pickled, dried, powdered)
- fruit and berries (apples, pears, plums, cherries, currants, bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, mountain ash, viburnum, rosehip)
- spices and dressings (caraway, coriander, linseed, horseradish, calamus, mustard, juniper, cherry and oak leaves)
Potatoes deserve a special mention: having appeared in Belarus in the XVIII century, it enriched the national cuisine and became the basis of many Belarusian dishes.
Among them there are famous draniki, kolduny, pyzy, potato sausage, kletski, babka…
For centuries Belarusians consumed limited amounts of meat, as a rule, in special meals in the form of salted and sun-dried products. With time, the meat diet expanded. The most common forms of meat were:
- poultry (chicken, duck, goose, turkey)
- game (elk, roe, boar, beaver)
Belarusian cuisine is a big variety of meat and poultry dishes (pyachysta, kumpyachok, machanka, vereshchaka, tushanka, smazhanka), all sorts of home-made sausages, salty salo, byproduct dishes (vantrabyanka, rubtsy – pork belly stuffed with meat and buckwheat porridge), smoked meat…
Belarusian cuisine is also rich in fish dishes. As a rule, it is river fish (tench, sturgeon, pike, eelpout, bream, eel, trout, perch, carp). Belarusians cooked with fish yushka, dumplings,also they made salt and smoked fish. Today restaurants serve famous "Pike Perch a la Radziwill."
The most common dairy products were curd cheese (made of cow and goat milk), sour cream, and butter. Milk is a regular ingredient of many Belarusian recipes, including all kinds of soups, porridges, mokanka.
Dishes of Belarusian villagers were always hearty, relatively simple in cooking (many dishes were prepared in the oven over low heat for a long time), but always fresh: chilled or warmed food was not served!
Nobility cuisine was more exquisite, with a big variety of products and spices, including exotic ones, and, of course, with the use of more sophisticated cooking technologies. The nobles had an opportunity to indulge themselves in such dishes as aselk lips in sugared vinegar, stuffed eel, rooster broth...
Peculiarities of Belarusian cuisine
There are special features that distinguish Belarusian cuisine from culinary traditions of many other countries, give it a local color and charm.
For example, the Belarusian cuisine is characterized by quite complicated and lengthy processing of products. It includes such methods as braising, stewing, baking, cooking, blanching and roasting, with alternation of several methods in a single recipe.
In many national dishes various kinds of flour are used - flour of oats, buckwheat, peas, rye and its mixtures.
What is more, flour is not only the main ingredient of some dishes (for example, flat cakes called perepecha, special Belarusian pancakes from various kinds of flour, thick pancakes made of peas) but also it is an additive for thickening ("zakolota" for soups). From old centuries in Belarus dough was mixed without adding yeast.
Belarusian cuisine offers a great variety of dishes with vegetables. Many of them are unique in spite of the Slavonic basis.
For instance, there are soup zhur (lean,milk or meat soup) based on oat water, polivka (thin soup with cereals and vegetables),morkva (carrot soup), gryzhanka (rutabaga soup), garbuzok (pumpkin soup) and other kinds of dishes.
A special pride of the national cuisine is traditional Belarusian bread baked from rye flour, without yeast but with a specially grown leaven. It is a very good product for healthy diet .
Belarusian bread is heavy with a pleasant little sour. In old recipes they used different dressings like caraway seeds, linseeds and sunflower seeds. Sometimes bread was baked on a ‘pillow’ of birch and oak leaves.
Belarusian cuisine today
Modern Belarusian cuisine is eclectic. It has saved and revived the old national recipes, dishes from different countries of the world become popular, too.
Today restaurants offer modern versions of traditional Belarusian dishes which reflect original ideas of chefs and principles of gourmet cuisine taking into account diversity of products and seasonal changes. You will definitely appreciate such delicious dishes as:
- Marinated white mushrooms with vegetable oil, hot potatoes, pieces of toasted wheat bread and leek
- Zhur with eggs, smoked meat and sour cream
- Cutlets from buckwheat and chopped meat (grechaniki) with sour cream and leek sauce
- Draniki with apple and sour-cream sauce
- Meat sauce (vereshchaka) with buckwheat pancakes
- Bigos (a dish with sour cabbage) with smoked meat, mushrooms and prunes
- Pyachisto (large pieces of gammon)
- Pear roasted in honey with spices (a recipe of the Radziwill family)
In the 20th century, in the times of the Soviet Union, culinary traditions of other national cuisines, like russian, ukrainian, caucasian and central asiatic cuisines, came into diet of Belarusians. In those times many West European meat dishes appeared on the menu of Belarusian restaurants and canteens.
The main changes of Belarusian cuisine during the 20th century were:
- wheat flour and dishes from it became very popular (for centuries Belarusians used mainly rye flour)
- appearing of salads
Nowdays in the menu of Belarusian restaurants you can find dishes both of Belarusian, European, and Asian cuisines, and modern culinary trends (wellness, fusion).
But if you are in Belarus, you must taste the national cuisine, dishes that only here can be truly Belarusian.
You will discover how delicious, interesting, and sometimes even exclusive and unpredictable Belarusian cuisine is!
For many centuries honey was the main dessert for Belarusians. Solodukha (malt dough), kulaga (thick beverage made from berries, flour, sugar, and honey), and baked apples also were popular. Among famous recipes there are sweet pancakes with cottage cheese and pears a la Radziwill.
Today the most popular desserts are:
- ice-cream, whipped cream
- fruits and berries (apples, pears, bilberry, cranberry, strawberry)
Vodka in Belarus
Vodka (Harelka) is the most popular strong alcoholic beverage in Belarus. It appeared in the late 15th century and gradually became one of the most common types of alcohol. Belarusians drink vodka on holidays and special occasions.