A country’s traditional dish or signature cuisine is definitely more than just some food on a plate. There’s a lot more going on in there. Almost always, a traditional dish that has been passed over generations tells about the place’s culture, history, and a lot of stories. Russia has a lot of signature dishes that are internationally popular like beef stroganoff, shashlik, olivier salad, and blini. A wise traveler would try local food when they go places, because that’s one of many essentials about the experience of travelling. Now, here, we are going to talk about blini and why people who visit Russia must give them a try.
What are Blini?
Internationally, people would say that blini are a Russian pancake. It is partly true, because a variation of blini does look exactly like a regular pancake. But there are more ways to cook blini, actually. If it is made without yeast, you will get thin blini that are similar to a crepe. Traditionally made without seasoning, blini are perfect to be eaten with sweet or savory toppings although in Russia they don’t have it with simple syrup or eggs and bacons.
The Backstory of Blini
Like mostly traditional food, blini also have a long history. It was first served during the pagan era before the Christianity was introduced and when people still made offerings for gods. Blini was eaten during the Shrovetide celebration that marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring as a gratitude toward god Volos who was believed to be the god of animals, especially cattle. After the Christianity entered, the Orthodox Church made a change to the celebration with a replacement of Volos with St. Blasius. The original and ancient recipe of blini calls for oat which now has been replaced with wheat, buckwheat, even all-purpose flour.
Blini in Russian Culture Today
Other than Shrovetide, blini are also served during the Maslenitsa that is also known as Butter Week, Pancake Week, or Cheese Fare Week. This is also a way to welcome spring and the “birth” of the new sun after the cold and gloomy winter. Blini is said to symbolize the sun because of its round shape and yellowish color. The celebration usually lasts for a week, and people would eat blini with everything – think of it as a staple food for the week. Preparing blini is believed to bring a rich harvest, health, and success in the following seasons.
Another amazing fact about the importance of blini in the Russian culture is that it is the only food that accompanies a person from the time they are born to their very last day. Blini are made and fed to the women that have just given birth so that their newborns will grow up healthy. And then, when a person passes on, blini are a must to be served at the funeral feast.
A Russian saying, after translation, says “Go to your mother-in-law’s for blini.” That can be loosely interpreted as; if your relationship with your mother-in-law is not too good, try visiting her and have blini together to make things better between the two of you. Blini are just the right dish to warm the heart and melt the ice.
Another Ways to Enjoy Blini
Although usually had as an appetizer or dessert, blini could be a base for heavier dishes too. Blini batter can be turned into some sort of omelet when poured over chopped vegetables, meat, and mushroom. Blini leftover can be made into meat pies, if desired. Also, like mentioned above, you can have blini thick or thin depends on the way the batter is whipped. Thicker blini, the one that looks like pancakes, calls for yeast of baking soda in the recipe. While the thinner one that resembles crepes, doesn’t use yeast. The thin blini are usually enjoyed with fillings, so you eat it the way you would with burritos. Blintzes is the fried version of the blini, quite like spring rolls.
Reasons for Travelers to Eat Blini While in Russia
There are many ways to get close to Russia and understand its culture; through its festivals, markets, villages, arts, films, and music. But food is like another flight to get to know the country right to its heart. Blini will explain a lot about Russia to you when you silently have a bite of it. The authentic recipe will bring you back the memory lane and see why it’s a cultural food before a delicious dish.
Since blini is a very common delicacy in Russia, to try it means to blend in with the people. Try all types of it, sweet and savory. Try the right way to have blini: without simple syrup but with honey and jams, without eggs and bacons but with caviar and cheese.
Best Places in Russia to Have Blini at
1. Teremok – It is one of the most famous Russian fast food chains with menu based on blini. There are currently 174 of its shops around St. Petersburg and Moscow.
2. Blinnaya – Located in Central Moscow, this joint serves the best blini in town with various toppings, sweet and savory. It is a much recommended place to enjoy cultural food while you have a visit.
3. Coffee Piu – A perfect cafe to have your blini for breakfast when you are in Moscow. It serves warm and fluffy type of blini with creamy tvorog, cottage cheese, and smoked salmon. Coffee and tea would be great companions too.
4. Cafe Pushkin – This is quite a fancy blini place, but just the right one if you want to try one with caviar on top. It serves blini the whole day, not only during the breakfast hour. Try the thin blini with groats and chicken liver too, if you are brave enough.
Now you know why blini are such important traditional dish in Russia and why travelers should give it a try when they visit the country.