Tag Archives: russian culture

Learn Russian Culture: Cold & Flu Cures

Wintertime is the season of sickness, when colds and the flu run rampant through the population (the perfect time to learn Russian tucked under the covers!).  With their bitterly cold, endless winters, the Russians know this better than anyone, and have perfected an assortment of effective treatments to ward off sneezing, coughing, fevers, and sore throats without resorting to a doctor or pharmacy visit.  If you are going to learn Russian, knowing some classic home remedies will surely impress any native speaker.

Learn Russian Remedies & Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

The first thing that everyone thinks of when “home remedies” and “Russians” are mentioned in the same sentence is, of course, vodka—and there is some truth to that.  If you are feeling the beginning of a cold, a shot of vodka with pepper or garlic will help kill the germs. Garlic, with its powerful antibacterial and immune system-boosting effects, is widely used for homeopathic purposes in Russia, helping with everything from colds to toothaches to open wounds. If the thought of straight vodka and raw garlic doesn’t appeal to you, the vodka can also be taken in hot tea with honey before bed. Before you fall asleep, for extra warmth, make sure to wrap yourself in a few extra blankets, sprinkle some mustard powder in your socks, and learn this Russian saying:  derzhi golovu v holode, zhivot v golode, a nogi- v teple.  (Keep your head cool, your stomach empty, and your feet warm.)
If you wake up the next morning feeling crummy despite these preventative measures, it’s time to break out the big guns.  Congested?  Hacking cough?  Get ready for the most tried and true of Russian decongestants: mustard plasters.  Made of a mixture of dry mustard, flour, and water, then spread on a cloth and applied over the chest or back, these help draw out all the gunk in your system, and reinvigorate your circulation.  They do tend to get uncomfortably hot after a while (think blistering), so don’t plan to leave them for more than half an hour.  Fortunately, half an hour is just enough time for you to boil a big pot of potatoes.  Remove them from the heat, throw a towel over your head, and breathe the steam for a while.  Potato steam is better than plain boiled water steam because it gets and stays hotter, plus you have potatoes to eat later on (if you can avoid coughing on them).  After your steam and plaster treatment, be sure to continue to consume vast quantities of tea with honey and lemon.  To mix it up, you can also try hot orange juice- never cold!

With any luck, the cold will have vanished—or at least been scared into submission by these most uncompromising home remedies.  So next time you feel the sniffles coming on, reach for the potatoes and garlic instead of the Dayquil, and heal yourself the old Russian way.

How to Speak Russian: Eat Blini.

If you want to know how to speak Russian, an important word to learn is blini.

How to Speak Russian: Eat Blini.

Russian Tradition: Blini.

“Blini” are delicious Russian-style pancakes eaten with a variety of toppings—the most common are sour cream, caviar, butter, and jam (but not all at the same time). The streets in Moscow and other Russian cities are always full of vendors selling blini. They make a great late night snack or street food for walking around, since they can be rolled up into a tube. It is also fairly easy to prepare them yourself at home—not much different from pancakes, with a few tweaks. The batter includes eggs, milk or heavy cream, sugar, salt, and flour. They are cooked similarly to crepes, by pouring the batter into a pan and then tilting it to form a thin layer over the entire surface. Different varieties can be thicker or thinner, wrapped around fillings or dipped in sauces. One of my favorite fillings is a very Russian combination of mashed potatoes, dill, and mushrooms. There are many English language recipes available on the Internet, but to learn how to speak Russian, it is great practice to try following an authentic Russian recipe in Russian.

Learn Russian Tradition: Maslenitsa

Blini are so central to the Russian tradition that there is an entire week-long holiday centered around them. In Russian, it’s called Maslenitsa, from maslo, the word for butter. In English it can be called Butter Week, Blini Week, or Pancake Week. This holiday happens the week before Orthodox Lent and is one of the cheeriest and also strangest of Russian holidays. The general concept is similar to Mardi Gras, in that it is a week of revelry that precedes the more somber Lenten season. But Maslenitsa is much more rooted in religion than Mardi Gras, and instead of throwing beads and eating king cake, the Russians throw snowballs and eat pancakes.

Fistfights and Blini, really?

Everyone is happy because Maslenitsa signifies the beginning of spring. The sun starts to come out, the snow starts to melt, and the seemingly endless winter is over. The central focus of the festivities is the consumption of blini slathered in butter, as their round shape represents the sun and their dairy-heavy ingredient list represents basically every food forbidden during Lent. The Maslenitsa holiday marks the beginning of Lent and serves as a last chance to indulge in rich food, dairy products, and general merrymaking. Thousands and thousands of blini are prepared, and given to friends, family, and really anyone who wants them. There are also some very unique traditions associated with the festival—including fistfights! Yes, fistfights. The reasoning behind holding scheduled, public fistfights during Maslenitsa is to celebrate Russia’s fighting spirit. Another feature of the festival is Lady Maslenitsa, a huge straw figure of a woman dressed in bright clothing. She goes up at the beginning of the week, and on the last day, is burned to signify the end of winter. There are also sleigh rides, snowball fights, elaborate visits to extended family, and an entire day dedicated to begging forgiveness of everyone around you. These festivities are fantastic for visitors or tourists, but if you know how to speak Russian —even just a little— the experience becomes wonderfully immersive. Even if you don’t know how to speak Russian, you can bring some of the spirit to your own home by cooking blini and sharing them with your loved ones. Maslenitsa begun on February 24th this year, so start baking!