A pub's guide to: the world cup

World Cup food: Simple fare for the taste buds

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Match-day grub: 51% of fans said quality of food offering was either fairly important or very important when selecting a pub in which to watch sport.
Match-day grub: 51% of fans said quality of food offering was either fairly important or very important when selecting a pub in which to watch sport.
Covering such a huge area means Russia draws culinary influences from Europe right over to eastern Asia. Dishes may be simple but there’s plenty to be said for traditional food that has come about through the many political and cultural upheavals during the years.

A Russian feast

Starters:

  • Borscht – a beetroot-based soup made from broth, root vegetables, beef and herbs
  • Ukha – a warm, watery fish soup-like dish made from freshwater fish and potatoes
  • Solyanka – made from the holy grail of Russian ingredients (cabbage), this tangy soup also has lemon, tomatoes, olives as well as salted and pickled vegetables

Salads:

  • Russian Salad (also known as Olivier salad) – mayonnaise, diced potatoes, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, carrots peas and often meat
  • Vinegret – cooked diced beets, potatoes, carrot, pickles, sauerkraut and onions
  • Sel’d’ pod shuboy – herring served under shredded cooked beat, potato and egg

Mains:

  • Beef stroganoff – a well-heeled classic in the UK. You know how to make it. Serve with fried shoestring potatoes or mashed potato for a traditional twist
  • Shashlyk – Russia’s variation on a shish kebab, featuring sliced meat and onions cooked on a skewer
  • Pelmeni – similar to Italy’s ravioli, pelmeni is cooked minced meat wrapped in a pasta dough. Any meet can be used and mixed with onion, garlic and spices

Dessert: 

  • Zefir – similar to meringue, zefir is made by folding a fruit purée into a sugar and egg white mixture and adding a gelling agent
  • Syrniki – fried curd fritters with sour cream served with honey or a fruit compote
  • Blinis – more commonly used to carry caviar, the small disks of cooked batter can also be used as dessert pancakes

Not interested in Russian cuisine? Here are some other food tips for the day: 

Special food options: Handheld snacks, such as burgers and hot dogs are ideal for match days. Customers need less room to eat them and they can all be pre-prepared

Russia has never professed to be the culinary capital of the world. You could be forgiven for thinking that traditional cuisine from the vast country is all simple fare, featuring cabbage, root vegetables and lots of beige. And there is much to be said these days about the appeal of clean, uncomplicated dishes.

On closer inspection, though, the food from this fascinating state is not that simple and, like many countries, its cuisine is in fact a rich tapestry woven from centuries of tradition as well as political and cultural upheavals, and offers much that chefs could learn from. The physical breadth of the state means there are northern and eastern European tastes, Caucasian, central Asian and eastern Asian influences too.

Add to that the various cooking styles that stem from the historic class systems, such as Soviet cuisine founded by peasants following the overthrow of the Russian royal family in 1918, and you see there is more to Russian food than cold cabbage soup. Although said soup is a staple dish.

Russia’s scale means it borders oceans on three sides and has a wealth of freshwater rivers and lakes, as well as gigantic open spaces to grow crops and raise livestock. Despite all this, cuisine remained simple until the 15th century, after which it diversified following better trade links with the rest of the world.

Regional noodle 

Many Continental territories have a noodle specific to their region; in Germany it’s the spaetzle and in Russia it’s the lapsha. The latter is made from a traditional dough, which is also used to make dumplings.

In the past, Russian dishes were cooked slowly in a stove, rather than on a hob, giving the simple ingredients time to stew and develop. On paper, the ingredients and flavours may seem sparse to a modern-day western palate, but the time taken to cook the dishes gives the end result a well rounded flavour. 

Many of the dishes, though relatively simple, would make the calorie-conscious shudder with fear and disgust. The majority of the dishes are high in fat, which potentially stems from the harsh weather conditions the country faces – with most parts having to deal with gruelling temperatures for up to eight months of the year. Lots of the country’s famed dishes stem from peasant and farming roots, meaning function and sustenance overshadowed any other dining needs to allow for a hard day’s work.

But whether it’s peasant food or fine dining, there are plenty of Russian dishes to consider when looking to add a little World Cup flare to your pub menu this summer – without alienating the punters and still creating a talking point and providing a little excitement.

Best of broth worlds

Hot soups served in many of the country’s kitchens include shchi, a cabbage broth that dates back thousands of years.

A basic and ‘poor’ variation is made using just cabbage and perhaps a few cereals. Not too dissimilar from the UK Tudor peasant dish of pottage, shchi was traditionally left to stew in the fire throughout the day and was consumed for all meal times. The upper echelons of society would add mixed meat, carrots, spicy herbs and sauerkraut into theirs.

A Russian dish most will be familiar with is borscht, a beetroot-based soup make from broth, root vegetables, tomatoes, onion and the tsar of Russian food, cabbage. Russians tend to use beef in their borscht, while
Ukrainians prefer pork. It is a warm and comforting meal, so perhaps not one for the summer months.

One punter-pleasing plate that is quick to serve and simple to eat, is knish, which resembles a corned beef and onion pasty. It is made from mashed potato, flaked beef, onion and cheese which are baked or fried in a thick, flaky pastry. This dish is most likely to be found in western parts of Russia, such as Moscow.

An Asian-influenced dish, coming from the Siberian area of Russia, is pelmeni, which are ground beef dumplings with coriander. They differ from many Russian dishes on account of their similarity to Chinese dumplings. They bear a similarity to Georgian dish khinkali, which makes sense since Georgia was under the rule of the Soviet regime from 1921 to 1990.

And don’t forget that delicious classic, aspic, which is meat jelly. It is made from a dense meat broth with chunks of meat that is boiled for hours before chilling and serving cold – think jelly in a pork pie or jellied eels.

Aspic was once popular in the UK in the 1950s as gelatine companies ramped up their market activity to help people control their food budgets in the age of austerity after WW2. Cookery magazines were filled with aspic dishes moulded into all kinds of wonderful shapes and sizes to help housewives provide ‘stylish’ meals for dinner parties. Perhaps Russia isn’t a country with the same food bravado found in the likes of France and Italy, but there are some honest dishes that could add something to your menu. Whether you put a British spin on a Russian classic or go for all-out Russian cuisine, embrace the unique compositions the country has to offer.

Overall advice

1 - Experiment: ​Add flair from different countries to classics, such as some chorizo to a pasta dish

2 - Table service and pre-ordering: ​To minimise crowding at the bar during sporting events and to help the familiar half-time rush, operators should consider using table service or pre-order options

3 - Wet-led pubs: ​If your bar is wet-led and you don’t have the resource or facilities to offer food, focus on bar snacks, which require little prep and can provide enough sustenance to keep punters in the pub for longer

4 - Pre-batch: ​Try pre-batching as many dishes as possible, making tray bakes, soups and dishes like lasagne, which can be portioned up and served quickly

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