Bread in Russia
For most Russians bread has a sacred meaning. It is an irreplaceable staple product that has been the basis of Russian cuisine and culture since the ancient times.
Bread in ancient Russia
In ancient Russia bread symbolized abundance and wealth, and represented an invaluable gift of God, which had to be treated with special respect. Throwing bread away was an unforgivable sin (it is not appreciated nowadays either). Bread was never laid on a bare table, only on a tablecloth. Otherwise, people risked condemning themselves to a “bare” life. Whilst baking bread, one was supposed to bless it. All in all, bread was revered as a shrine: it was not allowed to be disrespected in any way.
Bread and salt
The ancient Russian tradition of meeting dear guests with bread and salt demonstrates the hospitality of the host (in addition to his prosperity). To taste a piece of bread with salt meant to become friends with the host and his family, to share equally all their burdens and concerns. The tradition is still alive nowadays, with many foreign officials and delegations to Russia being greeted by Karavai (каравай) upon their arrival to the country. Karavai is a big round-shaped loaf of bread that resembles the sun. It is also very popular to bake it for the weddings.
Bread and Siege of Leningrad
When talking about the meaning and importance of bread in Russia, one cannot avoid mentioning the Siege of Leningrad.
The Siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) is a particularly dark period of modern history. The city was completely cut off from food supplies. During a nearly 900-day siege, two thirds of the population of Leningrad were receiving as little as 125 grams of bread a day – just enough to sustain life. This little bread allowance has helped many to survive. No wonder that bread has a special place in Russian hearts.
Varieties of Russian bread
What type of bread do Russians prefer then? Nowadays there is an abundance of different kinds and flavours. Yet, two most common types of Russian bread are a wheat loaf ‘nareznoy baton’ (нарезной батон) and rye ‘black’ bread (черный хлеб). The latter one is named ‘black’ because it is made from rye that gives it its distinctive dark colour. There is also Borodinskiy bread – aromatic rye loaf topped with coriander. A legend states that its name derives from the Battle of Borodino, but no one knows for sure.
“Bread is a staff of life” – probably the most famous Russian proverb, and in Russia it is very true.