Essays > Communal Apartments > Eating and drinking
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Food staples and consumption habits of communal apartment dwellers.
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Cafeteria dining was heavily propagandized in the first decades of Soviet rule, and throughout the Soviet period, people who worked full days inevitably had to have their largest midday meal at or near their workplace. But the moment the possibility arose, they cooked and ate their meals at home. Cafes and restaurants were few and far between, and unaffordable for people of average income. The most important food staples for urban dwellers were bread, potatoes, cabbage, spaghetti (one kind: long and thick, with a hole in the middle), and grains like rice, buckwheat, and millet. Any of those could be combined with dairy and meat products or fish.

Prepared foods started to appear for sale in the 1960s, although for the most part, foods were prepared from scratch at home: chickens were plucked and cleaned, fish were gutted, meat for cutlets was put through a hand-cranked grinder. The majority of women preserved food as well (pickling cucumbers and making salted cabbage), and they also often made their own pies and other foods made from flour, most commonly bliny (crepes made with yeast and without egg), cottage cheese pancakes, and pancakes.

Traditionally in Russia, breakfast, dinner, and supper were fairly substantial meals, usually featuring something boiled or fried. Dinner (the midday meal) invariably included soup. Almost every food was accompanied by bread, and if at all possible, butter and a slice of cheese or sausage. In both cafeterias and at home, a drink made from stewed fruit or some comparable beverage would be served.

After meals people might drink tea, but tea could be served any time of the day or night independently of meals. A guest would always be offered a cup of tea. Anyone coming to visit would understand that, and as a rule, bring something sweet to go with tea. Tea would be steeped in a special small teapot, then poured into cups to be mixed with additional hot water, and drunk with sugar. In St. Petersburg (Leningrad) it was equally common to drink a lot of coffee, prepared in a Turkish coffee maker on the gas burner.

In the last decades, with the appearance of a cornucopia of food products in the stores, among them a great variety of convenience foods, and with the spread of microwave ovens, the staple diet and practices of household consumption have changed greatly; this is true as well in communal apartments. The growth of fast-food outlets, where one can eat fairly cheaply, has also changed the character of food consumption and made the communal kitchen a less-frequented place, even though the number of residents in an apartment may not have changed. With electric tea-kettles and microwave ovens in their rooms, people may use the common kitchen much less often, perhaps just to pour water into their kettles and wash dishes.

expand/collapse this text box Further Study
Glants, Musya and Joyce Toomre (1997). Food in Russian History and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gronow, Jukka (2003). Caviar with Champagne: Common Luxury and the Ideals of the Good Life in Stalin's Russia.Oxford; New York: Berg.

Ries, Nancy (1997). Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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