Awhile back, I did a blog interview, and one of the questions asked was “Is there something that you feel is better in Russia than in the U.S.?” I wrote a few answers there, and this question is one I ponder often. Since my blog often comes across as one that’s critical of Russia, even though I don’t really mean it that way most of the time — I’m just trying to tell interesting and amusing stories for my friends and family back home, and that necessitates highlighting oddities and cultural misunderstandings — I thought I’d list a few more things that I like about Russia. I’ll break it down into a few categories. Today’s category is food.

Ask an American who’s never been to Russia what comes to mind when they think of Russian food, and they’ll probably make a face and say something about cabbage and mystery meat and vodka. There’s no denying that these are part of the culinary selection, but there is so much more. Russians do amazing things with dairy products, soups of all flavors, and most especially, mushrooms. There is a dizzying array of baked products designed for consumption with tea. Here are a few things I really like:

Bliny. Big thin pancakes with a variety of sweet and savory fillings wrapped inside, similar to crepes. Possibly the best thing in the world. I could happily live on bliny alone, but would probably gain a lot of weight very fast.

Solyanka. Not for vegetarians. A very zingy soup of assorted meats and vegetables, garnished with lemon and olives. Cheaper varieties have bits of hot dog in the mix; more expensive solyankas have finer cuts of meat. It’s good either way.

Kasha. Russian for porridge. No one appreciates porridge quite like Russians do. There are at least six different kinds. At the kindergarten we get a different kind of kasha every morning of the week. Buckwheat kasha is the heartiest and can also be found as a side dish for non-breakfast meals, usually mixed with mushrooms.

Kefir. A drinkable sort of yogurt. Kostia is always telling me that kefir isn’t yogurt, but there are a lot of dairy products of varying consistencies which have active cultures in them, and I consider them all of the same family. Legend has it that longevity in the Caucasus region is attributable to kefir consumption.

Well, I could go on and on, but that’s a start. Mmm. I think I’ll have a blin for lunch today. Except now it’s pouring with rain, so I’d get soaked running to my local bliny stand. Hmph.

Oh, and as for what’s better about Russian cuisine than American, Russian food depends a lot more on fresh rather than overprocessed ingredients and doesn’t tend to contain partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil and high-fructose corn syrup, two of the culprits in the American obesity epidemic.