Bread Is Good

By Grebennikova, Nadezhda | Russian Life, May-June 2017 | Go to article overview

Bread Is Good


Grebennikova, Nadezhda, Russian Life


RUSSIANS EAT A lot of bread: soup, salad, pelmeni, potatoes, pasta, kasha, tea--bread goes with everything. There's even a special Russian dessert invented during the days of bare grocery-store shelves: a slice of bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar. In Russia, bread is put on the table for every meal. Why is that?

First of all, a meal without bread just feels wrong. This may be the genes of our hardworking peasant ancestors talking. Their main source of energy was kasha cooked with water (rather than milk) and rye bread. They ate chunks of bread with meatless cabbage soup, fresh and pick-led cucumbers, boiled peas, scallions, and radishes, or sometimes just sprinkled with salt accompanied by a cup of kvas. We no longer have the need to stuff ourselves with bread, but somehow a meal just doesn't seem complete without it.

Second, bread serves as a sort of utensil. In Russia, people know what to do with a fork and knife, but the latter tends to only make appearances for special occasions. During everyday meals it's perfectly acceptable to maneuver food around your plate with bread when you need to prevent something from slipping away from your fork or to wipe up the last of your mashed potatoes. And although it may not be considered the height of refinement to clean the sauce off your plate with a piece of bread, at least it's better than using your tongue.

Lastly, bread just tastes good.

In Russia, there is a somewhat blurry line between the "black" North and the "white" South. Northerners prefer bread that is baked with some rye flour. Because it comes out a bit dark, they call it "black" bread. The northern climate and soil are simply better suited to rye, so Russia's North has been cultivating it for centuries, and people there have grown accustomed to its taste. In the South, however, they grow wheat, and they call their bread "white."

During the second half of the twentieth century, stores all over the country were stocked with identical brick-shaped loaves of both white and black bread. The recipes were standardized and bread was always the same size. The taste of bread did not vary much--just a bit depending on the quality of the water and flour and the experience of the baker. It was tasty and so cheap that it was free in cafeterias at lunch time; in the countryside, people bought it by the sackful to feed their pigs.

There were other types of bread: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (basically, a baguette), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (a French bulka or roll), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (a type of sourdough), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (a crescent roll), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (braided poppy-seed bread). But it was not until around ten years ago that a truly stunning array of breads appeared on store shelves. It all started, by the way, with the appearance of Western-style toasting bread--pre-sliced and packaged loaves that stayed "fresh" for weeks and were utterly tasteless. …

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