Review: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

mastering the art of soviet cooking


As it happens, I got this book through Netgalley for free – as a review copy. However, I would have read this book anyway. In fact, I think I requested it because I had seen it all over my Facebook feed already. I am friends with / a frequent visitor to such London-based revelers in and celebrators of Russian and Soviet foods as Russian Revels. I have attended their meals and spent more time than the average person listening to their explanation. How did food change? What did people eat before? Where was the distinction between high and low class food? Pardon the pun, but I hungrily ate all of that up. I love hearing about it all.

I have been travelling to and working in the former Communist region for more than 10 years now. A huge number of my main food events happened in the region: I became vegetarian in Poland after eating an undercooked Chicken McNugget. I stopped being vegetarian when I ate a ham pizza in Kyrgyzstan. In between those two events, I ate mostly grechka (buckwheat) and mashed potatoes – there isn’t a lot of other food for vegetarians in the former Soviet Union. I didn’t mind it.

Those are not the types of events in this book.

This book is excellent. It explains the history of food in Russia and the former Soviet Union in a very charming and chatty way, without dumbing it down or reducing it to kitsch. This is a huge accomplishment. It also – importantly – does not downplay the political oppression of the Soviet Union or the irony in some of its policies. Yet it manages to do all of this with fondness and charm… and with recipes.

I can’t tell you any quotes because I don’t have access to the free copy of the book anymore, but this is definitely something I’d like to remedy by buying one soon. It needs to be in my library. This is an excellent book, and managed to make me very curious about food and history in Russia, and I encourage most people – either interested in food, Russia, or just good writing – to read it. It even seems to have opened up a new area of interest for me: I have recently started wanting to read all the cookbooks here, and I recently bought a history of Russian food. More on that later… if I ever get around to reading it.

(I’ve given it 4 stars on Goodreads.)