Traditional Russian Appetizer (Zakuski)

  August 12, 2021   Read time 1 min
Traditional Russian Appetizer (Zakuski)
Zakuski (закуски), the plural form of the Russian word for "appetizers" (zakuska (закуска) is singular), loosely translates as "little bites" and they are meant to soften the effects of the iced vodka or other strong potables they are served with.

The most common zakuski spreads might feature a few simple items, such as herring, cheese, and bread, or more elaborate dishes that number 20 or more. Some Russians consider soup as part of the zakuski spread, especially now that slow cookers are popular worldwide and can keep the soup hot on the serving line.

Before every traditional Russian main meal, there are zakuski, a course of appetizers that are usually served to guests who are seated around the table, although a buffet arrangement is also quite common. For special events, there might be a dozen or two dozen zakuski served to the guests.

Typically, zakuski include appetizers such as cold cuts of meat, salads, pirozhki, cured fishes, pickled vegetables, a selection of cheeses, bread, and caviar. Zakuski is the most important course, and most hosts will spend much more time preparing and arranging zakuski than preparing the main course.

The origins of zakuski are still shrouded in a veil of mystery, but it is speculated that the custom arose before the 19th century as a way of feeding guests who traveled long distances and whose arrival couldn't be predicted, so they were fed small bites of food while the main meal was being prepared.

A bottle of vodka often takes the center spot on the table, since the zakuski table is meant to accompany and enhance the experience of drinking it, and shots of vodka are often repeated throughout the meal. Along with butter and bread, such as white, black, or a combination of rye and wheat, caviar is the most famous part of zakuski, often served in glass containers and consumed on its own, or on a piece of toasted white bread.

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