“Wait, so this is depressing even for RUSSIA? Jesus.”
~AFFotD’s Food Critic
We very clearly love food here, but we also love calling out other countries for how bad their food is. Granted, it’s not particularly noteworthy to have bad food (cough, sup England) or weird food (how you living, Japan). But we prefer to focus on depressing food cultures. Like, yes, Iceland eats rotted fermented shark, and that’s gross, but the fact that they ferment everything because they can’t afford to import salt, or that the shark has to be fermented so that it stops being poisonous is legitimately depressing.
So we are here to keep our proud tradition of looking at rich, steeped culinary histories and going, “Oh God, that’s so sad.” Now let’s hop on a plane to the federal subject of Russia, Mordvinia, where things get depressing, even for Russia.
The World’s Saddest Cuisines: Mordvinia
Mordovia is located in the Western part of Russia, and is home to a total of 830,000 people that are scattered over 10,000 square miles with a shitload of rivers (114), an even bigger shitload of lakes (500), and a proud culinary tradition from the Finnic tribes that first settled along these many, many shores. The cuisine largely focuses on fish, which they consume in manners that ranged from “kind of sad” (boiled) to “really depressing when you realize it’s not sushi” (raw). Fish liver and cod-liver oil are commonly used, which, yeah, is pretty upsetting. They also eat mushrooms in many dishes, serving them boiled, salted, fried, dried, or, ugh, soured.
Basically it has everything you’d expect from Russian peasant food, which we suspect means that most dishes are salted with actual tears. Here are some of the dishes you can have if you decide to go Saransk.
Tsebyar shurba (or syupav shurba)- Rich Fish Soup
We’re going to be honest with you regarding this article—none of the pictures you see will be what the actual dishes look like. They’re our “if you asked us, we’d assume they kind of look like this?” best guesses. Honestly, the only site we could really find that actively even discussed Mordovian dishes was, we shit you not, an article by FIFA related to the 2018 Russian World Cup. To be fair, it’s a relatively obscure cuisine, so it’s not surprising that there aren’t any “Mordovian food just like mama used to make” blogs out there, but they do get their own Wikipedia page, so who knows.
Anyway, Rich Fish Soup, apart from being something that smart asses would ask you to say five times fast, is basically a catchall term for the handful of fish stews that Mordovians have historically consumed. Fish stew, while generally tasting good, is still a pretty dire sounding dish. It’s one of those dinner meals that you’d see mentioned in Oliver Twist or some shit. But Mordovians make it even more destitute seeming, thanks to their addition of, and we’re quoting FIFA here, “fish stewed in milk or anchovies in dough.” Oh, and they also use “small and large river fish, which combine together to make the dish simultaneously hearty and aromatic.” Aromatic here means “super fishy.” So, super fishy stewed milk fish. God, why?
Ovton Lapat (or Ofton Madyat)- Bear’s Paw
Now, okay, this isn’t actually a Bear’s paw. Well, no, that picture is, but not the food item. This one actually has recipes online that you can find, which means that people outside of Russia eat it, but it also includes “remove the veins” as a step, so that should let you know what kind of shit we’re dealing with here. Anyway, it’s a meat cake with crackers and black bread crumbs spread on top. And it kind of looks like a bear paw, according to Russians, who see a hamburger patty with black crumbs on it and immediately go to “oh yes, that looks like what the bear used to take my family,” because Russia is horrifying. The meat is generally a mix of beef (good), pork (also good), and liver (you motherfuckers).
Just a friendly reminder—in America, a Bear Claw is a cutesy little pastry. In Russia, it is a liver meat pie that looks like it’s covered in fur. No wonder we won the Cold War.
Poza (non-alcoholic fermented beet drink)
Poza is similar to kvass, which is basically fermented, slightly alcoholic rye bread that you drink (Jesus Christ, Russia). However, in Mordovia, it’s used with sugar beets instead, which is better than fucking bread water, but it’s non-alcoholic, which is worse than literally every other drink that Russia makes because every drink there is legally required to get you drunk to forget how cold it is always. Anyway, Poza has not been successfully mass-manufactured, because “good poza can only be made on traditional kilns, as modern appliances do not produce the same effect.” That’s not a really good sign. “The only way we can make this drinkable is if we cook it in old ass ovens” is not a good indicator of anything you want to put in your body. Anyway, it’s made by cutting up a bunch of beets and stewing them in water for a few days before adding rye flour, yeast, and sugar mixed with hops. It is then filtered and served cold. Always cold. Father Winter has come early this year to Mother Russia.
Anyway, it’s cold beet juice. Mordovians love it! We can’t stop crying!
We’re going to actually go ahead and say that horse meat should not be stigmatized as much as it is. It’s a lean, actually pretty flavorful meat. Yes, we have staff members that have eaten horses. Baby horses. Yes, it keeps them awake at night, the neighing, always the neighing. But seriously, we’re strongly pro “eat whatever goddamn animal you like, so long as it isn’t human, though we guess exceptions can be made if it’s an Alive Situation.”
But we’re just going to put this sentence from Wikipedia out there and let you decide if it makes you feel a deep sadness in your very soul.
“In ancient times, horsemeat was used for food, but later it was only used in rituals (molyam) associated with horse worship.”
History is miserable.
Herbs instead of spices
Really, all you need to know about Mordovia is that they don’t use spices in their traditional food. Why is that? Well if we had to wager a guess, it would be that spices were a luxury item in history, and Mordovia was too poor and isolated to even dream of finding someone to sell them pepper or cardamom. So instead they had to use herbs to flavor their food. But not the good herbs, like basil or sage or any of the ones that we kind of just lump into the “spices” category. No, they were limited to such hot items as cow parsnip (that fucking flower pictured above) nettle and wild goutweed. What the fuck is wild goutweed? We don’t fucking know, we just know that it’s also called snow-in-the-mountain which is the most Russian name for a food flavoring ingredient ever.
So to recap. Mordovia is a part of Russia where their food heritage revolves around eating milky fish stews, liver meat crackers, and beet juice who like to flavor their food with herbs that include one that turns into a laxative if you pick it too late in the season? God, Russia, we’re sorry. We totally understand why you are the way you are, with a childhood like this.
Let’s just…*starts sobbing* okay we gotta go. Oh God, poor Russia.