Kulaga, machanka, bigos, verashchaka, kopytki... No, these are not curses on the gibberish, but quite real dishes of the Belarusian national cuisine. And if you think that it is limited only by draniki and kolduny, then it is time to dispel these myths once and for all! VETLIVA is in the air, and this is our illumination on the gastronomic tourism of Belarus.
Guide to the national Belarusian cuisine
- History of Belarusian national dishes
- Interesting facts about Belarusian cuisine
- Where to taste traditional Belarusian dishes?
- Food festivals and gastronomic events
- Top 10 dishes of national Belarusian cuisine
The history of the national Belarusian cuisine
The traditions of the cuisine are rooted in hoary antiquity. Many belarusians recipes have been existing for more than one century so we can even quote the classic of Belarusian and Polish literature, Adam Mickiewicz:
In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.
Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in one's mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar. (“Pan Tadeusz”)
This is how the great poet sang a simple peasant dish called “bigos” (stewed sauerkraut with meat) in his immortal poem. “But the author says about Lithuania, not about Belarus!”, you exclaimed and were absolutely right. However, we recall that for a long time our country was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, therefore, the peculiarities of the Belarusian national cuisine are associated with Lithuanian culinary traditions. Moreover, almost all the recipes of national dishes of the Belarusian cuisine were already collected in a separate book called “Lithuanian cook” (1885). Not so long ago, in 2013, the publication has found a second life, and now everyone can try the dishes that the princes and gentry ate themselves!
Like in the rest of the countries, it happened that historically the peasant food in Belarus was simple but tasty, nourishing, and always fresh. The nobility preferred exotic dishes, as well as wildfowl. The meat was appeared on the table of the Belarusian only on holidays (on weekdays it was usually replaced with lard, which was salted directly with the skin and used in the preparation of various hot dishes like verashchaks), and kissels or sweet cakes took the place of desserts. In addition to meat dishes, the traditional festive dish of Belarusians was kutya — porridge, cooked from whole wheat grains (less often barley or other cereals), which was usually prepared for Christmas.
But fish and mushrooms were constantly presented in the ration, so there were many dishes made of them. Over time, meat and dairy products began to be consumed more often, but the potato still occupied a place of honor on the table of Belarusians.
Interesting facts about the Belarusian national cuisine
Indeed, it is the potato that makes up the main part of the diet of the Belarusians, but the main feature is that it is ground on a grater before cooking. Draniki, dumplings, kolduny are prepared this way.
But the cooking time of some dishes is just a record. By the rules, bigos we were speaking about before should be stewed for more than a day, and according to some recipes of the Belarusian national cuisine, beef could be cooked for up to three days!
Meals of wheat flour and salads began to be prepared in Belarus only in the twentieth century.
Potatoes are so popular that on average every Belarusian eats half a kilo of this product daily!
Because of the nobility’s love for hunting and bison meat, these noble animals almost disappeared from the face of the earth. At the same time, modern Belarusians consume almost two times less meat than Polish neighbors.
Potatoes came to Belarus in around 1670. Until that time, it was replaced by turnip, swede, parsnip and Jerusalem artichoke. And the peasants managed to create edible dishes even from seemingly unsuitable in food beet tops: they kept it in the cellars, sour and even pickled them!
Gastronomic tour to Belarus, or where you will be fed perfectly
So we come to the most interesting! We warn people who keep diet: it's the thin end of the wedge. After reading the next paragraph, even people with iron willpower risk falling apart and embarking on a gastronomic journey around Belarus with us. VETLIVA will share with you secrets where to taste dishes prepared with observance of all the old technologies.
Belarusian farmsteads are not only outdoor activities far from the city. Meals are prepared exclusively from natural products, in most cases of those that are right here and received. For example, the hosts of “Khutor Yedishki” conduct breeding work: animals do not eat compound feed, which means their meat does not contain 100% antibiotics or other harmful additives, which could be found in purchased products. And the estate "On Zarechnaya street" is famous for the revival of folk rites and traditions, and the chef here is a born virtuoso. Just look at this photo of national dishes, cooked there – a real culinary masterpiece!
The following places where VETLIVA recommends to go are Belarusian agro-tourism and ethno-cultural complexes. At their core, they are not much different from the estates, except that more entertainment awaits you here — from various equestrian to fire shows — and a set of related services. Everything is awesome with food!
Museum complexes in the open air — indeed, Belarusian traditions are strong here, as nowhere else. In “Dudutki” you will be tamed with real bread from the oven and “garbata” (tea from several types of fragrant herbs), the “Belarusian Karchma” restaurant is located in “Strochitsy”, which serves only Belarusian dishes, and in “Sula” do not pass by starks in no case (no, we do not mean the noble dynasty from the popular series “The Game of Thrones” — this is a traditional strong alcoholic drink on herbs).
For those who wish to go on a gastronomic tour around Minsk, we will show several restaurants that specialize and prepare the same national dishes of the Belarusian cuisine from potatoes, but strictly according to old recipes. We invite you to “Vilna” and “Kukhmistr” for authentic cuisine — this is where you will taste the same dishes that were on the tables of the gentry, citizens and clergy from the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. If you like potato dumplings, sorcerers and other national dishes of Belarusian cuisine prepared according to traditional recipes — welcome to the restaurants “Cornflowers”, “At Barysych” and “Rakovsky Brovar” (the freshest beer is also prepared in the least one). We pledge oath: it will be delicious!
Culinary festivals and gastronomic events in Belarus
Want to have fun during holidays and taste Belarusian dishes at the same time? Hooray! This kind of pastime is offered by many festivals in Belarus, which from year to year gather thousands of guests in different parts of our country.
VETLIVA reminds: during the pandemic, many festivals are canceled or postponed. So it's better to make sure once again in advance whether this or that event will take place.
Festivals of Belarusian cuisine
So, you can try Belarusian national dishes, as well as street cuisine during festivals. And we will tell you about the coolest ones below.
The agro-town Motol itself is a cultural phenomenon of our country. It is the hometown of 5,000 inhabitants, but each of them is immensely in love with their small homeland. For example, did you know that Motol has its own dictionary? The words of the local dialect are carefully collected in it. But that's not all! Motol is famous for its "prysmaki". To try them, people come to the agro-town in early August from all over Belarus.
Just imagine: Belarusian snacks can be tasted in the courtyards of private houses! Moreover, some hostesses even cook right in front of the guests. Motolyans are famous for their hospitality and are happy to share it with all the guests of the holiday. Lard, homemade sausage, crispy cucumbers, stuffed fish — let's not tease your appetite by listing everything that is usually served at the festival "Motalskiya prysmaki". Better to put off everything and attend this fun event one day!
Dark and light, ale and porter, draft and bottled ... Almost every year at the beginning of September, the city of Lida becomes the beer capital of the blue-eyed. The place was not chosen by chance: it was here that one of the oldest breweries in the country, the famous brand of Belarus "Lidskoe", was founded. And what a beer without traditional grilled potatoes and sausages! There are also more exotic versions of national Belarusian dishes, for example, quail barbecue.
VETLIVA recommends: in order not to be torn between the desire to get to know Lida and visit all the locations of the festival, go here with an excursion. So you will be able to visit the castle, see the city and many other sights.
Did you know that Glubokoe is considered not only the city of delicious condensed milk but also the cherry capital of Belarus? The annual spring festival gathers sweet and sour berry lovers in the city. The festive procession is led by the Cherry Queen, sports and entertainment events, planting seedlings. During the holiday, cherry drinks flow like a river, and they are served with traditional Belarusian dishes based on scarlet berries, for example, jam, confiture, pastries, nalistniki (Belarusian spring rolls), and other sweets. And the city also has something to see: a great option to combine educational and gastronomic tourism in Belarus.
Advice from VETLIVA: do you like aromatic strawberries more? Then the festival "Luninetsky klubnitsy" is for you! It is celebrated at the end of June, and for a day the agro-town of Luninets is simply buried in strawberries. The holiday is accompanied by entertainment programs, contests, a procession led by Strawberry Beauty, and a tasting of Belarusian traditional dishes based on the main heroine of the celebration.
Shklov is considered the cucumber capital of the country. Every year in August, a cheerful holiday is held here, where you can find a variety of cucumbers and dishes of the Belarusian national cuisine based on this vegetable. Here you can try vigorous cucumber, cucumber cookies, and even cucumber champagne! And all this is spiced up with a bright program: a procession of mummers in "cucumber" costumes, decorations in the form of cucumbers, various thematic photo zones, and other cucumber fun. In short, you have to see and feel it personally!
Advice from VETLIVA: if you prefer tomatoes, then there is a separate holiday in honor of this vegetable. At the end of August, go to Ivye: the tomato has long become a symbol of the regional center, and for several years a holiday has been organizing here in his honor.
Another interesting holiday is taking place in Slavgorod. From the name, it is clear that the holiday is dedicated to cheese. And here it will be in abundance! Taste new varieties, participate in games and masterclasses, go on an excursion to the open-air museum. It is dedicated to the landmark battle of the Northern War, which took place near Lesnaya on October 9, 1708. The Battle of Lesnaya is even called "the mother of the Battle of Poltava." So neither lovers of the national cuisine of Belarus, nor fans of history will be bored here.
Gastronomic festivals have already become familiar to our country. These are Vulitsa Ezha, where everyone can taste street food from real chefs, and the Pasternak Eco-Festival, where they serve exclusively organic food, and other events. Moreover, restaurants of Belarusian cuisine in Minsk, Gomel, Mogilev, Brest, Grodno, and Vitebsk often join the republican gastro festivals, which are held in a rather unusual format. Each establishment forms a set of several dishes, which they offer to try for a fixed price for a certain time. Moreover, the portions are sometimes simply huge, and therefore this is a great option for couples and small groups of friends.
Top 10 dishes of the Belarusian national cuisine
Finally, we will tell you about the dishes and consider you have never been to Belarus without trying them. Let's start from the end:
10 place: beetroot soup. Cold soups are the real salvation from the sweltering summer heat! And beetroot soup – soup made from beet broth in half with kvass, addition of chopped greens and boiled eggs is one of the most delicious dishes of this kind.
9 place: nalistniki. Desserts occupy a special place in the Belarusian national cuisine, and these pancakes are no exception. Unlike simple flapjacks, they are not an independent dish, but are served as “packaging” for various, often curd, fillings. Real jam!
8 place: kulaga. Since we are talking about desserts, it is impossible not to mention one more. Kulaga is a mixture of fresh berries, boiled to the consistency of kissel, which is served along with white bread and pancakes.
7 place: sbiten. A special place is occupied by the drinks of the Belarusian national cuisine. The beverage was made of water, honey, pepper, cloves, bay leaf and nutmeg. People used it both in cold and hot form: in the winter “for warm weather”, and in the summer – to fight the heat.
6 place: krambambula. We have already written about starks above, it is time for krambambula – Belarusian traditional spirits. The receipt is almost the same as that of sbiten, only vodka replaces water and is added with nutmeg, honey, cinnamon, cloves, red and black pepper.
5 place: verashchaka. The real pride of the Belarusian national cuisine with a “talking” name: during cooking, the mixture “verashchala” (what is belarusian for “squealed”) because it cracked loudly during frying.
4 place: pyachy. Perhaps the most atypical dish for modern cuisine is baked lamb. And though the meat of the ram could be hunted by a daylight with a candle, it was in Belarus in abundance before.
3 place: soured black bread. Our top would be incomplete without a dish that is "the staff of life". Try it once and you definitely won’t want the purchased one.
2 place: kutya. “But this is just porridge,” you will be disappointed. Wrong! No wonder people cooked kutya only once a year — try this dish yourself and see how good it is!
1 place: draniki. You will surely rebel, because they were not tried only by the Africans living on the other side of the Earth. But VETLIVA is responsible for its words: having tried the Belarusian draniki at least once, you simply don’t want any other!
Belarus will find the way to your heart through the stomach
Someone prefers sushi, someone cannot live without pasta or pizza, and someone cannot live a day without potatoes. And this someone is not necessarily Belarusian. Perhaps, having gone to the gastro tour and having tasted the dishes from the list above, you will become a real connoisseur of the Belarusian national cuisine. Or have you already managed to try everything from our top and you have something to compare with? What country cuisine do you think is the most delicious? Share your views in the comments, like it if you like it, and VETLIVA and the Blog will continue to acquaint you with all aspects of life in Belarus.