Nizhny Novgorod is one of the largest cities in the European part of Russia with a population of over 1.2 million. It is well-known as an industrial, cultural and commercial centre, plus its location on the confluence of two major rivers, the Volga and the Oka, makes it unique. Fans at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will be able to appreciate this more than most, as the new stadium is being built in a picturesque area on the exact spot where the rivers meet. But how about the city's traditional culinary dishes? We spoke to the locals to find out what to eat when you visit Nizhny Novgorod.
Pryaniki from Gorodets
Located 50 kilometres upstream of Nizhny Novgorod is the ancient town of Gorodets, which will soon be celebrating its 900th birthday. Gorodets has always been associated with Russian spice cookies called pryaniki. At the turn of the 19th century, artisans descended from a long line of master bakers were in charge of the town's production of pryaniki and would make more than 30 different varieties – the largest weighing 25 kilograms! According to ancient custom, these spice cookies would traditionally be given to honoured guests. The key ingredient in pryaniki is honey, but later they started making them with sugar and treacle, as well as adding raisins and peppermint to the dough.
Pryaniki gained popularity all over Russia thanks to the famous Nizhny Novgorod Fair, as they were an important trading good. People transported them south along the Volga River to be traded at the fair, and north-east to be exchanged for furs. Making pryaniki is both a culinary and a visual art form. Specially carved boards are used to bake them and the master bakers are tasked with their design, employing time-honoured and traditional decorative patterns. Even today pryaniki are still made by hand in Gorodets.
Kudyabliki is a pastry dish that you can only find in one restaurant in the whole of Nizhny Novgorod (aptly named Kudyablishnaya). The original filling is made from chicken breast fried with onions, bacon, herbes de Provence and cheese. When cooking kudyabliki, the dough is folded in such a way to ensure it crisps up nicely. They are very filling and served in pairs; two kudyabliki will be more than enough. Alongside the classic kudyabliki, you also get Nizhny Novgorod, vegetarian and even Sicilian kudyabliki!
It is well known that most of Russia has a fairly harsh climate. Nevertheless, in the town of Pavlovo, 79 kilometres west of Nizhny Novgorod, they have managed to grow the northernmost variety of lemon! They were brought here from Turkey during the 19th century and became an indoor plant, which is so commonly grown among the local population that there is even a monument to lemons in Pavlovo. This is partly explained by the fact that Russians traditionally drink their tea with a slice of lemon.
Fish soup and fish in Nizhny Novgorod
As mentioned above, Nizhny Novgorod is situated on the convergence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Thus, it goes without saying that fish dishes are typical of the city's cuisine. The local recipes of oven-baked mackerel and herring with potatoes and mushrooms are highly recommended. A signature dish from Nizhny Novgorod is fish soup, which can be "red" if made with saffron, "black" with cloves, "sweet" with ruffe fish and "yellow" with sterlet. There is even a Nizhny Novgorod fish soup festival, where competitions are held among cooks for the tastiest recipe.
Shchi and other soups
Another classic of Nizhny Novgorod cooking is green shchi, which originates from the north of region. Only soured green cabbage leaves, pig fat and salt are used in the traditional recipe. Variations on this soup are also common in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. Usually, shchi is served with sour bread made from rye and wheat flour. Shchi with mushrooms and sauerkraut is equally popular.
This soup has become a staple of both Nizhny Novgorod and Russian cuisine; a local twist including mincemeat and rolled egg whites became extremely widespread in cafes throughout the Soviet Union. Legend has it that students from the medical academy in the Prioksky district of the city first came up with the recipe, so it became known as Prioksky Shchi.
Meat in hay
This is another common recipe in Nizhny Novgorod. First you smoke some gammon, then you wrap it in hay, bathe it in water and leave it to marinade for around four hours. This dish was only recently rediscovered and now you can find it in local restaurants in the city.
Ivan chai is a traditional Slavic tea made from rosebay willowherb leaves. In the 12th and 13th centuries it was named Koporsky Chai, while its current name was thought up by the English. The method of how to brew this tasty and healthy tea has been passed down from generation to generation and guarded with great secrecy.
Do you remember the pryaniki from above? Ivan Chai is the perfect drink to wash them down with. Gorodets was also where they would gather the leaves, dry them out and brew them according to the traditional recipe in order to preserve all their useful qualities. Ivan Chai is a natural antiseptic, soothes the body and helps detoxication of the organism. It is also blended with many other herbs and berries.