Step № 15 – “Learn 3 main Russian food traditions”

“Your first 50 right steps to enter the Russian food market”.

Step № 15 – “Learn 3 main Russian food traditions”

Food is a very important part of Russian culture in general and business culture in particular. A lot of business negotiations take place at a dining table. I will tell you about some of the most often traditions you will come across in Russia. Knowing them in advances will help you to avoid misunderstandings with your Russian partners, and to “naturally and accidentally” follow these traditions. So, you will make a good impression, which will make it easier for you to discuss important things with your Russian partners and get the benefits you want.

The first thing you need to know is that the main foods in Russia are not vodka, borscht or meat dumplings. This is all for tourists. The main food in Russia is bread. It does not matter what type of bread it is. It is believed that if a Russian has no bread at home, then it means he is poor. Beggars on the streets ask for money to buy bread. When a Russian does not know what to eat, he/she will eat just bread.

In Russia there are many kinds of bread. Everyone chooses what they like most. On any table, wherever you eat at someone’s party or in a restaurant, bread is put on the table by default. In Russia it is customary to eat everything with bread. Pasta, meat dumplings, soup, salads – everything will be eaten with bread.Historically, Russians are very careful about bread. When people are eating, one should not throw bread on the floor, one should not leave an uneaten piece of bread in a plate.

So, if you have a business dinner with Russian partners, when everyone starts eating, you can take a piece of bread and casually say that you love bread and love eating everything with bread. You will immediately endear all the people at the table. Do not eat a lot, but be sure to eat at least one piece. It is better to choose black (rye bread) because this bread is truly Russian and it is loved more than other types.

You can also see that after taking a meal, some people can just take some bread and start eating it. For Russians, this is normal because in this case bread will be used as a “dessert”. Russian bread is really tasty. But if you are visiting your Russian partner at home, then it is better not to do so or you will hurt the hostess greatly, as your gesture will be perceived that you have not had enough food, and it is a shame for a Russian not to feed a guest enough.

The main drink in Russia is not vodka. The main drink is tea. Tea that grows in Russia is the northernmost tea in the world. But it is not very popular. For example, I personally have drunk it a couple of times in my life and I do not even remember its taste. But it is grown and it can be found in large stores.

It happened from the time of the USSR that the most popular tea is black tea. Usually it is tea from India. When having a cup of tea, Russians make the most important decisions. When a Russian needs to think, he/she pours a cup of tea. If Russians get together as a group, tea will be immediately served to everyone. People used to drank only black tea, but recently the popularity of green tea and herbal tea has increased.

In Russia people usually have three meals a day. Tea is always served at the end of each meal. There is a small exception which you as a foreigner need to know. Russians can say “Let’s drink tea” when they invite everyone to the table, and when everyone sits down they will ask if you prefer tea or coffee. You can choose coffee, this is normal, but the process itself will always be called “drinking tea”.

Remember that according to a Russian tradition tea must be drunk with something made of flour – cookies, cakes, pies, bagels, bread with jam, and sometimes sweets. If you want to make a good impression on your Russian partners when tea is served, ask for some pastry that you like most. You will never be served just tea in Russia. There always be something else on a plate. If there is nothing at all, you will be given sugar.

If you are served tea at business negotiations with your Russian partners, it means they want to have a fair business with you and they consider you as an equal potential partner. If during negotiations Russians offer you alcohol (by saying that this is a Russian tradition), then they are planning to deceive you or enter into a contract that is profitable for them. By the way, there is no such tradition. There is a tradition to celebrate when a contract is signed. Then, alcohol can be offered to you and this will mean a gesture of politeness and respect tor you. Do not refuse.

I guess you thought I would tell you only about vodka in this post. Indeed, vodka is a part of Russian culture, and you need to know basic rules and traditions.

In Russia, there are a lot of different types of alcohol. Vodka is the cheapest strong alcohol, therefore, it is the most common. If Russians have no traditions with other types of alcohol, there are a lot of them with vodka. You need to know the most basic ones. Firstly, no matter how much vodka you get, you need to drink it right away. Secondly, do not leave vodka in a shot or a glass. By this you will very much offend the person that you offered it.

When Russians drink vodka, they always eat a lot. Really a lot. And this is very important. For a Russian person, vodka is not really about alcohol, it is about a feast. People eat delicious food and drink vodka with it. Therefore, in order to drink vodka correctly and make a good impression on your Russian partners, you MUST eat first, and only then you can drink vodka. After a shot immediately eat a small piece of something served on the table. Then, eat properly some hot food from main courses.

It will be very well understoon by your Russian partners, if, when they offer you vodka, you say that you do not drink vodka “on an empty stomach”, which means that you prefer eating first. Believe me, your proposal will be immediately supported by all Russians.

There are certain traditions when drinking vodka, and these traditions or customs cannot be violated under any circumstances. If a foreigner can still be forgiven, Russians may simply be asked to leave the table and the next time they may not be invited. A person who does not know the basic customs of drinking vodka is a very rare case, as they begin to drink vodka in Russia before reaching the age of 21 or even 18.

Remember the main customs:

1. Pouring vodka at the table is always done by one person who is either the most respected person or the owner of the house. There are exceptions when the owner of the house may ask some guest to do that. This is a sign of special respect.

2. If there are men and women at the table, vodka (and alcohol in general) is bottled only by men. A woman should not pour into her own glass, according to the custom, a man sitting next to her always pours for the woman first and then for himself.

3. You cannot spill vodka or keep a glass in your hands. The glass should always be on the table.

4. You cannot pour vodka over a hand.

5. MANDATORY Before drinking vodka someone says a toast. This is a mandatory rule, if you drink without a toast, you will be considered an alcoholic. The toasts are usually said by turns, the first is the one who pours vodka. Usually the toast should consist of one or two sentences. You can say one word toasts only when you are in a company of very close friends.

6. After the toast, all must clink their glasses. They do not do that only when they commemorate the dead.

7. One should not leave any vodka in a glass. Vodka is always drunk in one go and in one sip. Women are allowed to ask for just a half of a shot.

8. The proper way of drinking vodka is as follows: in one hand you take a shot/a glass of vodka, in the other hand – a small piece of food (for example, a pickled cucumber or a slice of rye bread), first, you smell the food, then, you drink vodka, and, finally, you eat the food.

9. You should not drink after a shot of vodka, you should eat something. After you eat your small piece, you need to eat something more substantial served on the table.

10. An empty bottle is not placed on the table; it is customary to immediately place it on the floor next to the table, or on another table. Therefore, in Russian restaurants, waiters do not let vodka run out on guests’ tables.

This is a minimal list of basic rules on how to properly drink vodka in Russia. Be sure to memorize them.

To conclude, I will add that not all Russians drink vodka. Some do not like it, others, like me, cannot physically tolerate any strong alcohol. Therefore, if you do not drink vodka or alcohol above 15-20 degrees (Russian vodka is always only 40 degrees), do not reject vodka with a phrase “I do not drink vodka”. You will not be understood in Russia, they will immediately think that you are in bad health and you are ill. Or it may be even perceived as a personal insult to the person who offered vodka to you.

The correct response to the offer to drink vodka (if you do not want) sounds like this: “Thank you very much for the offer, but I do not drink vodka, for me it is a very strong drink, I prefer wine or beer”. Choose a drink that you prefer. After such a phrase, your refusal will sound normal and will not provoke any negative emotion. Most importantly, it will not cause any insults.

Of course, there are a lot of traditions associated with food in Russia. They are very different in different parts of Russia. And even I, as a Russian, do not know all the traditions when I visit a new client in some new region. I have shared with you the three most basic ones which are inherent in 99% of all Russians. Knowing them and using them, you can quickly get connections in the food industry in Russia and develop good business relations.

Yours faithfully,

Alexander Sinyanskiy

Business Adviser in the Russian Food Industry  

Please read the same my other steps:

Step № 2 – “Look at you products and website by the eyes of a Russian”

Step № 3 – “Do not offer commission!”

Step № 4 – “Learn and research about your future competitors”

Step № 5 – “Assess potential obstacles”

Step № 6 – “The most critical MUST-DO: localize and translate your food business into the Russian language”

Step № 9 – “Do everything only according to the law”

Step № 10 – “Corruption and crime”

Step № 11 – “Russian mentality. Do not even try to understand”

Step № 12 – “We are looking for a food distributor in Russia! Just one exclusive distributor!”

Step № 13 – “Who is your customer in Russia? Can you describe in details?”

Step № 19 – “Always collect all the information about your Russian partners”

Step№ 21 – “GMO food, organic food and food additives”

Step № 24 – “Who are your potential clients in Russia?

Step № 26 – “Russian social networks”

Step № 32 – “Opening a Russian legal entity (LLC and JSC)”

Step № 33 – “Open a joint venture or buy a stake in a Russian business”

Step № 34 – “Opening a branch or a representative office of your company in Russia”

Step № 41 – “Are you thinking of selling your food franchise to Russia? Good idea!”

Step № 46 – “How to find a distributor or buyer for FREE in the food market of Russia”

Step № 47 – “Holidays and days off in Russia. What for? Of course for business”

Step № 48 – “E-commerce in Russia”

Step № 49 – “Start your food business in Russia remotely and manage all processes without problems”

Lack of customization for the Russian food market, on the example of a bread machine of a very famous global company.

You often ask me why I do not use Whatsapp? I answer!

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