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What is the famous soup in Russia?

Russia is home to many delicious and iconic soups that are an important part of Russian cuisine and culture. When thinking of Russian soups, one of the most famous that comes to mind is borscht.

What is Borscht?

Borscht is a sour soup that contains beetroots as the main ingredient, which gives it a distinctive deep reddish-purple color. Traditional borscht recipes often also include cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, celeriac, parsley root, dill, meat or bone broth, and cream. There are many variations of borscht throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, but the classic Russian borscht is vegetarian and sour, flavored by adding fermented liquid from cooking beets or fermented rye.

The sour taste of borscht comes from fermented beet kvass or the addition of vinegar or lemon juice. Smetana (sour cream) is often added when serving borscht to balance the soup’s tartness with a cool, rich creaminess. The soup has a refreshing sourness reminiscent of gazpacho that many people find both addictive and restorative.

History and Origins

Borscht likely originated in the cuisines of Ukraine and Russia. The word “borscht” stems from the word “barszcz” in Polish and Ukrainian, which refers to the broth made by pouring hot water over beet leaves. The first recorded mention of borscht dates back to the 9th century in a Byzantine Greek document.

Over many centuries, borscht evolved across cuisines in Eastern Europe, including those of Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Hungary, and the Balkans. Different regional variations emerged using local ingredients, cooking traditions, and cultural influences. Cabbage, beets, and broth remained central to borscht as it spread.

Cultural Significance

Borscht holds a place of cultural and historical significance in Russia. It transcended its peasant roots to become a dish served in aristocratic homes and high society across the Russian Empire by the 19th century. In the Soviet era, it was considered a nutritious, inexpensive, and quintessentially Russian soup that could feed the masses.

Borscht is still commonly served in Russian homes today, either as a starter or a meal itself. It is frequently offered at community events, outdoor markets, and festivals. Borscht is served in Russian restaurants around the world as a comforting taste of home.

The vivid crimson color of borscht has become iconically Russian. Some poets and artists have compared its hue to blood, revolution, and the Russian soul. Borscht is both traditional and versatile – each family often has its own recipe passed down through generations.

Regional Variations

Many regions across Russia have their own take on borscht recipes:

  • Moscow borscht – meatstock-based, with beef and pork. Often contains tomatoes and carrots.
  • Leningrad borscht – fish stock and cubed beef as the base. Smetana is stirred in before serving.
  • Siberian borscht – includes meat like venison or bear. Often thicker than other varieties.
  • Ukranian borscht – typically meatless and vegetarian. Prominent cabbage flavor.

Some recipes may use chicken, duck, beans, celeriac, bell peppers, dill, and parsley. Despite the variations, beetroots and a tart, sour flavor remain the cornerstones of an authentic borscht.


While recipes vary, these are some of the most common ingredients found in borscht:

Category Common Ingredients
Vegetables Beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic
Herbs & Spices Dill, parsley, bay leaves, black pepper, salt
Broth & Stock Meat broth, bone broth, fish stock, mushroom broth, vegetable stock
Protein (optional) Beef, pork, chicken, duck, beans, lentils
Acidic Liquid Beet kvass, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice
Garnish Sour cream, hard boiled egg, dill, green onions


Borscht is low in fat and calories but high in nutrients. Some of the health benefits of borscht include:

  • High in vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber
  • Contains antioxidants from beets that support heart health and lower blood pressure
  • Probiotics from fermented beet kvass support healthy digestion
  • Low-calorie and filling – can aid in weight management
  • Anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties from ingredients like cabbage, garlic, and onions

When made with beef or pork stock, borscht can be a good source of protein. Adding sour cream or cream enriches the soup with calcium. The variety of vegetables provides a range of vitamins and minerals.

How to Cook Borscht

Borscht can be made on the stove, in a slow cooker, or baked in the oven. Here is an overview of the basic steps for making classic Russian borscht:

  1. Dice and saute the vegetables (beets, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, peppers) in oil.
  2. Add broth, seasonings, herbs, and meat if using. Simmer until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add lemon juice, vinegar, or fermented beet kvass for tartness. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Before serving, stir in sour cream. Garnish bowls with fresh dill and green onion.
  5. Chill borscht overnight for best flavor. The colors intensify as well.

Some additional tips for stellar borscht:

  • Cook the beets separately to better control their softness and coloring power.
  • Blending a portion of the vegetables gives a creamier texture.
  • Letting the soup sit for a few days allows the flavors to develop.
  • Adding a dash of sugar balances out tartness.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.

Where to Eat Borscht in Russia

Traveling in Russia? Look for borscht in these locations:

  • Restaurants – Both upscale and casual Russian restaurants will likely have borscht on the menu.
  • Cafeterias – Grab a bowl at lunch buffets and worker’s canteens.
  • Street markets – Outdoor markets often sell bowls of hot steaming borscht.
  • Home cooking – Try homecooked borscht from a Russian family.
  • Festivals – Look for borscht at cultural festivals and community events.

Some of the best places to sample borscht in cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg are traditional Russian restaurants like Mari Vanna, LavkaLavka, and Tsarskaya Okhota. For a modern twist, try the borscht at trendy spots like White Rabbit and Delicatessen.


With its roots going back centuries and its iconic crimson color, borscht remains one of Russia’s most famous and cherished soups. This beet-based sour soup crosses cultures, generations, and culinary traditions across Russia and Eastern Europe. While recipes vary by region, beetroots, broth, and a tangy sourness define a hearty bowl of classic Russian borscht. Sampling borscht is an essential part of understanding Russian cuisine, culture, and hospitality.