How do you celebrate Christmas? What do you eat and drink? It depends on who you ask. In a festive mini-series, we quizzed seven foodie Londoners from various cultural backgrounds about their festive food, drink, customs and traditions. Here’s what they had to say…
Food anthropologist and food writer Katrina Kollegaeva, whose father is Russian and mother Ukrainian, is originally from Tallinn in Estonia.
She lives in Wood Green and is co-founder of Russian Revels which organises innovative Slavic dining experiences in London.
“Russians don’t really celebrate Christmas; New Year’s Eve is much more important to us. And although New Year’s Eve is, to some extent, celebrated on 31 January — because we have a different calendar, traditionally we celebrate Christmas on 7 January and the Old New Year’s Eve on 13 January. However, there’s a similar feel to the West during our festive period between mid-December and mid-January: Christmas and New Year are very much family celebrations with a little party at the end.
I have two or three celebrations with friends in the lead up to Christmas. I’ll typically make Olivier salad — what’s known as Russian salad in the West — containing potatoes, vegetables, gherkins and sometimes chicken, all bound up with mayonnaise. Here’s a vegetarian version of the recipe if you want to try it. I also make what’s known as ‘herring under a fur coat’. It’s a type of zakuski, a cold starter salad in which the herrings are layered up with boiled potatoes, carrots, beetroot, cabbage and mayonnaise. Because the dish is in layers, when you cut it, it looks really beautiful. Here’s my not-so-traditional version in the form of a scotch egg.
Then there’ll be some kind of roast meat. I do what my mum used to do, and cook traditional Soviet speciality, ‘chicken on a bottle’. I place a chicken on an empty wine or champagne bottle filled with water, wine or stock with herbs, then roast the whole thing in the oven. No, the bottle doesn’t break – I have no idea why! When it’s cooked, you can take it as it is to the table or, to be more practical, put it on a platter. The meat inside is nice and moist.
We’ll drink chilled vodka that’s been kept in the fridge or — in Russia — Soviet Champagne. Of course, you’re not allowed to call it ‘Champagne’ unless it’s produced in France, but in Russia people don’t really care. Here in London, I’ll have Brut Champagne instead. To finish, we’ll have Napoleon cake — lots of layers of pastry with a cream that’s either sour cream or made out of condensed milk.”
Try it yourself: Russian eating and drinking in London
Bob Bob Ricard
Classic Russian dishes, lots of vodka and ‘press for Champagne’ buttons sum up this quirky Soho restaurant and bar.
Find everything from caviar to kagor (Russian wine) at this Russian food shop in East Finchley
A longstanding bastion of authentic Russian and Armenian cuisine in Clerkenwell.
Stock up on Russian groceries, including pickles meats and breads, at this shop and deli on Queensway
Glamorous dining in a restaurant styled as an ornate Russian home, in South Kensington.
Also in the series:
What’s A Goan Christmas In London Like?
What’s An Italian Christmas In London Like?
What’s An Ethiopian Christmas In London Like?
What’s A Spanish Christmas In London Like?
What’s A West-African-Greek-British Christmas In London Like?
What’s A German Christmas In London Like?