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    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

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    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

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    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Belarus

Culinary Influences

The Belarusian people lived in a variety of places over time, but the one consistent was that the climate was always cold and had a short growing season. Due to this, traditional Belarusian food is based on soups and other hardy dishes.

Between the 1000s and 1600s the Belarusian people fell under the rule of the Poles and Lithuanians and their cuisine reflected this. It introduced many western foods and dishes into the diet including borscht. One of the more unusual, but long-lasting ingredients was pasta, which came to the Belarusians from Italy via Poland.

After living under Polish and Lithuanian rule, the Belarusians went back to what was locally available and again this returned the diet to hardy dishes like soups and stews that contained multiple ingredients and herbs. It was also under that rule that brought a large number of Jews to the region, which gave the people a new take on cooking. It wasn't until the Russians, and later the Soviets took over the people in about 1900 that the diet significantly changed.

Under Soviet rule, the central government tried to re-define Belarusian Culture & Identity to their favor. This involved changing all aspects of Belarusian life, but also demanded that the people adopt a national cuisine. This led to the Russian-dominated Soviet government to import Russians dishes to the Belarusians, however altered small aspects in order to claim these dishes to be authentic Belarusian.

Since the Soviet era, many of those Russian-inspired dishes have become a part of Belarusian cuisine as the large cities have also incorporated foreign ingredients and introduced ethnic restaurants into daily Belarusian life.

Staple Foods

Kasha: buckwheat cooked until it cracks; served as a side or base for many meals

Regional Variations & Specialties

Borscht: soup made from beets; typically served hot and with sour cream
Halubtsy: meat, garlic, onions, and herbs wrapped in cabbage leafs, then cooked
Mochanka: a thick soup, mixed with lard and served with a side of blini, something similar to crepes

Dining Etiquette

Entering a Belarusian's home requires some specific protocol, but after you get to the table there's little to be worried of. If dining at a local's home or at a restaurant, never shake hands until you have completely crossed the threshold. If dining at a home, remove your shoes and the rest should be fairly easy to understand.

If you want to be a gracious guest, arrive on time and bring a cake. Your hosts will probably treat you as an honored guest and may even dress up slightly to impress you. Before eating, men generally socialize as the women gather in the kitchen to prepare the meal; if you're a woman, offering your help in the kitchen will be greatly appreciated; if you're a man, offering your help in the kitchen will get you laughed at as your masculinity will be questioned.

Once the meal is served, eat in the continental style (fork in the left hand, knife in the right), keep your hands within sight (but don't put your elbows on the table), and wait to be served. Belarusians tend to serve the oldest or most honored person first so wait until they determine your status has arrived; although guests are typically viewed as the most important person in the room.

To continue on the differing roles for each sex, women don't cut bread nor do they pour drinks; the men must take on these roles so if you see a woman's drink empty fill it up and if you are a woman, it won't be long before a fellow diner fills your glass. Before emptying your glass though, you have to start drinking and before that begins you must wait for a toast, which is typically first given by the host.

Most Belarusians will accept non-drinkers if it is due to their religious beliefs (although it is so uncommon that they may believe your religion is strange and doesn't make any sense) or if you are on antibiotics, which have an adverse effect with alcohol.

It is considered rude to turn down food or to completely empty your plate once you're finished. Try everything offered to you and once you're finished eating, leave a little food on the plate to show that the amount served was more than enough; this is a great compliment to the host. The only exceptions to this are that you must finish your bread and your alcoholic drinks.

If dining in a restaurant, the host or the inviter is expected to pay. If you are a guest, you are expected to offer to pay, but this offer will most likely be turned down. Tipping is not common in Belarus and after experiencing the standard poor service nearly everywhere you won't be inclined to tip anyway. The only exception to this rule is in nice restaurants catered to foreigners, particularly in Minsk. Service in these locations substantially improves and tips are expected in the form of about 5-10% for a meal.

Drinks

Mineral water is common in Belarus, both carbonated and still water. Other popular drinks are also available, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, juices, and milk. However, for a most authentic non-alcoholic beverage try kvass, a traditional drink made from rye that is starting to become more common in a mass-produced and processed form.

Drinking alcohol is an integral aspect of Belarusian culture. Historically, vodka was probably the most popular drink, but today beer is taking over that top position. Vodka is still the drink of choice at celebrations though. The most authentic local alcohol is called harelka, which is a distilled rye malt liquor. All popular international beers, wines, and hard liquors are also widely available.

The tap water in Belarus should not be consumed because in most places it is not safe.

This page was last updated: November, 2011