The staples

You might already know it, but there are three cornerstones of Russian holiday cuisine: the Olivier salad, the dressed herring, and… Well, to be fair, the third place goes to different meals in different households – it can be the crab sticks salad, buterbrody (sandwiches) with caviar or fish, vinegret, or the nightmare of my childhood, kholodets (aspic served with mustard and horseradish). And the grand prix winners will be tangerines: these are for sure found in any and all Russian homes on December 31. 

As is clear from the list above, it’s typical to offer mostly salads and side dishes and we truly don’t have one traditional main course to go along with all of the above. You can expect to see all sorts of meat- and fish-based options, usually accompanied by potatoes in various forms, though there is no one general rule here. 

Credit:  belchonock (© belchonock) on Photogenica

Credit:  belchonock (© belchonock) on Photogenica

What you’ll also likely find on the table are various pickled vegetables and mushrooms in different combinations – most of them would be home-grown or hand-picked. There might also be an odd pineapple standing somewhat to the side, mostly for decorative purposes, but you might get to actually see it cut if you’re lucky. And as for dessert, you can expect all sorts of cakes, cookies, and gingerbread, home-baked or store-bought. Most of them stay untouched because not many people survive that long into the night anyway. 

All of those dishes feature meat, fish, or eggs, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a truly Russian New Year experience as a vegan or vegetarian. 

Festive meals in the city

We’ve already written about many plant-based places in the city – you can check our stories here, here, and here. Most of these locations are still open and some of them, like Botanika and RA Family feature vegan versions of Olivier salad and many other delicious items to treat yourself to during the holiday (or any other) season. 

Another location to add to your list is the Ku-Ku vegan bistro, which specializes in all things croissants but has recently launched its December specials: Olivier salad, dressed herring, and even a vegan caviar sandwich. 

Credit: Lydia Matzal (@lydia_matzal) on Unsplash

Credit: Lydia Matzal (@lydia_matzal) on Unsplash

Rabbit, Run is also a great place to keep on your radar, as they not only serve a whole range of festive vegan desserts, cakes, and cupcakes, but have also started serving Olivier as their breakfast special in December. 

No salads, but rather cubocakes, which are cube-shaped vegan cakes, and vegan cookies can be found at the Cookies coffee shop and cafe, a project that launched in lockdown in 2020 and managed to flourish, receiving several awards for their success along the way. Not all their cookies are vegan, so check with the barista before ordering.

You can truly feel included and cared for these days – no vegan will be left without a New Year’s meal! 

Credit: Kelsey Chance (@kchance8) on Unsplash

Credit: Kelsey Chance (@kchance8) on Unsplash

Russian New Year’s party checklist

But what if you’ve received an invitation to a New Year party from one of your Russian friends – and you don’t want to spend your whole evening starving or interrogating everyone about the contents of each meal? Here is a little checklist of things you could do: 

  • Tell your friends in advance that you can only eat postnoye (Lenten – anything you can eat during Orthodox Lent) so that they can make sure there are at least some meatless options for you. For instance, if the hosts are making Olivier and dressed herring, it won’t really take a lot of additional effort for them to make vinegret – it literally has the same ingredients minus everything animal-based;
  • Offer to bring something for the table. For example, many of the abovementioned cafes offer delivery, or you can also get half a kilo of Olivier, dressed herring, or crab sticks salad at a reasonable price at the Polkilo vegan buffet. No need to get all of them, one or two would be enough to please both the hosts and yourself; 
  • Remember that there are always tangerines, vegetables, and these days even hummus might make it to the table. Russian people (and, well, probably most welcoming hosts) will not let you starve on such a special date, so just voice your needs politely – and they will be answered;
  • Get ready for questions at the party – being vegan is still quite an eyebrow-raising topic in Russia, so you are likely to attract some attention. Usually, any questions fade away as soon as people realize that you’re not there to preach or teach them anything and anyone can make their own choice. Also, younger people are less prone to such conversations and are generally more open to new things.
Credit: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden (@ralphkayden) on Unsplash

Credit: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden (@ralphkayden) on Unsplash

Cook it yourself

If you are adventurous enough to try and cook plant-based versions of Russian New Year staples, we commend you and wholeheartedly support this decision. Truly, it’s not as hard as it sounds – all you need to do is boil, cut, mix, and decorate. Here is a vegan recipe for the Olivier salad and here’s one for dressed (eggplant) herring. As for the ingredients, such as tofu or vegan mayonnaise, we also have a list of shops where you can find not only these, but other delicious plant-based foods and even some zero-waste accessories. 

We wish you a plant-based Christmas and a vegan New Year! 

And if you’d love to learn more about Russian New Year and Christmas traditions, check our other stories.