By tradition, having invited guests to celebrate the occasion, we organize a dinner-party.
A well-dressed table, flavored of aromas from delicious dishes, makes people closer,
relieves a stress and disposes to a friendly warmhearted conversation. We also
gather at table in hard times - to share the sorrow of friends or relatives.
Where is this tradition from?
It takes the origin from pagan rites, more exactly, from funeral feasts.
One of the first funeral feasts was organized by Olga, Grand Duchess, which she
archly used to revenge for her husband. Later Russian Grand Dukes gave feasts
in honor of military victories, consecration of a new church, religious events
After the adoption of Christianity feasts were given in a democratic way: people
of all classes gathered to render homage to the host. Grand Dukes treated all
guests, ate and drank together with peasants and poor people. The feasts in the
Rus, by abundance and wealth, surpassed famous Roman orgies.
All boyar feasts began with zharkoye - fried swans. If they were not on the table
for some reasons, it was considered as insufficient respect to guests.
In the 17th century the appetizers - studen (meat in aspic), caviar, cold meat
cuts, pickles, and sausages- opened the festival. The dishes from fish have been
always valued, especially the fish from the river Volga, it was much more expensive
than wild game. They supposed, that the more and the bigger fish is on the table,
the higher respect is held to guests. Russian cooks attained such perfection that
they could turn fish to roosters, geese, ducks, not only putting into shape of
poultry, but also giving its piquancy. In Russian cuisine such dishes were called
"fake hare", "fake goose", "fake rooster".
In rich houses 50-100 dishes were served during the dinner. Servants put one dish
at a time on the table, following the order of presentation. The meal was placed
on silver and golden plates and dishes.
What was the "scenery" of the feast?
All quests were invited in advance. Depending on the importance of the guest,
the host visited him personally or sent servants. They chose the most beautiful
and spacious room for the repast. The floor was covered with carpets, the table
- with elegant table-clothes, the benches - with expensive coverings. The table
had a traditional place under the icons, hanging in the corner. The place of the
host was the most honorable - he satin this corner. Women usually sat at a separate
All coming guests gathered in the room and waited for the hostess. Dressed in
the most beautiful clothes, she appeared and greeted the comers with a low bow
and they kowtowed to her.
Then came the time for kissing procedure: the host, bowing to guests, asked then
to honor his wife with a kiss. At first he kissed the hostess and then all the
guests did it taking turns. They came to the hostess, holding hands behind, kissed
her, then stepped back and made a kowtow again - the hostess answered with a bow.
On completion of kissing procedure, the hostess offered a glass of wine to every
guest, having tasted it previously. The guest took it, drank wine and gave the
glass to the hostess with a bow. After that the hostess took a place at a women's
table. That was the sign to take places at the main table.
The host cut the bread and gave a slice with salt to every guest, showing the
hospitality and high respect to all visitors by that.
The number of dishes depended on the income of the house. But at any case pies,
ukha (fish soup), pickles were served in abundance. To refuse meal or beverages
meant to offend the host. Quick intoxication was indecent, but the decencies demanded
to be slightly drunk at the end of the repast or at least to pretend to be drunk.
By the way, Russian people lead an abstinent life. In the 16th century it was
forbidden to drink beer and honey beverages, except four days a year. Many things
have changed since that time. Such repasts with ancient beautiful traditions became
a thing of the past, but people still love to gather at a holiday table with close
friends and share the pleasure of lively talk and delicious meal.
By Olga Timokhina