Volgograd as a keeper of traditions
Being a city with a history that dates many centuries back, Volgograd carefully preserves and develops many traditions of both secular and religious life.
The most massive holiday
Every year, on the first or second Sunday of September, Volgograd people all together celebrate the Day of the City. This holiday is the most massive one in terms of participants and the widest one in terms of events. The holiday unites hundreds of thousands of people and features carnivals, fairs, parades of national cultures, gala-concerts and firework displays not only in the city-center but in all eight districts. Traditionally, on the Day of the City, Volgograd invites hundreds of guests, including delegations from its twin and partner-cities. The most spectacular events on the Central Embankment of the city gather up to 90 thousand spectators at a time.
Saying farewell to winter
Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) is one of the favorite folk holidays in Volgograd; the tradition of saying farewell to winter has been going on for many hundreds of years. Municipality actively supports this practice, annually organizing in all districts of the city festive fairs and public parties with free pancakes. The city garden traditionally becomes the main platform of the festival. On this day, Volgograd citizens and the best folk ensembles of the city demonstrate how well they remember the habits of their ancestors.
Volgograd is famous for its festivals in various spheres – from industry to culture. One of them is the All-Russian Tsaritsyn Alexander Nevski Orthodox Festival. For fifteen years already, since the very date of the Festival’s foundation, it has been uniting writers, artists, musicians, composers, journalists and cultural figures not only from Volgograd but from Russia and abroad.
Christmas Eve Fair
Quite recently Volgograd created one more bright tradition which has gained immediate popularity among the local citizens and tourists. Since 2010, Volgograd has annually hosted a Russian-German Christmas Fair in the end of November. This is a unique project for Russia. Within the framework of the Fair, both the Russian and the German sides organize festive events. The Fair is held under the aegis of the Government of Volgograd Region and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Russia, with direct participation of Russian and German entrepreneurs. The Fair has not only cultural but also social value: children from orphanages, boarding schools and other social institutions are invited to take part in it. The program of the Fair includes performances by ethnical groups and theatre groups, as well as stage adaptations of Bible scenes. At the same time, there are master-classes, sales of thematic hand-made, pies, gingerbreads, pastry, crafts, masks and dresses for fancy-dress parties etc.
For centuries, Volgograd identity has been formed by outsiders and newcomers: so was it when the first fortress was founded in the Volga steppes, when the free Don became a refuge from the serfdom law, when the first railroad was built in our region, when the process of industrialization started, when the ruined city was being restored after the war. Plus, you could always feel the closeness to the Southern border. And although statistically Volgograd region is mostly populated by Russians, local cuisine implies that the city easily assimilates the traditions of numerous neighboring nations.
Ethnographers consider cuisine the brightest manifestation of national identity, as well as the primary source of conflict. A Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya describes such an incident in one of her books, where the main reason for mistrust among the characters is their usage of different… cooking oils. Another her venture is a children’s-book series called “The Other, the Others, for Others” or, more literally, “A Different One, the Different Ones, of Those Who Are Different” (Drugoy, Drugiye, O drugikh) on the subject of tolerance, with one of such books featuring national cuisine. As for the oil types, the authors have hit the point, as there are lots of them, but oil conflicts are not for us.
Sunflower oil is popular here, as well as all over the country (although hardly anyone remembers that it originated in the Ukrainian cuisine.) If you are looking for Volgograd peculiarities, though, it is mustard oil that you should consider as one of the best souvenirs. We owe it to the German colonists from Sarepta who pioneered in cultivating mustard and pressing oil.
Tradition of Sarepta – previously a colony, now a museum-reserve – is our phenomenon. After the Battle of Stalingrad there were only about 6 thousand people still staying in the city; now the population of Volgograd amounts to a million, but Sarepta traditions have miraculously survived and are still bringing joy to our tables. Tomatoes with mustard oil are the simplest salad possible with no need for additional dressings or decorations. It is the Germans again whom we should thank for wonderful buns and muffins. Regular, loafs of bread made in our city is nothing much; they do it better in Saratov, but sweet pastry, buns, confectionary – this is something we can be proud of. After the practice of Russian-German pre-Christmas fairs started in our city, we mastered the stollen pie – a traditional Christmas treat. Only we never wait for the holiday to come, we bake it all year round.
There is another kitchen phenomenon: the diversity of origin characteristic for our menu. To tell the truth, Russian cuisine as it is does not quite dominate the Volgograd menu. There is only stchi and cereal to it, the highly seasonal kvas (fermented bread drink) and okroshka (cold summer soup with sour milk or kvas again), and bliny (thin pliable pancakes) baked in tremendous amounts during the Shrovetide. Volgograd tables host Slavic, Caucasian, European and Asian dishes alike. Guests are usually quite surprised upon seeing a Turkish hookah in a Japanese restaurant, whereas the locals don’t mind even when shashlik (grilled marinated meat first cooked by Eurasian nomads) is served with wasabi because they really go well together. Such crazy fusion is a very “Volgograd” feature.
Caucasian cuisine has firmly established itself in our menu. An appreciation of herbs, elastic sulguni cheese with its salty flavor, hot khachapuri bread with cheese filling, sausage-shaped churchkhela candies coated in thickened grape juice and delicious gozinaki made up of caramelized nuts – these is what we have taken after Georgians. The Armenian diaspora has given us the taste for soft and thin lavash flatbread and dolma. Only in Armenia itself, “dolma” means all types of chopped meat: whether it is wrapped up in grape or cabbage leaves, stuffed inside zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes, etc. For us dolma is only what’s wrapped in grape leaves, as what’s wrapped in cabbage leaves is rather golubtsy, and all the rest goes under the name of “stuffed vegetables”. A researcher would have a hard time finding out who taught us to make shashlik, but the origin of our local specialty – shashlik made of sturgeon meat – is well-known: Azerbaijan. It’s them whom we shall thank for the pakhlava (sweet multi-layered pastry with ground nuts and saffron), which is very popular with Volgograd ladies. A favourit summer fast-food here is boiled corn. And no one remembers already that it is actually a Moldavian dish – popuşoi.
Italian cuisine is enjoyed all over Russia, but we hold a special love for it: the Italians building the Volzhsky Pipe Factory have left us not only numerous curly toddlers all over the city but also a passion for pizza – and a skill for cooking it. As for the traditions of German beer-brewing, they are carefully preserved by the local entrepreneurs.
Also, we have a signature dish here – kaymak. What is it? The Tatars and the Bashkirs have reserved this name for simple sour-cream. However, what we call so is closer to a sweet treat from Middle Asia: milk foam with cream. Volgograd feature is kaymak made from baked milk. As a result, Volgograd cuisine takes all the best from its neighbouring countries and nations. I think this is characteristic for Russian cuisine in general. And this is its major advantage.
Anna STEPNOVA – specially for the “Welcome to Volgograd” website
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