The Art of Soviet Cooking

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anya von Bremzen, a James Beard Award-winning writer, describes life in the USSR. Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where 18 families shared one kitchen. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is about feasts, famines, and three generations of her family, and how, in the USSR, every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.


Anya von Bremzen

Comments [9]

Nana from NY

The author of the previous message is writing of Ukranian hunger and persecutions.
The question is who were those HENCHMEN? The policy of extermination of Ukranian population was carried on under supervision of one of the highest CP official –Kaganovich and executed by the komissars of the CP. The question is who were the Komissars?
They were those who exterminated cream de la cream of the Russian society in the 20s at the time of the civil war. They were those who assassinated Progressively thinking Governors in pre revolutionary Russia.
Such people also like to exterminate good memories of our past coming to US with bags of lies such as an apartment inhabited by 18 families in Moscow where grandiose construction plan was launched in the 60s with the aim to give each family their own apartment.And what a joy it was after all post war shortages!.

Oct. 05 2013 10:00 PM
Vitaly Baron from New Jersey

I do not want go into details of how bad it looks. Both samples of the recipes and what has been said in the interview, enough to see most of the comments stating little or no credibility of an author of the book. What really bothers me is a credibility of the station that I faithfully listen for many years, the station that, I thought, is not like any other,especially now, in the forefront of what balanced and credible source of information should be.
By the way WNYC the word "котлета" came from the french côtelette, in English translation is a chop. Côtelette came to Russia from the Europe, long before famous Louis Lassen 'invented' hamburger in 1900 that is before existence of the USSR.

Sep. 22 2013 11:15 PM
nana from NY

Poor Anya, born in 1963 was eatting rotten potatoes and indulging in russian cotlets does not know that that dish existed in Alexander Pushkin time, the fact that is known to every high scool graduate of her generation. Besides the recipe is not true to fact for she forgot to edd eggs nas a binding matter.Canola oil did notr exist in the former USSR ands everybody used delicious sunflower oil that was ecologicaly clean like all the other ingrediants of Soviet food chain.Slices oif toasts were never soaked in water but in whole milk. Anya s family was probably so poor ($1 a day)that could not afford milk (the price was 16 kopeks per half a gallon). Besides her grandfather was emalming Lenin s mummy and this was an honorable and the most highly payed job and her father must've payed considerable alimony as a communist party functionary.Don' t thing hi was stingy because he was under control of his Party ELDERS. So poor Ania wish you a Good Luck and a lot of money selling the book of Russian Cuisine so that you can afford and enjoy delicious HUMBURGERS and HOT DOGS every day

Sep. 20 2013 07:58 PM
Elena from New York

Ms. Von Bremsen has sparked many memories of growing up in the soviet union. I remember my sister runing into the house screaming that the local "Dieta" store had milk and my mother ushering us kids (5, 8, and my sister, 12) into the freezing cold, running down the street with milk jugs in our hands just so that we can get on line, which was already long enough to turn the corner of the block. I remember hoping that they don't run out of milk by the time it was our turn, which happened more often than not. The half rotten potatoes that were considered a luxury. The house arrests that my family endured because we were dissidents. The KGB agents that followed us around thinking that we, the kids, were running anti soviet errands for our jailed parents. It was a different world. God bless the USA.

Sep. 20 2013 01:33 PM

I wrote earlier that there was a lot of b/s in this segment, and the comment did not pass NPR censorship. Let me elaborate on some of it.

Little Ann grew up in Moscow. There were no food shortages in Moscow. Period. As the matter of fact people would travel to the capitol to stock up.

In 1963 only white bread was rationed and was available to sick, pregnant or feeding women, and such. This explains why guest's mother had to go to get it.

Kotlets were not invented during the 30's. There are examples in Russian classical literature of people eating them.

I lived on rubble a day. It was enough.

Little Ann did not have to pay to give up soviet citizenship. Only adults had to do that.

Having a kitchen was not necessary for becoming a dissident.

And so on...

Sep. 20 2013 01:32 PM
violet from brooklyn

Ms.Von Bremsen articulates so nicely the familiar stories my mother told me of the reality of growing up in post-war Poland. An orange or lemon was a cherished gift sent by an American relative. There was an appreciation of food that was not lost on me growing up. Eating healthfully was a given(although my mother's craving for a tall cold glass of milk and an Entenmann's apple danish is memorable). An appreciation of goodness of food is a tradition that is carried on in my home- Brooklyn soil grows some tasty tomatoes..
Out of a difficult life where sparsity of variety of food was a daily reality,my mother gave me true appreciation of the food we have on the table.

Sep. 20 2013 01:11 PM
Yelena Rybalova from Stamford, CT

while perspective is always good, this is hardly an exercise in "who's had it worse". the book in question captures the domestic conditions in Soviet Russia in the latter part of the 20th century and how people made do. a subject in its own right that hardly requires a comparison. unless you are really into this sort of thing. :)

Sep. 20 2013 01:09 PM
Anisa Mycak from Forest Hills, NY

Using food as a weapon in Ukraine

Bread shortages and food rationing which Ms. Von Bremzen writes about are pretty bad, but I’m wondering if the author has included in her book the grim story of some 4 or 5 million peasants in Ukraine, who in the years 1932-1933 had zero ingredients in their kitchen, in a country that was always considered ‘the breadbasket of Europe.’

They were deliberately starved by Stalin and his henchmen in what has become known as the Holodomor, or ‘killing by hunger,’ a plan devised by Moscow to punish the Ukrainian peasants for having resisted the collectivization of their farmland and to nip in the bud any nationalism on the part of Ukrainian citizens of all social classes that could threaten the consolidation of the Soviet Empire. Ironically there was a good harvest that year – this was not about an actual food shortage – (in fact Stalin was selling wheat to the West, including the U.S.). This was about using food as a weapon.

Suvivors and observers reported that the culinary offerings in Ukrainian villages during the Holodomor included bread baked from ground bark, flour made of ground bones or sometimes of leather or old skins and fur. Other items on the dying villagers’ diets included: mice, rabbits, snakes, sparrows, earthworms, dogs, cats, meat from dead horse carcasses, and sometimes even the bodies of dead family members or neighbors.

The heart-wrenching details of this village starvation diet, and the politics that led to this horror, can be found in a sourcebook published in 2012 called The Holodomor Reader. It will put the childhood scarcities endured by Ms. Von Bremzen and her mother in Moscow in the 1970s into historical perspective and after reading it, she will feel lucky and well-fed by comparison. Did people living in Moscow in the 1970’s know this history? Because there was a ban on discussing this subject in the Soviet Union for half a century of more.

A short history of this subject can be found at

Sep. 20 2013 12:49 PM

one word: mayonaise

Sep. 20 2013 12:47 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.