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Zakuski Zakuska is a Russian term used for an assortment of cold or hot appetizer dishes consumed before the proper meal, similar to the Scandinavian buffet table, smörgåsbord.

The word zakuska, meaning a snack, is derived from the verb zakusit', "to take a small bite"  —  kusok means a small piece (of sthg), or a bite. The plural zakuski is used for the various dishes served at the zakuska table  —  zakusochnyi stol.

The modern, sophisticated zakuska table consisting of the finest Russian and European delicacies was developed by the mainly French chefs working in Russia in the 19th century. It evolved from the old Russian tradition of serving snacks like cheese to whet the appetite before the proper meal.

Russian ornamental cutting board Zakuska table was set in the dining room, by its entrance, or in a separate room next to the dining room. A plentiful amount of zakuski was placed on the table together with plates, cutlery, napkins, small shot glasses and bottles of vodka and other strong spirits that were consumed with the snacks as schnaps. Only wine, beer and mineral water was drunk later during the dinner.

Nowadays, an abundant zakuska table may replace the dinner, or be served along with Russian tea. But as with the smörgåsbord, also the number of dishes on the zakuska table have diminished during the years. Although serving an ample quantity of food at zakuska, tea or dinner table alike is very important in the Russian culture even today, you now rarely find the same amount of various dishes served as that listed at the bottom of this page.

Russian zakuski are consumed in a special order, usually starting with the sharp tasting cold fish dishes and ending with the hot meat dishes. Hot dishes are rarely included though, since the zakuska is mainly served before the proper meal. If the zakuska is to replace the meal, it may also include the serving of dessert and/or coffee and tea to end the meal.

Special attention is given to the appearance of zakuska dishes  —  they should be attractively arranged and garnished to arouse the appetite.

Zakuska dishes may be divided in the following main categories:

Cold dishes:
  • Salads and vinegrets
    • Vegetable salads
    • Fish and shellfish salads
    • Meat salads
    • Vinegrets
  • Cold vegetable dishes
  • Cold fish and shellfish dishes
  • Cold meat dishes
  • Cold egg dishes and cheeses

The following dishes may be served in addition:

Hot dishes:
  • Hot vegetable dishes
  • Hot fish and shellfish dishes
  • Hot meat dishes
  • Hot egg dishes
  • Hot sandwiches, pies and pasties


Coffee and tea

Zakuska table setting chart:

1.  Plates
2.  Cutlery
3.  Serviettes
4.  Schnaps glasses
5.  Beverages (vodka, cognac, mineral water, etc)
6.  Bread, rolls and rusks
7.  Butter
8.  Cream cheese
9.  Cheeses
10.  Caviar (black ikra)
11.  Salmon roe (red ikra)
12.  Pickled / marinated fish
13.  Poached / hot-smoked fish
14.  Freshly salted / cold-smoked fish
15.  Sauce for cold fish dishes
16.  Sauce for cold fish dishes
17.  Marinated / pickled vegetables, olives, etc
18.  Liver pâté, meat aspic, etc
19.  Smetana
20.  Russian pickled gherkins
21.  Cold cuts
22.  Sauce for cold meat dishes
23.  Sauce for cold meat dishes
24.  Vegetable salad / vinegret
25.  Mushroom salad, pickled mushrooms, etc
26.  Green salad
27.  Canapés, vols-au-vent, tartlets, etc
28.  Pies and/or pasties (koulibiac, pirozhki, rasstegai, etc)

Traditional dishes served at zakuska table:

COLD ZAKUSKI  —  kholodnye zakuski
include different types of sandwiches, salads made with fresh greens, vegetables, fruit, marinated and pickled vegetables, cooked fish, shellfish or meat, cold vegetable, fish and meat dishes and cheeses. Also plain bread and butter are always served.

Sandwiches  —  buterbrody

Butter for buttering the various sandwiches can be whipped until light and fluffy. To make it even lighter in consistency, 1/3 of whipped cream may be mixed into it. The butter can be dyed yellow, red or green with grated hard-boiled egg yolk, tomato paste and pureed spinach or flavoured with various ingredients, like mustard, horseradish, garlic, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, pureed anchovies, grated cheese, pistachios, truffles, etc.

  • Toast  —  tost
    Bite-size, toasted and buttered thin wheat bread slices topped with caviar, preserved sprats or sardines, osetrovyi balyk (salted, dried sturgeon loin), gravlax, etc.
  • Open-faced sandwiches  —  otkrytye buterbrody
    Buttered slices of wheat and rye bread, topped with some of the following ingredients:
    • cheese
    • hard-boiled egg
    • herring, sprat or anchovy fillets, sardines
    • pressed caviar, fish roe
    • poached fish
    • cold-smoked or freshly salted fish (gravlax)
    • slices of boiled, baked or smoked ham, bacon, cooked veal, roast beef, smoked tongue, etc
    • sliced, cooked chicken breast
    • sliced, cooked game fillet
    • boiled or smoked sausage, liver sausage, liver pâté, etc
    for garnish: lettuce, chives, green onion, dill, parsley, lemon slices, capers, etc.
  • Canapés  —  zakusochnye buterbrody, kanape
    Small slices of wheat and rye bread (5 - 6 cm in size) or puff pastry squares and rounds spread with butter or mayonnaise and topped with some of the following ingredients:
    • cheese: sliced, grated, processed, cream cheese, etc
    • hard-boiled egg slices or wedges
    • caviar, pressed caviar, fish roes
    • marinated or pickled fillets of herring, sprat, anchovy, etc
    • cold-smoked or freshly salted fish (gravlax)
    • chopped crab, shrimps, etc mixed with mayonnaise
    • cucumber, tomato, radish, etc
    for garnish: chives, green onion, dill, parsley, lemon slices, cucumber slices, capers, lingonberries, cranberries, etc.
  • Sandwiches  —  zakrytye buterbrody, sandvichi
    Made with two thin buttered slices of wheat bread topped with various fillings and pressed together. Sandwiches are 5 - 6 cm in size, but appetizer sandwiches are usually cut into matchbox sized pieces. Filling ingredients:
    • cheese
    • hard-boiled egg
    • herring, sprat or anchovy fillets, sardines
    • pressed caviar, salmon roe
    • poached salmon, poached sturgeon, smoked stellate sturgeon, osetrovyi balyk (salted, dried sturgeon loin)
    • slices of boiled or baked ham, cooked veal, roast beef, smoked tongue, etc
    • sliced, cooked chicken breast
    • sliced, cooked game fillet
    • boiled or smoked sausage, liver sausage, liver pâté, etc.
    for garnish: chives, green onion, dill, parsley, lemon slices, capers, etc.
  • In addition vols-au-vent (volovany) and tartlets (tartaletki, korzinochki) filled with vegetable, fish or meat salads and ragouts may be served.

Salads  —  salaty

Salads can be made with fresh, marinated or preserved vegetables, cooked fish, shellfish, meat, fruit and berries. Vinegrets are sharp tasting salads made with cooked and fresh vegetables. Vinegrets should always contain beetroot.

  • Vegetable salads  —  salaty iz ovoshchei
    Raw vegetables used in salads:
    • lettuce
    • cucumber
    • tomato
    • radish
    • celery
    • carrot
    • young white cabbage
    • onion
    • bell peppers
    • parsley
    • green onion, chives
    Cooked, preserved or pickled vegetables used in salads:
    • potato
    • carrot
    • turnip
    • beetroot
    • cauliflower
    • asparagus
    • artichoke
    • pumpkin
    • squash
    • eggplant
    • legumes
    • green peas
    • maize (corn)
    • mushrooms
    • bell peppers
    • sauerkraut
    • pickled gherkins
    Fresh or marinated fruit and berries used in salads:
    • apple
    • pear
    • orange
    • mandarin
    • plum
    • peach
    • banana
    • grapes
    • strawberries
    • cherries
    • nuts and seeds
  • Fish and shellfish salads  —  salaty iz ryby i rakoobraznykh
    • poached fish: sturgeon, perch, pope, pike-perch, salmon, cod, etc
    • salted herring
    • hot-smoked fish
    • crayfish, crab
    • hard-boiled eggs
  • Meat salads  —  salaty iz miasa
    • cooked, fried or baked beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry or game
    • ham
    • roast beef
    • sausages
    • hard-boiled eggs
  • Vinegrets  —  vinegrety
    Vinegrets are mainly made with cooked root vegetables, most importantly beetroot. The ingredients used are cut in small cubes, mixed together and bound with oil, smetana or mayonnaise dressing seasoned with vinegar, mustard, pepper, etc. Also salted herring, fish roe, hard-boiled eggs, cooked fish or meat may be added to a basic vegetable vinegret.
    Cooked or marinated vegetables used in vinegrets:
    • beetroot
    • potato
    • carrot
    • sauerkraut
    • salted or marinated mushrooms
    • marinated cherries or lingonberries
    Fresh vegetables used in vinegrets:
    • tomato
    • cucumber
    • onion
    • green onion

Sauces for salads can be made with smetana, mayonnaise, oil or chopped hard-boiled egg yolk seasoned with lemon juice, vinegar, pickled, chopped cornichons, pureed spinach, tomato paste, herbs, mustard, chopped capers, etc.

Cold vegetable zakuski  —  kholodnye zakuski iz ovoshchei

Cold vegetable zakuski can be made with fresh, cooked, baked, preserved, salted and marinated vegetables and mushrooms. Fresh vegetables are cut to pieces or grated, cooked vegetables chilled and preserved vegetables drained and arranged on serving plates, seasoned and garnished with lemon, vinegar, dill, parsley, etc. The vegetables may also be stuffed with vegetable, fish or meat salads, or served from puff pastry cases, tartlets, etc. The following ingredients may be used:

  • fresh or cooked and chilled vegetables: black radish, radish, celery, tomato, cucumber, artichoke, green beans, maize (corn), etc
  • baked and chilled vegetables: pumpkin, squash, tomato, spinach, onion, etc
  • vegetable caviars and pâtés: mushroom, eggplant, beetroot, beans, squash, etc
  • preserved vegetables: eggplants, squash, pattypan squash, stuffed bell peppers, stuffed cabbage rolls, stuffed eggplants, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed squash, etc
  • marinated vegetables: mushrooms, pumpkin, pickled gherkins, etc
  • vegetable aspic (studen')

Cold fish and shellfish zakuski  —  kholodnye zakuski iz ryby i rakoobraznykh

Cold fish and shellfish zakuski include various fresh, cooked or preserved fish and shellfish products. All preserved products must be taken out of their cans and jars and arranged on serving dishes. These dishes may be garnished with lettuce, chives, green onion, dill, parsley, lemon slices, capers, hard-boiled eggs, apples, tomato, cucumber, olives, etc.

  • Fish  —  ryba
    • freshly salted fish (whitefish, gravlax)
    • salted herring
    • herring, anchovies or sprats in spice brine
    • marinated fish
    • fried fish: ocean perch, mullet, lamprey, etc
    • fried fish marinated in vinegar: sturgeon, pike, pike-perch, cod, smelt, etc
    • hot and cold-smoked fish: whitefish, salmon, sheefish, smelt, mullet, eel, ocean perch, etc
    • poached fish: salmon, trout, sturgeon, mullet, etc
    • preserved fish: sardines, sprats, smelt, mackerel, etc
    • dried fish: mullet, osetrovyi balyk (salted, dried sturgeon loin), etc
    • jellied fish: sterlet, pike-perch, sturgeon, etc
    • fish in mayonnaise aspic
    • fish aspic (studen', kholodets)
    • cooked cod or burbot liver
  • Shellfish  —  rakoobraznye
    • cooked crayfish
    • cooked crab
    • fresh oysters
    • cooked mussels

Cold meat zakuski  —  kholodnye zakuski iz miasa

Cold meat zakuski are sliced and arranged on serving plates. They may include the following ingredients:

  • various cold cuts: sausages, ham, roast beef, tongue, etc
  • fried meat: lamb, veal, pork, rabbit (fillet, chops, etc)
  • whole baked piglet
  • smoked meat (pork, goose, duck, etc)
  • poached meat (chicken, etc)
  • stuffed meat (chicken, turkey, quail, piglet, etc)
  • pâtés and galantines of liver, chicken, hazel grouse and other game
  • uncooked, dried sausage (sudzhuk)
  • meat aspic (studen', kholodets)

Sauces for cold vegetable, fish and meat zakuski can be made with smetana, mayonnaise, oil, tomato sauce or chopped hard-boiled egg yolk seasoned with lemon juice, vinegar, pickled, chopped cornichons, pureed spinach, tomato paste, herbs, mustard, horseradish, chopped capers, etc. Fruit and berry sauce made with blackcurrant jam, mustard, port wine, lemon and orange juice and zest, onion, pepper, etc, can be served with poultry and game.

Cold egg and cheese zakuski  —  kholodnye zakuski iz iaits i syra

  • Cold egg zakuski mainly consist of hard-boiled, chilled eggs that are served halved or cut in wedges and stuffed or garnished with various ingredients listed below:
    • caviar, salmon roe and other fish roes
    • pickled herring, sprats
    • crab, shrimps
    • smoked or freshly salted fish
    • lettuce, tomato, cucumber
    • mayonnaise
  • Various cheeses are served sliced, arranged on serving plate.

HOT ZAKUSKI  —  goriachie zakuski
include hot mushroom and vegetable dishes, hot fish and shellfish, meat and egg dishes, hot sandwiches and pel'meni. All dishes should be served in a way that they can easily be eaten using only a fork. They may also be served in individual ramekins.

Hot vegetable zakuski  —  goriachie zakuski iz ovoshchei

Hot vegetable zakuski may include the following dishes:

  • mushroom julienne
  • vols-au-vent (volovany) filled with mushroom or vegetable stew
  • stuffed tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, etc

Hot fish and shellfish zakuski  —  goriachie zakuski iz ryby i rakoobraznykh

Hot fish and shellfish zakuski may include the following dishes:

  • poached fish in various sauces: sturgeon, sterlet, salmon, pike-perch, pike, eel, burbot, cod, etc
  • fried fish: sturgeon, salmon, pike-perch, whitefish, sheefish, pope, burbot, cod, etc
  • fish baked en papillote: herring, etc
  • vols-au-vent (volovany) filled with fish, crayfish, crab or oyster stuffing
  • cooked shrimps, prawns, crayfish or mussels
  • crabs or oysters in béchamel sauce
  • deep-fried crab croquettes
  • lamprey, preserved sprats or sardines baked in puff pastry
  • fried, deep-fried or broiled oysters

Hot meat zakuski  —  goriachie zakuski iz miasa

Hot meat zakuski can be made with various meat products either served on their own or mixed with various sauces and vegetables. They may include the following ingredients:

  • cooked, baked or fried meat: beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, game (fillet, chops, drumsticks)
  • offal: kidneys, liver, heart, brain, etc
  • boiled, baked or fried sausages, wieners, frankfurters, knackwurst, etc
  • fried sausages with stewed cabbage
  • vols-au-vent (volovany) filled with poultry, brain or liver pâté stuffing
  • fried or poached ground meat hamburgers and meatballs of different shapes and sizes: bitochki, bitki, frikadeli, tefteli, shnitseli, kotlety, zrazy, rulety, etc
  • small fried meatballs stewed in smetana, sharp onion sauce or tomato sauce
  • deep-fried chicken, tongue and veal croquettes
  • vorschmack (forshmak)  —  oven-baked soufflé type of dish made with cooked ground lamb (or beef or veal) and salted herring ground together and mixed with cooked potatoes, sautéed onion, egg yolks, spices and beaten egg whites
  • baked fish or mushroom solianka

Hot egg zakuski  —  goriachie zakuski iz iaits

Egg dishes may include differently cooked eggs served plain or with the addition of various other ingredients, fillings or spices. Typical dishes are listed below:

  • omelettes (omlety)
  • fried eggs (iaichnitsa glazun'ia)
  • scrambled eggs (iaichnaia kashka)
  • eggs baked en cocotte (iaitsa v kokotnitsakh)
  • vols-au-vent (volovany) filled with scrambled eggs

Hot sandwiches, pies and pasties  —  goriachie tartinki, pirogi i pirozhki

  • Sandwiches  —  tartinki
    Slices of fried bread topped with various hot fillings:
    • vegetable, fish or meat ragout
    • fried ham, pork, lamb, sausage, liver pâté, kidneys, brain, etc
    • cooked bone marrow
    • fried eggs
    • tomato, onion and other fresh vegetables
After topping is added, the sandwiches can be heated in oven.
  • Pies and pasties  —  pirogi i pirozhki
    Small pasties or slices of larger pasties served hot. Russian cuisine knows a multitude of different pies and pasties filled with numerous fillings (cabbage, mushrooms, fish, rice, hard-boiled eggs, green onion, meat, etc). Listed here are some of them:
    • koulibiac (large, narrow pie filled with salmon, sturgeon or mushrooms, rice, hard-boiled eggs, etc)
    • pirogi (larger filled pies)
    • pirozhki (smaller filled pies)
    • rasstegai (small open-topped pies)


Pel'meni are Russian-type ravioli filled with various fillings, like chopped mushrooms, ground beef or lamb seasoned with onion and spices. They are briefly cooked in stock or water until tender. They can be served with hot meat bouillon, smetana and vinegar, tomato sauce, grated cheese, etc.

DESSERTS  —  sladkie bliuda

  • Cold desserts  —  kholodnye sladkie bliuda
    Various chilled sweet dishes served for dessert may include:
    • fruit and berry soups (kiseli)
    • stewed fruit (kompoty)
    • fresh berries with whipped cream
    • various fresh fruit
    • fruit salad
    • mousses and puddings
    • charlotte
    • ice cream and parfaits
  • Warm desserts  —  goriachie sladkie bliuda
    Various warm sweet dishes served for dessert may include:
    • sweet pancakes with jam or berries (bliny)
    • quark pancakes with jam and smetana (syrniki)
    • Gur'ev's porridge (wheat semolina pudding with fruit)
    • soufflés
    • fruit fritters

BEVERAGES  —  napitki

Strong spirits like vodka and cognac are served with zakuska. Champagne may be served with black caviar. If the zakuska replaces the proper meal, also wines can be served. If dessert is served, sweet dessert wines or champagne may be served with sweet dishes and liqueurs or cognac with coffee or tea. Non-alcoholic beverages like iced water, mineral water, soft drinks or natural fruit juices should always be served as well.

Tea and coffee  —  chai i kofe

Tea or black coffee may be served to end the meal. In addition, cream or milk and sugar may be served with coffee, and honey, lemon slices, raspberry or apricot jam with tea.

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