The Daily Meal's Drink Editor Jess Novak learns how to drink like a Russian to celebrate the Olympics.
If you’re going to pull off drinking like a real Russian, you’ll need to remember a few things. First, drink only vodka and only drink it straight. There is no shaking, stirring or sipping in true Russian vodka drinking. You are about to explore a national treasure, after all, and the integrity of the ritual must be preserved. I suggest you stick to a brand like Russian Standard, which is popular both in the Old Country and here in the New World. In the U.S., drinking shots is more mating-ritual-meets-frat-party, but in Russia it is as wrapped up in family and tradition as Christmas. Every major life event is celebrated with a raised glass. Wedding? Vodka shots. New job? Vodka shots. New fur? New baby? Funeral? Vodka shots for all, even the dearly departed.
You might ask yourself how a nation that celebrates everything short of waking up with hard liquor manages to function at all, let alone contribute War and Peace to the literary canon and thwart Napoleon’s advances. You will find your answer on the Russian table: zakuski, or appetizers, are not just a first course. The herring and dill potatoes, brown bread, pickles and Olivier salad you’ll find at almost all gatherings are meant to be eaten directly after drinking each shot and then intermittently in between. Snacking like this will keep you more together than you have any right to be by the end of the night. The delicious spread you see in the video came from the best Russian restaurant in New York, Mari Vanna.
Finally, a toast must precede every drink. There is always something to drink to, whether it’s an affirmation of health for all present parties (budem zdorovy!) or a celebration of women, mothers and the Motherland (Za zhensheen! Za materei! Za rodinu!). Toasts can start with a dirty joke and end as a tribute to world peace; they can be tongue-in-cheek, full of historical facts and even rhyme. But most importantly, the way to make a truly Russian toast is to be sentimental, and with the right tone and choice of words, almost anything can be a tear-jerker. Do you doubt me? Watch this:
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Why, merely to get to the other side. So friends, let us raise our glasses so that on the road of life, we too can be like that humble chicken and make it safely across to the other side.
See? Only a Russian can turn a tired joke into a genuine, heartfelt toast.