Nourish Your Language: Foodie Words Refashioned

Nourish Your Language: Foodie Words Refashioned
13 October 2016

Russian language is rich with proverbs, idioms, slang and aphorisms, and Russians don’t shy away from employing them! Being a lover of food, and a lover of language, I thought I would put together a handful of my favourite sayings and alternative definitions, all related to the most common Russian foods, so you can nourish your language and get foodie fluent.


7770-fx-6-0-12-6-0-0Блин, literally meaning “pancake”, is my favourite and most often used Russian slang word, food related or not. It is now used informally to mean “damn!” but many people that exclaim “pancake” in the street, especially those for whom Russian is a second language, don’t realise that they are using a euphemism for a much stronger word, and one you’re unlikely to hear from Russian teachers or your host family. Kind of like how your mum is more likely to utter the word “fudge” than something that is not too dissimilar in sound… I always thought exclaiming “Pancake!” sounded awfully funny, but then again I suppose Russians in England would find “Fudge!” and “Sugar!” just as amusing.


Каша, or porridge, is one of Russia’s most simple and popular foods. It is easy to prepare, cheap, filling and traditional. It is also very varied. Unlike the typical oat-based porridge Brits such as me are used to (in Russian: овсянка), porridge for Russians can be made from a whole range of grains: buckwheat (гречневая каша), rice (рисовая каша), semolina (манная каша), maize (кукурузная каша) and others besides. It is therefore unsurprising that the dish has made its way into a variety of sayings and 969px-%d0%b3%d1%80%d0%b5%d1%87%d0%bd%d0%b5%d0%b2%d0%b0%d1%8f_%d0%ba%d0%b0%d1%88%d0%b0proverbs.

“Каша в голове” (lit. porridge in one’s head) is used to talk about someone (or indeed about oneself) that is prone to getting everything muddled up. It indicates that this person has a bit of a chaotic mind or that they are confused. Whether this is due to fatigue, a permanent quality or the result of gorging themselves on porridge is for you to decide.

“Кашу маслом не испортишь” is used to mean that there is no such thing as too much kindness or too much good. Literally meaning, “You won’t ruin porridge with butter”, this idiom is used when someone expresses doubt about excessive goodwill. After all, a good dollop of rich butter in a bowl of hot porridge is hardly going to spoil the meal, and indeed, too much generosity or warmth is not nearly as bad as having none at all.

“Щи да каша – пища наша” means to eat simply. Щи is a traditional and uncomplicated cabbage soup that, along with porridge, is a staple to Russian cuisine. There is nothing wrong with eating simple, hearty, healthy food, and if you moan to your babushka that the Michelin star is amiss at dinner tonight, she may well utter these words as she tosses you your tea.


Bread is another staple in many different cuisines and Russian food does not underestimate the value of bread. Bread is simple and filling, and has often even been used as a political symbol: a people that have bread are a people that do not know hunger. But a lack of means to bake bread has led to many a crisis, an uprising and even to war.

rushnyk“Хлеб всему голова”. It is perhaps fitting then that this saying is so common in Russia. Here, голова is used to mean глава, as bread is the main component of many diets and has become a symbol of nourishment and the antidote to starvation more or less since its invention in antiquity. Bread not only ensured that humans would have food to eat, but also changed the entire way humans lived, allowing societies to be formed around farming and agriculture, therefore leading to settlements as opposed to nomadic lifestyles. It is easy to see that bread is the head – in the sense that it is in many ways the commander of man. Perhaps a similar idiom in English brought the word “loaf” to be British slang for “head” but don’t quote me on that.

“Хлеб-соль” encapsulates the ideas of hospitality and a warm reception. To welcome someone with “bread and salt” (с хлебом-солью) is to greet with kindness and generosity.


And my final word for today… хрен means “horseradish” and has more than one meaning so be aware… best to stick to “хрен его знает” which means “who the heck knows” or, as we are more wont to say in English, “God knows”. I have little explanation for why the Russian word for horseradish has come to be used in this sort of expression, but its other slang meaning is a little bit naughty and perhaps sounds a bit silly so you’ll have to look that up yourself…


Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow

Posted by Ellie

Hi there! I am a Modern Languages graduate from the UK, spending some time in Moscow to get some work experience, practice my Russian and enjoy the city! I hope you enjoy the blog.

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