Culinary Linguistics: Origins and Etymology of Food in Russian Culture

Картофель-potato (has no plural form)

Картошка– potato (diminuitive/fond form)


The potato is an important staple of the Russian diet.  Like in so many other places around the world it has saved many Russians from hunger.  Russians name it the ‘second bread’.  And don’t get me going on the contributions the distilled form of the potato have given to Russian existence.                                              


                                                          Some varieties of Ukraianian potatoes

But even the potato, the staple of the Russian diet in all its forms, is not native to Russia. 


Looking at the word for it in Russian, Картофель, kartofel’, tells us which people might have first introduced the vegetable to the Russians. 


The potato was a curious little thing and the people of the Western world didn’t quite know what to think of it.  This is evident in the varying names for the potato.  We have Spanish papa, patata, French pomme de terre, German kartoffel—none of which seem to be at all related. 

 Crunchy Potato with the flavor

of green onion’ Also know as



The word for potato varies throughout the Slavic languages, understandably, considering that the Slavs had varying partners in trade. 


Romanian cartof, Ukrainian картопля (kartóplja), Bulgarian картоф (kartof) are all obviously connected as well to the  German and Danish kartoffel.  But even this word comes from the Italian word tartufuli , meaning ‘truffle-like thingy’. 


 One of my favorite Russian dishes

Картофельные зразы с грибами

Like potato pancakes filled with mushrooms.

Potatoes are kind of weird looking things, and so you can imagine how some of these names came to be.  How would you describe a potato to someone who had never had one before?  Its flesh is kind of like an apple or a pear, and you find it in the ground.  

My other favorite ‘potato’ in Russian

cuisine are these, пирожные картошки

‘cake potatoes’.  They’re not made from

potatoes at all, but rather crushed bisquits

chocolate, butter and cognac.  Good

substitute for brownies while you’re in



The Polish name ziemniaki as well as the Slovak  zemiak, which both come from the Slavic root ZEM meaning ‘earth’.  (Russian Земля, ‘earth/land’)Like the French pomme de terre ‘apple of the earth’, the Poles named it by where is was found. 


So maybe the Poles originally got their potatoes from the French.  The potato was first introduced in Russia by Peter the Great who had traveled throughout the West, spending much of his time in Italy.  This would explain why the word he brought home was kartofel’, descended

 from the Italian.  

And then there’s the beautiful Belorussian potato:  бульба bul’ba ‘bulb’. 

Not as poetic, but very practical.  

 ‘Kroshka Kartoshka’ or ‘Crumb Potato’ is a popular  fast food  chain in Russia.  You can toppings for your potato or you can have the potato in native Russian dishes.

4 thoughts on “Culinary Linguistics: Origins and Etymology of Food in Russian Culture

  1. Searching for :russian pirusky.
    Might not be the right spelling.Please correct me.
    Thank you.

    Greetings from:Ewald.
    Melton Vic. Australia

  2. You’re looking for Pirozhki. (Пирожки) These are kind of like British pasties. The Pierogi are more Polish and are like dumplings that you boil. But if you’re looking for a pastry/roll type thing that has meat or potatoes or cabbage. My favorite is potatoes with mushrooms. Here’s a link:

  3. of course when you dont have time to cook, fastfoods would always be the best option “‘~

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close