Borsch - classic Russian soup

If there’s one soup dish that’s always associated with Russia, it’s Borscht. Beetroot is the heart of this dish, which has given its name to hundreds if not thousands of Russian restaurants, and is probably the single most iconic Russian food item other than caviar.

What is it?

Borsch refers to beetroot soup, a staple of Russian cuisine but also served across the CIS region, and often referred to by eastern Europeans as “Ukrainian borsch”. The only derivation I could find for the Russian word Borscht was “cow parsnip” ! There are many diffrent spelling variants including borsch, borsh, borsht, borscht, borshch and bortsch.


Vegetables: Carrot, celery, onion, beetroot, potato, cabbage, tomatoes.  

Serve with: Sour cream and dill on top.


Recipe Notes

As with Ukha, another favourite dish, there are dozens of different  Borsch recipes. Typically, the base is made from carrots, celery and onion fried lightly in oil and butter. Then thinly sliced beetroot, chopped potatoes and garlic are added and when they’ve softened, add a stock — usually beef, but vegetable stock is fine if you want a vegetarian version. After simmering for a while, add cabbage and chopped tomatoes and boil for another half an hour. Serve with sour cream and dill. The whole dish should take less than an hour to make and you can also add meat if you want a more savoury flavour — sausage works well.


Ukha was said to be a favourite dish of Ivan the Terrible. It was often served on fast days celebrated in The Russian Orthdox church. The dish was originally served in the 16th and 17th centuries as a simple flavoured broth, but more elaborate versions were developed to serve more aristocratic tastes.

I tried Borsch for the first time at a restaurant in Covent Garden called Bosch and Cheers. When I first travelled to Moscow, there was abolsutely nothing on the menu that  I could read but Borsch was recognisable by its deep red colour, and I knew immediately this was the safe option. I have loved it ever since, and I’ll often have a bowl of Borsch at the airport when I leave.

Moscow is a much better tourist destination than many expect. It doesn’t have the charm of St Petersburg, but it’s a vibrant city with the outstanding St Basil’s cathedral, the Kremlin and Red Square are all pretty accessible, and the hotels and restaurants are now tolerable, up several notches from the dreadful standard of Soviet times. For more details about the city please click to see my travel website