How much did Tatar-Mongols influence Russian culture?

A Mongol influence on Russia in the era of the Golden Horde was close to non-existent. A Turkic impact, both from the east and south was profound.

The Mongol rule was Mongol only during the first decades of their dominance over the eastern Russian principalities. The rest of the time it was the period of Turkic rule.

Russian territories enjoyed a great degree of autonomy because they were not very interesting for the Empire of Jochi economically. A combined annual tax used to be between 1–2 ton of silver, or grain enough to feed a force a 10–20 thousand men for a year. Much more important for “Mongols” were Russian troops for military expeditions to Europe and against their own Turkic neighbors.

Russian principalities, on their part, had a powerful ally in their wars against Germans, Lithuanians, and Poles. The centralized tax collection, introduced by Mongols, meant an end to internecine wars between Russians themselves. Russian merchants had permission to trade along the Volga river and its tributaries.

From the end of the 14th century, Muscovy took increasing control of the northern part of the Baltic-Caspian trade route and managed to turn the tables on their former masters in the Kazan. They remained, however, in the vassal relationship to the Crimean Khanate, and managed to achieve full independence first in 1700, thanks to Czar Peter the Great (Treaty of Constantinople). The total duration of the “Tatar yoke”, as Karl Marx called it, lasted, therefore, more than 450 years.

The Turkic influence was profound. It included:

  • The highly centralized absolutist government, pinned around the tributary taxation. Poll tax in Russia is a Mongol innovation. Census became neglected toward the end of their rule: rulers in Moscow didn’t lacked the government bureaucracy that could take care of that.
  • Turkic weapon systems and battleground tactics
  • The wide use of mercenaries as expeditionary troops and tax collectors (Cossacks)
  • Food. The plethora of Russian recipes for meat wrapped in dough, from pelmeni to pirogi comes from our Turkic neighbors (meat was an exclusive feast in the old Russia).
  • Interiors and clothes. The trademark padded jacket of Russian troops is a descendant from the fabric armor of Turkic warriors. Turks also brought to us the elaborate and colorful floral designs from Iran. Tapochki (light heelless footwear) as something you need inside your home and shapka (warm headgear) you almost always need outside, including sauna.
  • Female ring dance.
  • A great many Russian nouns concerning trade, clothes, tools, household items, and military came from Turkic languages.
  • Bows and sabers as a weapon of choice for military expeditions
  • Light cavalry armed with sabers and spikes as mounted shock units for forward- and rearguard military action
  • The battleground tactics of feigned retreat, pincer movements and concealed ambush.

 Russians aristocrats pre-imperial Russia
Picture: Polish impression of Russians aristocrats. Old Russian clothes looked like Turkic portraits, because they were inspired by what guests from Muscovy saw in Crimea and Constantinople. High fur hats for noblemen and a high headgear underneath a large shawl for noblewomen were a Turkic import. Pointy boots with upward-turned noses were added from the Mongol wardrobe, as were the knee-long sleeves—these marked that their wearer always delegated manual work to their lesser associates.

My favorite Russian food

Rye bread is the best

Brown bread is my all-time favorite. Great with caviar, French cheese, Norwegian salmon, Jewish Borscht, Russian pickled cabbage with virgin sunflower oil, anything.

Once in Phoenix AZ, I found a local variation of the Russian Borodinsky bread. I used to eat it bare with cheap Californian wine for dessert. It was the best dessert—hey, strike that, it was the only edible dessert—I’ve ever tasted in America.

Don’t tell anyone.

Vegan in the USSR

Vegans in the USSR faced scarcity of food, general skepticism and cold climate, but was inspired by the promise of hidden wisdom and healing

During the 1970s, and especially 1980s, being a professed vegetarian or vegan in the USSR would acquire you a lot of social points. Not always positive, but still. “Hey folks, you won’t believe it but I know a strict vegan. Kinda weirdo, but listen to what he told me the other day…”.

Hidden wisdom

We Russians have long been suckers for arcane wisdom. Vegans were viewed exactly like that: freaks who (possibly) have discovered a secret well of wisdom. It was kinda scary to follow their path. Yet a whole lot of people eagerly listened to apocryphal tales of longevity and miraculous healings, thanks to the right selection of foods and drinks.

People collected the rumors, read Samizdat and discussed this with their friends and colleagues. Many cherished the thought that maybe sometime next year they would to give it a try.


The problem was purely practical: if you lived in provinces, and cut out meat and eggs, your diet would be largely reduced to canned food and carbs: bread, cheap pasta and sugar. Growing fruits and vegetables, and particularly storing them for more than a few weeks, never was the strength of the Socialist agriculture.

Cabbage, beetroot, tainted potatoes and some other basic vegetables, along with apples and other native fruits during the season were mostly available. But the quality was patchy, at best, as was the taste. With an extremely limited line of things to spice it up—fresh greenery, spices, sauces and suchlike—in the length, even the most vegan-curious would get second thoughts.

Skeptical environment

Add to that social pressures. Almost all in the USSR ate lunch in state-owned cafeterias at their workplace. Zero veg awareness there, for starters. And when you wrap up your small weird vegan stuff when everyone are busy sending down the hatch their borshch and ground meat with pasta. “Hey buddy, are you in a cult or something?”

Too cold and dark

The crown argument against vegetarianism in the Soviet was climate. You don’t survive on fibers in the midst of our wind-blown, snow-covered plains. Animal fats and proteins are king. This attitude covered another, more profound truth—we Soviets were people who knew hunger only too well. You really need to experience hunger only a couple of times, to be painfully aware for the rest of your life of one simple Soviet wisdom: whatever is your situation now, your next meal is never guaranteed. Don’t be stupid. Grab this meat now, and eat it.

Soviet vegetables fruit shop Moscow

Photo: Inside a Soviet era “Vegetables” shop in Moscow.

How was Slavic food affected by Soviet rule?

Russian recipes were brutally simplified under the Soviet rule.

The Soviet rule was the time of rapid modernization and urbanization of Russia. It also greatly impoverished society for a few decades. The old aristocracy was exterminated. Jews supplanted Germans as the educated urban minority and main conduit of European influence in the USSR.

  • Fine dining either vanished, or was practiced only among few members of the ruling elite.
  • Many old Russian recipes were brutally simplified, to allow for very limited access to most of food items. For example, in the Salad Olivier (better known as Russian salad), the gravy based on veal broth became mayo, crayfish became carrots, and partridge became chicken.
  • Jewish recipes of ground meat and low-grade freshwater fish in soups and main courses became a ubiquitous item on the cafeteria menus and in the army.
  • Potato became the food of choice, in addition to bread.
  • Social mobility brought us “shashlik” (Caucasian barbecue) and “plov”(Central-Asian risotto) as the typically Soviet party food. For real menfolk in Russia, to know how to prepare these ones “the right way” is a requirement.
  • Food from Georgia—a mix of Turkic and Mediterranean traditions, with a lot of spices, fresh vegetables, and herbs—became the popular idea of haut cuisine.

About our post-Soviet food preferences: Which kind of food do Russian like?

Picture: Dressed herring, the staple of our Christmas season, one of the recipes made famous by Russians, but originally Jewish.