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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  3,748 ratings  ·  666 reviews
A celebrated food writer captures the flavors of the Soviet experience in a sweeping, tragicomic, multi-generational memoir that brilliantly illuminates the history and culture of a vanished empire.

Proust had his madeleine; Narnia's Edmund had his Turkish delight. Anya von Bremzen has vobla-rock-hard, salt-cured dried Caspian roach fish. Lovers of vobla risk breaking a too
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Crown (first published 2013)
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Anna Yes, it is named differently. Here is the title in Russian: Тайны советской кухни. Книга о еде и надежде.

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Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is not a cookbook, though it does have a couple recipes. Think "Julie and Julia" with Stalin and Brezhnev in place of Julia Child. Sort of. What Anya von Bremzen has written here is an insider's look at daily life in the Soviet Union as expressed in food.

I grew up believing that life in the Soviet Union must have been terrible, and this book mostly confirms that it was. von Bremzen traces how, as the Soviet Union left its imperial past and transformed itself into a (mythical) socialist work
First 5 star read of the year!

It’s no secret that I love food. It’s also obvious from a quick browse of my shelves that I am endlessly curious about Russia and it’s “you can’t make this shit up” history – so a food memoir about the Soviet Union? How was I supposed to resist this?

The only experience of Russian food I have is from a few Christmases spent with an ex-boyfriend’s family: his parents were Russian expats, and to be fair, the amount of vodka his father gave us has made the memories rath
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this back in 2013, and my review at the time still holds true. I reread it for a book club and I'm looking forward to our discussion, and might add more afterwards.

What I found really striking this time through is the concept of nostalgia and how we can long for and idealize things or people or times that weren't necessarily good but they were known or our experience. In Soviet Russia, maybe this is the only thing to cling to. ;)
Jan 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Food memoirs are usually among my favorite books. Not this one. I toiled and pushed, really pushed to get to 35%, trying to give it a chance. Anya failed miserably in her attempt to articulate her genuine experiences and feelings. Her writing was all over the place. I’d pick up a tidbit of where she was going with her story and did everything in my power as a reader to stay engaged with where she was going, but then she’d veer off in another direction and would fall away from the through-line. I ...more
This book should be taught in school history courses. It is an exceptional resource for Soviet history, it's well-written and well-researched. But most of all, it's accessible, nostalgic without being cloying or overly-sentimental, and it's touching. It happens to cover some of the subjects that interest me most: food, Russian/Soviet history, mother-daughter relationships. This book could've been written for me. I first took it out from the library, but I saw immediately I wanted to own it.

Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: PW 6/24/13
Ever since I read the starred review of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking in the 24 June issue of Publishers Weekly, I knew I had to get my hands on this book! I was lucky to come across it in NetGalley, which gave me a copy for review.

"Inevitably, a story about Soviet food is a chronicle of longing, of unrequited desire."

Anya Von Bremzen was born in the USSR and later emigrated to the United States with her mother. Her James Beard award winning cookbook, Please To The Table: The Russian Cook
So much more than the memoir of its title; this is part family history, part socio-political history, part cookbook. The author traces the rise and fall of the USSR by decade, from the 1910s to the 2010s, using food as the milestone markers of the journey. Von Bremzen's writing has an engaging, fairly irreverent style, allowing her to deliver both the tragedy and the comedy of the era in such a way that the reader can choose whether to laugh or cry. I am in awe of how much I learned from reading ...more
Rare is the book that hits so many different intellectual and emotional notes.... Rare is the book that can discuss the ideologies of food at all, never mind its semiotics and psychoemotional registers, too, all while critiquing not one but two economic-political systems. This book is masterly. My only reservation with it is that its attention to emotional detail makes it at times a heavy read. I find this point quite interesting because I own one of her cookbooks, and part of what I appreciate ...more
This book combines the diverse cuisines of the USSR, and the story of Soviet communism, through the lens of the author's family experience. I can't recommend this book highly enough: you want to learn about totalitarianism, Russia's relationship with other soviet countries and food, then you need this book in your life.

The writing is superb so just dive in!
May 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really felt this was three different books, one about her family, one about her and her food, and one about Russia's history. I really don't like how they ran together. I found some sections confusing. The history was dry and the food secondary to the story. I wish she had written one great book about her trip back to Moscow to do the TV show and incorporated stories from the past that related to the food. I felt that the chronological order really hampered the showcasing of the food. In the l ...more
Camelia Rose
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking really is a book of personal history and the 80 years history of Soviet Union. Anya von Bremzen was born in Moscow, USSR in 1963. In 1974, she emigrated to the United States with her Jewish dissident mother. She tells stories of what she remembered from her childhood, as well as experiences from her mother Larisa, maternal grandparents Naum and Liza and her father Sergei.

The heartbreaking stories are told in a humorous voice. A lot of dark Soviet jokes. Scarc
Margaret Sankey
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This one is a stunner. Bremzen and her mother, who emigrated from Moscow in 1974, recreate a dinner for each decade from 1910 to 2000, weaving in the story of her family--Jewish-categorized Naval Intelligence officers on one side, Baltic aristocrats on the other, as they move in and out of privileged positions and survive Soviet history with vivid food experiences. From the frequently reprinted and edited Book of Healthy and Tasty Food (which disappeared discredited capitalist kepchup as well as ...more
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I think many Mongolians have a sort of nostalgia for out communist, Soviet past. The apparent lack of a big cultural heritage, or rather, what constitutes "culture" in modern times - food, music, art - led to the adoption of many Soviet-era exports as our own. Reading this book feels both familiar (Olivier salat - Nisslel salat, Blinchik, Plov, Borshch) and yet, with the detailed look into one family's life from the nation's infancy to its death, it serves as a cure for any ost ...more
Alysa H.
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm so happy that I had the opportunity to read an early copy of this book. The title might mislead those unwilling to give it more than a shallow glance, as they'll assume it's a cookbook. It's actually the best kind of history book - a wonderfully written, rich cultural history told through the prism of personal experiences of the author and her family. The fact that most of those experiences use food as an anchoring point is splendid, I think, simply because food is so universal. Food is a to ...more
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Weeeeellll, it made for a good book club because the host presented lots of examples of the food and there was vodka, of course! However, the writing was absolutely tedious! Beyond. Painfully. I actually found myself counting how many times she used the word bourgeois (it was way too many, by the way)! I kept asking myself what point was the author trying to present? Get to the point...get to the point. I chanted that in my head sometimes. The point was muddled. I still don't know what the autho ...more
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
God I loved this book. Maybe it's that long-hidden degree in Russian history... This book has about four great stories running through it - the history of the Soviet Union from the time of the Revolution to the present, the story of the author's family as they coped with the changes in Moscow during this long period, often oppressed, frequently hungry, the story of the author's own life growing up in Brezhnev's time and her eventual asylum-seeking with her mother to the US, and finally, it is th ...more
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very, very good. The author emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US as a child with her mother and later became a food writer, with her first book focusing on food from the various cultures of the USSR. Each chapter of her memoir focuses on a different decade, from the 1910s through to Putin’s Russia, discussing both food and her family’s history. Beautifully written and so interesting.
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
It's hard to describe this mesmerizing book because it is so many different things. The overlying premise involves food writer and Soviet emigre Anya von Bremzen's idea to trace the history of the Soviet Union through the food (or lack thereof) that dominated each decade of its 70-plus year existence. But as she describes her and her mother's attempts to prepare her country's classic dishes, familial, social and cultural history flavor each and every page.

I found this incredibly intimate view in
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Apr 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Not strictly a memoir, and certainly not a cookbook, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is an original. Anya Von Bremzen has told the history of the Soviet Union through the story of her grandparents, her mother, and herself, with a special emphasis on food.

It may sound like a goulash with too many ingredients, but the result is wonderful. In addition to enjoying an entertaining memoir about a memorable bunch of people, I learned a lot about what it was like to live in the Soviet Union at diff
I feel bad about only giving this one three stars, but I think it accurately reflects my reading experience. I had to read this by e-book, and that just isn’t a format that works perfectly for me, except for when I’m reading romance or fanfic. I had a hard time focusing on it. When I was able to focus, it was clear that von Bremzen was a good writer, with things to say. She writes about food and her experiences around it so very well.

This book chronicles the author’s experiences growing up first
Huh. Somehow I always expect to enjoy culinary memoirs more than I do.

I mean yeah, this book was kind of interesting. Von Bremzen seamlessly flits around between history of the Soviet Union from 1917 on, her own family's experiences under the various regimes, and description of various Soviet foods that reflect the times. Von Bremzen includes several interesting-looking recipes at the end, although I agree with reviewers who felt these recipes would have been better placed throughout the book.

Melanie  H
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Politics, culture, family and the fall of Communism all orbiting around the subject of food. I guess that's how you win a Beard prize while the rest of us just write reviews. This is how it's done memoir / food writers, this is how it's done. ...more
Iona Sharma
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is in part a history of one family, partly a book about food and partly a complete history of the Soviet Union. The author and her mother have resolved to represent each decade of the USSR's existence with a specific dish or dishes, embodying the time, and she uses the food as a jumping off point to talk about the wider things: e.g. in the 1910s, the food is opulent, as this is still the time of the czars; in the 1930s, there's no recipe, because there was no food. Despite the sort-of gimmi ...more
Written by a James Beard-award winning writer, it's a memoir about growing up in Russia and tells of Russian history through its food, the chapters divided by the decades from the twentieth through the twenty-first century. Overall I enjoyed reading this book, the subject matter was interesting and I love nothing more than hearing about the food culture in other countries--however I did find myself wishing that there was a little more food description included and slightly less depth on the hist ...more
Mark Staniforth
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
From twelve-tiered kulebiaka - starting with the ground floor of burbot liver and topped with layers of fish, meat, game, mushrooms and rice, all wrapped up in dough, up, up, up to a penthouse of calf's brains in brown butter - to wartime starvation and food queues, Anya Von Bremzen's Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking serves up so much more than the relatively narrow ingredients offered by its title.
This is a sensory journey through Soviet history, using its food as a framework rather than its
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Growing up in the West during the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, international relations were dominated by this thing called the Cold War. The war was between 'us' and 'them' - a whole different, entirely undesirable, backward, and frightening other world behind this other thing called the Iron Curtain. It probably never entered my empty teenage head that there were people just like us behind this Iron Curtain - Mums, Dads, children, teenagers, grandparents. They were, quite simply, all commun ...more
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Part memoir and part family history, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a fascinating, affectionate, irreverent, and for me surprising inside account of everyday life during successive eras of the Soviet Union, from revolution through Stalin and Khrushchev to glasnost, paying particular attention to the food that was available and how it was acquired, prepared, and served. Having grown up in Cold War America reading it was like looking out at the world through the reverse side of a mirror.

Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book---part family story, part history of the USSR, part food review. Don't remember how I first heard about it, but I'm glad I did. Really enjoyed it. ...more
Aug 31, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting personal history of Soviet times, but was not exactly what I was expecting. The idea, I thought, was to create and serve a meal representative of Soviet/Russian times during each decade, from the Tsarist teens through the 1970s. The author discusses the political landscapes and social issues of each time, and she does talk about the food available to her and her family at the time. I kind of thought she and her mother, now living in the US, would talk about how they decide ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Unlike what you might expect from the title, this book is more of a memoir and a history of the Soviet Union than a guide to cooking, but it is organized around the subject of getting and preparing food, which was a central concern in Soviet Russia. It takes its inspiration from Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, with his theme of the images and memories evoked by the taste and smell of food.

The author begins cleverly, paraphrasing the famous passage from Russian literature with her assertion
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Around the World: * Group Read - Jan 2020 - USSR 28 34 Jan 15, 2020 07:53PM  
Goodreads Librari...: isbn 978-0-307-88681-1 3 22 Sep 27, 2013 06:24PM  

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Anya von Bremzen is one of the most accomplished food writers of her generation: the winner of three James Beard awards; a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure magazine; and the author of five acclaimed cookbooks. She also contributes regularly to Food & Wine and Saveur and has written for The New Yorker, Departures, and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between New York City and Ista ...more

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