Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sinful Sushki

They're irresistible. They're addictive.
They're the guilty pleasures of the Russian reality.
By Lina Zeldovich

Oh, sushki!

They're irresistible. They're addictive. They're the guilty pleasures of the Russian reality, its rainy autumns and icy winters, when homes, restaurants, and your friends’ kitchens welcome you in with a cup of hot tea and a bundle of sushki next to it. The Western world binges on chips and popcorn, but Russians are hooked on sushki. Walk into a Russian store anywhere in the world, and you find them. Actually, you’ll find a variety.

Sushki are dry bread crackers – in fact the name comes from the word “sushit” which means "drying out." Circle-shaped with a hole in the middle, they are too low in sugar to earn the sinful title of dessert, but satiating enough to grow into a delightful addiction. Think of them as a cross between bagels and tea biscuits. Or a hybrid of cookies and pretzels. Worse, they aren’t just tasty – they are also fun to play with. You can twirl them on your fingers. And if you’re still in that blissful age of under ten, you can hang them on your ears.

The cousins of American bagels, sushki are smaller, crunchier, and more resilient – keep them in a dry place and they will stay crispy for weeks without ever growing the blue dots of mold. Bite into them too hard and you’re risking breaking your tooth – but that’s part of the fun. The little crunchy fragments with a mild delicate sweetness melt in your mouth oh so satisfyingly. They sneak up on you too: suddenly you realize you’ve eaten half the pack. Some people dip them in milk and others in butter – depending how much they are prepared to sin!

Suddenly you realize
you’ve eaten half the pack!
Besides bagels, in Russia sushki have even more dough cousins of various sizes and “toughness” – bubliki and baranki. They are all members of the same family of bread products made from dough that has been boiled before baking. The dough is made from flour, eggs, water and salt, and then cut and rolled into thin strips; for sushki thinner than a quarter of an inch. The strips become little circles which are dropped into boiling sugary water and then baked in an oven. Traditionally, sushki were sold stringed on a twine, from which you’d bite them off if you were a kid or just crush them with your palm and munch on its crunchy wreckage fragrant with vanilla and sometimes honey.

They are also almost an ideal junk food. They work perfectly with tea. They work with milk. They work as a nighttime snack, a midday mood booster, and even as a quick morning bite when it’s too early to even think of breakfast. It’s five o’clock and you're craving carbs? Sushki are literally the golden cure for you only need a few yellow-brown rings to chase away your afternoon blues. And they are a calorie-friendly comfort food – low in food and high in comfort.

But most amazingly, this lovely combo of snack and dessert also used to serve as travel provisions. Sushki don’t spoil. I don’t think I've ever seen them go bad. Such impressive toughness made them easy to store and transport. Traveling across Russia years ago, merchants brought bundles of sushki on their journeys. Even if everything else turned sour and moldy, sushki wouldn’t!

Keep them in a dry place and they will stay crispy for weeks
without ever growing the blue dots of mold!


  1. What a long history sushki must have--from transcontinental travel provisions to your afternoon tea. I could use a carb boost right now! Thanks for sharing Lina.

  2. I used to eat these when I lived in the GDR, Lina. I'd forgotten what they were called but I remember how they tasted. Definitely addictive!

  3. Every single apartment I ever rented in Russia seemed to come with sushki, regardless of how well the place had been cleaned or how long between "guests." Thanks for the memories!