In case you’re hopping a plane to Sochi, Russia, right now or hoping to re-create Russia at home, here’s a quick primer on how to toast like the Russians do.
Obviously, vodka is a must. It should be served ice-cold, straight from the freezer (or the windowsill, if you’re in a particularly frigid region). Homemade infusions (lemon or horseradish work nicely) are fine, or just go with plain.
Set up a table with snacks: Pickled vegetables, bread with butter, sausage and cured fish all work. If you’re doing it right, the table should be full to bursting, with as little actual tabletop visible as possible. You’ll also need some shot glasses.
Pour a shot, make a toast (more on this in a second) and shoot the vodka. Follow this immediately — no food in between! — with another toast and shot, after which you’re allowed a bite of something to cleanse your palate.
Toasts are pretty central to the experience of drinking in Russia. It’s considered incredibly impolite to start drinking before the first toast, and while plenty of rules get more lax while drinking beer or wine, vodka is still serious business to be treated with appropriate deference to ritual.
There is significant debate over the appropriate order of toasts — should the first one or the third one be in honor of the armed forces? Which one should be about women? And which one is about your host? If you asked three different people what’s right, you’d get three different opinions. But more or less the rule of thumb is the first should be from the host in honor of the guests, the second should be from the guest of honor to honor the host and later ones can be about anything.
Shots are always shot, not sipped — though toward the end of the evening, it’s acceptable to make less-generous pours than before — and empty bottles never go back on the table.
Rupa Bhattacharya is a Food and Beverage Editor in Food Network Kitchen.