Witold Szabłowski
What’s Cooking in the Kremlin

In this book, comedy and narratorial gusto are frequently combined with terror or border on despair

Lyuba, who cooked for the workers responsible for the clean-up at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant following the catastrophe of 1986.

All right, perhaps it’s time to tell you something about the food?

I’ll tell you one thing, Witold. Although I was a cook, and although I’d worked at a power station and also at a good restaurant before, never in my life had I seen such an abundance of good food as at Chernobyl. As if the state wanted to reward the people for sending them to such a dreadful place. Go and die, but have a nice feed first.

There was a whole sea of produce there. Little cubes of butter, full fat cream – it sounds funny, but in those days, under Gorbachev, that was a real delicacy – strawberry, blackcurrant and cranberry compote, on top of that there had to be a Soviet drink called mors [made of lingonberries and cranberries], and to eat there was aspic, meat, ham, sausage, sea and freshwater fish, smoked, roasted, any way you liked. And all sorts of fruit: watermelons, melons, oranges, pomegranates from Azerbaijan. As a kind gesture, a fellow from Italy sent us two railcars full of lemons, so every day we made lemonade.

The menu was drawn up for us by food technologists to provide the right number of calories. And there was plenty of cooking. Goulash, salads, compotes, pizzas, cheesecakes, meat rolls. Various soups, including pea, buckwheat, Ukrainian borscht, Russian borscht, all required to include meat of course, to give strength. And if we had the time and the energy, we made pancakes or baked buns.

Each person was given a glass of cream too – apparently calcium helped against radiation, so there was also a lot of tvorog [curd cheese] and other cheeses. In spite of which, everyone believed vodka helped the most. I was convinced it helped against radiation, and although I’m not a drinker, every day before work I forced myself to drink a shot of it. […]

Gradually other canteens began to open near ours, at similar pioneer camps, and Valentina thought up the idea of competing with them. We all sat down together and discussed what we could do, what these people needed. And we devised a plan to set up a table the length of the room laden with all the healthiest foods, so they could help themselves to dessert and enjoy the sight of it all at once. We wanted to give them some comfort, we knew it wasn’t easy for anyone, but even in the most dreadful times if you eat well, you’ll feel better for a while at least.

So we did it – we set up three tables end to end the length of the dining room, we called it the Vitamin Table, and every day it was a point of honour
for us to make it look as beautiful as possible. What wasn’t there? Raya made little roses out of pearl onions dipped in sugar, it looked lovely. I carved carrots into flower shapes. There were also little hedgehogs with pickled apples on their backs. And large thermos flasks filled with digestive teas made with Siberian herbs. Everything was pure, fresh and delicious.

We worked so hard our hands were sore and our eyes stung. One time I was so sleepy that I went to work without any shoes. But everyone who came to our canteen left satisfied.

Excerpt translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Witold Szabłowski
What’s Cooking in the Kremlin

In this book, comedy and narratorial gusto are frequently combined with terror or border on despair

Publisher: W.A.B./ Foksal, Warszawa 2021
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates,
Foreign language translations: Rights for Rosja od kuchni. Jak zbudować imperium nożem, chochlą i widelcem have been sold to the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine and the USA. Szabłowski’s other works have been published in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and Ukraine.

At first glance What’s Cooking in the Kremlin looks like a frivolous book, easily mistaken for a culinary guidebook, or just a recipe book, featuring various forms of Russian cuisine. The author really does include recipes at the end of each chapter for some of the dishes that appear in the stories he tells. But naturally, a seasoned author of reportage of Szabłowski’s calibre is merely using the convention of “lifestyle” literature for his own purposes, and there’s something perverse about this subtle game. Because this journey through tastes and flavours is a way to present the nightmare of the darkest episodes in Russian twentieth-century history. In this book, comedy and narratorial gusto are frequently combined with terror or border on despair. A description of the grand splendour of the tsar’s dinner table merges into an account of the assassination of the last Romanovs. The colourful abundance of Georgian culinary tradition cannot be separated from an attempt to understand the life of Stalin. Readers are likely to feel that Szabłowski is leading them along a tight-rope, taking them on an expedition where there’s a fine balance between the lightness of food writing and the gravity of historical reportage. In this way Szabłowski is continuing the adventure he began with his previous bestselling book, How to Feed a Dictator. In both books he masterfully combines the opposite poles of cookery and crime. And yet What’s Cooking in the Kremlin reveals an entirely new world of facts and incidents. Szabłowski travels to Russia in search of witnesses to the most significant, but also the most traumatic episodes in the history of twentieth- and twenty-firstcentury Russia, from the reign of Nicholas II to that of Vladimir Putin. He meets people who cooked for the country’s rulers or their descendants, and talks to members of the inner circle of inaccessible Kremlin leaders, giving us a unique opportunity to learn about Russia from an unfamiliar angle. But the war in Ukraine makes this book even more acute and timely than it might have been. Superbly written and hard to put down, it is an unquestionably successful attempt to face up to the demons of imperialism. I can recommend following in Witold Szabłowski’s footsteps as he tries to understand Russia and its empire through the kitchen.

Jakub Moroz

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Selected samples

Julita Deluga
Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Leśniak
Anna Kańtoch
Andrzej Bobkowski
Wisława Szymborska
Zdzisław Kranodębski
Andrzej Nowak
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jarosław Jakubowski
Anna Piwkowska
Roman Honet
Miłosz Biedrzycki
Wojciech Chmielewski
Aleksandra Majdzińska
Tomasz Różycki
Maciej Hen
Jakub Nowak
Elżbieta Cherezińska
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
作者:沃伊切赫·維德瓦克(Wojciech Widłak), 插圖:亞歷珊德拉·克珊諾夫斯卡(Aleksandra Krzanowska)
文字:莫妮卡·烏特尼-斯特魯加瓦(Monika Utnik-Strugała), 概念和插圖:皮歐特·索哈(Piotr Socha)
作者:亞格涅絲卡·斯特爾馬什克(Agnieszka Stelmaszyk)
尤安娜·日斯卡(Joanna Rzyska)、阿嘉妲·杜德克(Agata Dudek)、瑪格熱妲·諾瓦克(Małgorzata Nowak) Druganoga出版社,華沙2021
艾麗莎·皮歐特夫斯卡(Eliza Piotrowska)
米科瓦伊·帕辛斯基(Mikołaj Pasiński)、瑪格熱妲·赫爾巴(Gosia Herba)
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
瑪麗安娜·奧克雷亞克(Marianna Oklejak)
拉法爾·科希克(Rafał Kosik)
亞歷珊德拉·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Aleksandra Woldańska-Płocińska)
巴托米耶·伊格納邱克(Bartłomiej Ignaciuk), 阿嘉塔·洛特-伊格納邱克(Agata Loth-Ignaciuk)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
羅珊娜·延澤耶夫斯卡-弗魯貝爾 (Roksana Jędrzejewska-Wróbel)
作者:普舎米斯瓦夫·維赫特洛維奇(Przemysław Wechterowicz) 插圖:艾米莉·吉烏巴克(Emilia Dziubak)
尤斯提娜·貝納雷(Justyna Bednarek) 插圖:丹尼爾·德拉圖爾(Daniel De Latour)
尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
瑪格熱妲·斯文多夫斯卡(Małgorzata Swędrowska)、尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
Jan Kochanowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Olga Tokarczuk
Władysław Stanisław Reymont
An Ancient Tale
Stanisław Rembek
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Maria Dąbrowska
Stefan Żeromski
Bronisław Wildstein
Zbigniew Herbert / Wisława Szymborska
Karol Wojtyła
Wiesław Myśliwski
Czesław Miłosz
Anna Świrszczyńska / Melchior Wańkowicz
Tadeusz Borowski / Gustaw Herling-Grudziński
Wiesław Helak
Góra Tabor
Adriana Szymańska
Paweł Rzewuski
Mariusz Staniszewski
Radek Rak
Urszula Honek
Kazimierz Orłoś
Rafał Wojasiński
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Józef Mackiewicz
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Józef Mackiewicz
Witold Szabłowski
Andrzej Muszyński
Wiesław Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Dariusz Sośnicki
Łukasz Orbitowski
Jakub Małecki
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jakub Małecki
Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
Bartosz Biedrzycki
Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło


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Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki
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Małgorzata Rejmer
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Wojciech Kudyba
Włodzimierz Bolecki
Jerzy Liebert
Wojciech Zembaty
Wojciech Chmielarz
Bogdan Musiał
Joanna Siedlecka
Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Marek Bieńczyk
Leszek Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
Szymon Babuchowski
Lech Majewski
Weronika Murek
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Barbara Klicka
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Dorota Masłowska
Wiesław Myśliwski
Martyna Bunda
Olga Tokarczuk
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Marek Oleksicki, Tobiasz Piątkowski
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