Shchi is a Russian
Russian cuisine
Russian cuisine is diverse, as Russia is the largest country in the world. Russian cuisine derives its varied character from the vast and multi-cultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of...

Soup is a generally warm food that is made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water, or another liquid. Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavors are extracted, forming a broth.Traditionally,...

 with cabbage
Cabbage is a popular cultivar of the species Brassica oleracea Linne of the Family Brassicaceae and is a leafy green vegetable...

 as the primary ingredient. Its primary distinction is its sour taste, which usually originates from cabbage. When sauerkraut
Sauerkraut , directly translated from German: "sour cabbage", is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria, including Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. It has a long shelf-life and a distinctive sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid...

 is used instead, the soup is called sour shchi, and soups based on sorrel
Common sorrel or garden sorrel , often simply called sorrel, is a perennial herb that is cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable...

, spinach
Spinach is an edible flowering plant in the family of Amaranthaceae. It is native to central and southwestern Asia. It is an annual plant , which grows to a height of up to 30 cm. Spinach may survive over winter in temperate regions...

, nettle
Nettles constitute between 24 and 39 species of flowering plants of the genus Urtica in the family Urticaceae, with a cosmopolitan though mainly temperate distribution. They are mostly herbaceous perennial plants, but some are annual and a few are shrubby...

, and similar plants are called green shchi . In the past, the term sour shchi was also used to referred to a drink, a variation of kvass
Kvass, kvas, quass or gira, gėra is a fermented beverage made from black...

, which was unrelated to the soup.


Shchi is a traditional soup of Russia where it is known from at least the 9th century, soon after cabbage was introduced there from Byzantium
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

. Its popularity in Russia originates from several factors. Shchi is relatively easy to prepare; it can be cooked with or without various types of meat that makes it compatible with different religions; and it can be frozen and carried as a solid on a trip to be cut up when needed. Finally, it was noticed that most people do not get sick of shchi and can eat it daily. This property is referenced in the Russian saying: "Pодной отец надоест, а щи – никогда!" ("One may tire of one's own father, but never of shchi!"). As a result, by the 10th century shchi became a staple food of Russia, and another popular saying sprang from this fact: "Щи да каша – пища наша." ("Shchi and kasha
Kasha is a cereal commonly eaten in Eastern Europe. In English, kasha generally refers to buckwheat groats, but in Slavic countries, kasha refers to porridge in general and can be made from any cereal, especially buckwheat, wheat, barley, oats, millet, and rye...

 are our staples
Staple food
A staple food is one that is eaten regularly and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a diet, and that supplies a high proportion of energy and nutrient needs. Most people live on a diet based on one or more staples...

"). The major components of shchi were originally cabbage, meat (beef, pork, lamb, or poultry), mushrooms, flour, and spices (based on onion and garlic). Cabbage and meat were cooked separately and smetana was added into shchi before serving. Shchi is traditionally eaten with rye bread.

The ingredients of shchi gradually changed. Flour, which was added in early times to increase the soup's caloric value, was excluded for the sake of finer taste. The spice mixture was enriched with black pepper and bay leaf
Bay leaf
Bay leaf refers to the aromatic leaf of the bay laurel . Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves are often used to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean cuisine...

, which were imported to Russia around the 15th century, also from Byzantium. Meat was sometimes substituted by fish, and carrot and parsley
Parsley is a species of Petroselinum in the family Apiaceae, native to the central Mediterranean region , naturalized elsewhere in Europe, and widely cultivated as an herb, a spice and a vegetable.- Description :Garden parsley is a bright green hairless biennial herbaceous plant in temperate...

 could be added to the vegetables. Beef was the most popular meat for shchi, while pork was more common in Ukraine. The water to cabbage ratio varied and whereas early shchi were often so viscous that a spoon could stand in it, more diluted preparation was adopted later.


The two-letter word щи contains the letter щ. It is absent in most non-Cyrillic alphabet
Cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic script or azbuka is an alphabetic writing system developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School...

s and is transcribed
Transcription (linguistics)
Transcription in the linguistic sense is the systematic representation of language in written form. The source can either be utterances or preexisting text in another writing system, although some linguists only consider the former as transcription.Transcription should not be confused with...

 into them with several letters. In German, щи becomes eight letters, Schtschi. This was the genesis of a joke that it is possible to make up to 8 errors in a two-letter word, possibly inspired by Catherine the Great, a tsarina of German descent who had a limited command of written Russian. She once reportedly made 4 spelling mistakes in a three-letter word by writing исчо for ещё (meaning "still" or "yet" in English).
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