Updated: May 8
Caviar was present in Russia as early as the 9th century. Due to the abundance of sturgeon in the rivers of Russia at that time, caviar and sturgeon meat was a part of a food supply for fishermen, hunters and commoners. Caviar did not become a delicacy until the 19th century, when a new method of salting sturgeon roe was applied. Only then, caviar was consumed fresh with vodka during banquets. Caviar gained such popularity among the royalty that Peter the Great ordered the creation of a “fish office” in the city of Astrakhan where the sturgeon were caught and caviar was processed.
The global association of caviar with Russia began during the early 20th century with the building of railroads. Trains began regular service between Moscow and St. Petersburg and the major cities of Western Europe.
Many wealthy Russians started to regularly visit France and Germany, where they continued their lavish lifestyle. Since caviar was a big part of their life back home, they expected it to be served to them at parties and demanded it at restaurants. Slowly, caviar became so popular in France that it led to the opening of the first caviar house in Paris in the 1920s by two Armenian brothers. Their caviar was served “a la Russian Style”, meaning alone, with champagne or vodka. During that time, the word “Russian” became synonymous with wealth and sophistication and the word “malossol”, a moniker for the “best caviar”.
Today in Russia, when people mention caviar generically, they're referring to both sturgeon roe (black caviar) and salmon roe (red caviar). Both are diet staples although red is more prevalent because it is less expensive.