The Romanov family certainly attended a lot of formal dining occasions and teas. But their favorite way to eat was indeed casual dining, such as picnics with just the members of the immediate family and close friends. Even the food they preferred, Tsar Nicholas II in particular, was unpretentious and more similar to what the Russian peasants ate, rather than the nobility.
By all reports Tsar Nicholas II preferred simple Russian food such as buckwheat and breaded cutlets, with vegetables like beets or potatoes and black bread. Often this preference confused and surprised members of his retinue. One of the midshipmen on the imperial yacht “The Standart” recalled how Nicholas II decided to ride on a destroyer, and the entire security team was concerned about his dinner aboard. All their elaborate preparations turned out to be in vain: the Tsar wanted a simple officer’s dinner. And with that he asked for beer, which had to be hurriedly obtained from a nearby destroyer and sent over in a box meant for classified documents.
One of Nicholas II’s most favorite dishes was Yalta-style roasted suckling pig with buckwheat stuffing and horseradish on the side. Anyone who did not know the Tsar well assumed that his taste in food would be a lot more “snobbish”.
Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana often fondly recounted their dining experiences on “The Standart” in their diaries. These meals were a chance for the girls to socialize with their beloved friends among the crew. The Grand Duchesses also regularly mentioned in their letters and diaries the many happy cozy breakfasts, dinners and teas at home in Tsarskoe Selo, with family members and close friends.
From the diary of Olga Romanov:
“Had tea as usual. I sat between my friends. Had dinner in the salon of the yacht. Awfully cozy.” “Went to the yacht with Mama and had dinner in the large dining hall with the officers and suite.” “We four had dinner with Anya and Mama in the mauve room.” “Had dinner and spent the evening with Papa and Mama.”
From the diary of Tatiana Romanov:
“Had dinner four with Papa, Irina, Anya and Sashka. I sat between them, I mean [between] Anya and Sashka. Later [we] went to have coffee in the big room for a little while.” “Had dinner with Papa and Aunt Olga next to Mama’s sofa.” “Had breakfast and dinner with Papa and Veselkin” “Had dinner with Papa, Irina, Sasha V. and Anya. Mama was in her room on the sofa.”
There are numerous surviving photographs of the Romanov family eating cozily and happily together.
After the Romanov family were arrested and sent into exile, they brought a cook with them, more so as tradition rather than snobbishness. The routine of making up daily menus was a comfort to the family: one of the few links to their old, happy life prior to the Russian revolution.
Meanwhile, the Romanov sisters were enthusiastically learning to cook themselves. The girls especially enjoyed baking bread.
In June of 1918, already in Ekaterinburg, and just a little over a month before their deaths, the Tsar wrote in his diary:
“Since yesterday Kharitonov has been preparing our food, the provisions are delivered every two days. The daughters are learning how to cook from him, they prepare the flour and knead in the evening and bake the bread in the morning! Not bad at all!”
Not one Romanov family member ever complained about the food they were allowed in captivity, even when they were forced to go on the soldiers’ rations towards the end of their lives in Ekaterinburg.
Read more about the Romanov family dining on this Dining With the Tsars blog page.