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I am aware of different terms for how well steak can be cooked (средний = medium, полусырой = medium rare, etc.), but every Russian webpage that discusses this topic writes the English terms and mentions Russian terms secondarily or not at all. The YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9gMaFFN4Yg uses the English terms only. I have two questions.

  1. Are the English terms for cooking steak essentially regarded as Russian words?

  2. Was cooking steak a very rare (pun intended) experience in the USSR, and if not then why would the English words be used so widely now? Of course English is used everywhere in Russian technology and advertising, but cooking steak doesn't seem comparable to those kinds of activities unless it really was a largely foreign concept before the 1990s.

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Why a new term

Doneness is a scale. Steak is not a traditional Russian dish; there are five commonly used degrees of doneness for steaks but only three established Russian translations (с кровью, средней прожарки, хорошо прожаренный). It makes sense to adopt the international scale instead of each chef inventing his or her own translations.

"Cырой" in the context of food means "uncooked":

  • an ingredient,
  • a dish in the process of preparation,
  • or an unprocessed food item good to be eaten as-is in the mind of the speaker: vegetables, eggs, [unpasteurized] milk.

If a cooked dish (such as a steak) is "сырой", it is undercooked compared to how you wanted it. See, for example, this humorous poem by Samuil Marshak, in which an obstinate old woman is incensed not so much by a burglary but by the burglars' insinuation the pie they stole is сырой. Do not use сырой for a steak that is cooked to your preference. (But you can say "Я люблю ultra-rare стейки, чтобы мясо было совсем сырое" - the ingredient is сырой, but the dish is just fine).

English in Advertising

Parenthetical transcription of the terms in menus is done to conform to the Federal Law on Advertising (Федеральный закон "О рекламе" от 13.03.2006 N 38-ФЗ, Article 5, paragraph 5.1). The letter of that law prohibits the use of "foreign words and phrases which might induce semantic distortion of the information". (This is, of course, ambiguous. What if a foreign word is more precise? How do you tell between a loan word and a foreign (Ukrainian or Kazakh) word in Cyrillic script?)

Additionally, the Federal Law on the State Language (Федеральный закон "О государственном языке Российской Федерации" от 1 июня 2005 г. N 53-ФЗ) requires the use of the Russian language in advertising, but makes an exception for "foreign words which do not have commonly used analogues in the Russian language".

In practice, every foreign word used in sales communications (except the official name of the company in the state registry, if grandfathered in before 53-FZ), needs a Russian translation or transcription. Even though many Russians can speak and read English and a vast majority can vocalize written English words, the law cannot privilege English over, say, Chinese or Tagalog.

  • very nice first answer! Welcome to Russian SE ) – shabunc May 7 '19 at 13:25
  • many Russians can speak and read English i would call it a bold statement – Баян Купи-ка May 7 '19 at 19:09
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Steak can not be regarded as a Russian dish, even бишфтекс is not the same. That's why we have to borrow the terms together with the recipe.

Those words are not considered to be Russian, and if you google "степени прожарки стейка", you will find English words written in Latin letters within Russian articles.

These words are used as adverbs, which do not have any conjugation or declension in Russian, that's why we do not have to assimilate them. And they do not resemble our adverbs, that's why it is even harder to assimilate them.

You can find бифштекс с кровью, бифштекс средней прожарки, хорошо прожаренный бифштекс, but it's really not what we've been cooking for centuries.

Pizza in Russian is пицца, and you don't even care this word is not English either.

  • I had in fact seen all Russian websites about steak write the cooking terms in English before I saw the video link that I used in my question. The nearly exclusive writing of English words for this also amazes me. Eventually I found some webpages use рэр, вел дан, and медиум, but still only in a secondary way in parentheses after the original English words. I guess the tradition of writing the original English in this context has gone on so long it is locked in, but it seems strange, as if Russians had to write "Donald Trump" because they couldn't figure out how to write Дональд Трамп. – KCd Feb 2 '19 at 20:26
  • No, we've coped with names somehow, and, in fact, they are just transliterated. But it's a tendency to take words from one language to another almost without changing them. – Elena Feb 2 '19 at 21:36
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This phenomenon of using English words (medium, medium rare) in Russian language nowadays is more related to rebranding/marketing and increased interest amongst Russian youth towards Western/European countries, related either to tourism or wide access of commercial goods (which wasn't available as much until early 2000's) and social media.

Rebranding in a way helps restaurants and cafés to disassociate themselves from the late Soviet and post-soviet history (during 90's), where the service and food quality were far from perfect and often not affordable for many Russians. Hence Russians do not have such a habit of going out on a regular basis as Europeans or Americans have. So by using borrowed English words (even though the same translation exists in Russian) allows to indicate that these places and what's related to them stand out far enough from what people used to remember/know.

Also if you've noticed in your video, the person introduces himself as бренд-шеф, instead of повар-технолог, partially because of a historic connotation. Being a повар until more recent times indicated something unprestigious and associated with schools where they used to study, e.g. ПТУ abbreviated not only as профессионально-техническое училище, but often jokingly translated as "Пришёл Типа Учиться" and more offensive phrases. So even these institutions nowadays are renamed into colleges, culinary schools etc. Moreover, a Russian word училище is not so often used anymore, unless it is been always associated with a prestigious school which managed to keep its brand throughout all these years and stay above these trends, like Суворовское училище, as an example.

On the other side of the reasoning why used borrowed words, Russians were always puzzled and in awe for Western/European cultures (may be, because it was so much prohibited in Soviet times) - to have a piece of European clothing, an American chewing gum or a German badminton set was beyond amazing, so using borrowed words nowadays helps to play with these deep-rooted feelings on older generations and even younger generations look up to Europe/America with interest as a lot of current culture comes from there.

So in a way many think, that the fact that you actually have had all this terminology and dishes long ago won't help to make your place/channel look fashionable and these borrowed words often serve a function of buzzwords.

Even though it needs to be mentioned that the opposite movement also has reappeared in Russia, where restaurants and cafés based on traditional Russian cuisine again gain more and more public interest, so you can find such items as гурьевская каша, похлебка, солянка etc, probably even 10 years ago a given Russian person wouldn't be sure what гурьевская каша is.

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  1. No, English terms ("Rare", "Well done" etc.) are still English. Russian terms ("С кровью", "Хорошо прожаренный") can (but not necessarily will) be substitutes.

  2. Correct. "Бифштекс" was never a common dish in Russia. Even now, when steaks made their way into Russia, that's not what most people cook (or even know how to cook) at home.

Also, according to longstanding sanitary traditions, meat should always be "well done". Most people would have read about "бифштекс с кровью", but their first reaction upon seeing one was "Ew!"

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