Feb. 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM ET
We all know the sports in Sochi are podium-worthy, but what about the souvenirs? When there's a little downtime in between nail-biting finals, here are the 10 best gifts to hunt down in the local stores (just don't blame us if churchkela prove too delicious to give away).
Matryoshka nesting dolls
Matryoshka are actually Japanese in origin; they debuted at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, but they are fitting souvenirs from Russia, a country with a long history of woodworking craft. My find: contemporary Russian politicians immortalized as dolls.
These striped T-shirts are supposedly manly — if you wear one, it shows you’ve achieved status in the armed forces. They come in different colors for different units: dark blue stripes = navy, light blue = airborne forces, black = submariners, green = border guards, red = special forces.
Traditional felt boots akin to rustic Russian UGGs, Valenki are now being marketed as hipster-ironic fashion items.
Bosco sports gear
Russia's answer to Nike. Bosco literally means "The Cherry Orchard," though these duds have none of Chekhov's ambiguity: They are bright, brash, and very unapologetic. The brand's signature item: a Day-Glo polyester jogging suit like some Russian Juicy Couture.
Russians have a very sweet tooth: Try one of the many local candies for proof. But the real lure isn't the filling but the crazy packaging, especially the little girl known as Alyonka. After debuting in the 1960s Soviet era, she has become one of the country's pop culture icons — think redheaded pigtailed Wendy, Soviet-style.
There are two brands from the time of the Revolution: Red October (the original factory building in Moscow has now been converted into a cool artsy space), and Krupskaya, named after Lenin's wife. The taste is a bit hit or miss, but they are worth it for the ornamental wrappers.
These fruit candies are from the Caucasus region — truly Sochi specific. Made from jellied grape or pomegranate juice and lashings of nuts, they have a sweet-salty-nutty taste that is surprisingly moreish.
Red salmon caviar is cheaper than sturgeon and just as delicious. Eat it Russian-style on blini pancakes with sour cream, or on buttered dark soda bread.
There are various regional brands for every area but what takes, ahem, precedent over the Putinka brand?
Russian Tsar Pavel I first brought together Crimean vines and French Champagne makers, but it was Prince Golitsyn who established the first economically successful Russian sparkling wine at Abrau-Dyurso. So successful was Golitsyn that in 1900 at the Paris World's Fair, Novy Svet champagne defeated all the French entries to claim the internationally coveted Grand Prix de Champagne. Typically Soviet champagne is made from a blend of Aligoté and chardonnay grapes…call it a méthode russe.
The Olympic torch has fast become selfie central, as has the Lenin mosaic in the middle of the town of Sochi.
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