Culinary experience is one the most important parts of a trip to a new country. What and how people eat is one of the fundamental elements of the culture. So, describing the food one can find in Moscow is very important, because Russian cuisine has a lot of interesting dishes that make it unique and unforgettable. You just have to know where to find it.
Eating out in Moscow can be a bit of a challenge. Ten or five years ago the general level of Moscow’s restaurants was not very high. Times change and today things are not so bad. Generally it is not a problem to have a decent meal. Mostly all concerns and remarks regard the prices (pretty high compared to other European capitals) and the level of service that can be received (not all restaurants have English menus, not all have polite waiters).
Russian cuisine by itself is pretty simple and resembles what an average farmer could grow and cook for himself. There were two periods that had a strong influence on Russian cuisine – the Imperial times in the 18th-19th century, when Russian Emperors and the aristocracy invited French and German chefs, and the 20th century Soviet period, when the cuisine was thought to resemble the needs of the working people. All of these periods gave Russian cuisine dishes that are regarded as classic Russian.
What to eat
Here’s is a short list of dishes that you should try while staying in Russia:
– Russian soups like Shi, Borsch and Solyanka. Russians love soups, we never start our lunch without one. Maybe it’s because of the cold wheather.
– Beefstroganoff and Pelmeni: these are meat dishes that are essential for our cuisine. The first is stewed beef (cut in small pieces) with sour cream, the second are dumplings, that can be served with some broth and sour cream (yes, we like sour cream)
– Blini: Russian pancakes that are very similar to the French crepes. They can be served both as appetizers with meat, ham, fish or caviar, and as desert with different jams and sour cream.
– Beer with dried fish: we call it korushka. If you end up in a bar in Moscow it is most likely they serve that. It’s a fun attraction.
– Seledka: that’s Russian for hering. It is one of the most popular appetizers with vodka (also good ones are salted mushrooms, rye bread, garlic and pickles).
– Gretchka or buckwheat. A strange grain that Russians can eat year round bolied, fried,, with meat, onions, mushrooms, or even make porridges with milk. It’s har to find in a restaurant because it’s not something we like to eat on a night out.
– Salads with mayo: yes, hard to believe it, but Russians are crazy about mayo and one can find it too often and too much. The most popular mayo salad is Olivier, invented by a French chef who worked in Russia in early 20th century.
Where to eat
Choosing the place for a meal in Moscow greatly depends on how much you are ready to pay. Eating out in the Russian capital can turn out to be an expensive experience, but it doesn’t mean there is no way to spend a bit less.
The fast-food scene in Moscow is not so booming as European capitals but it is getting better all the time. Russians like kiosk based eateries that offer blinis, roasted potatoes with salads (with mayo!), hot dogs and kebabs. Most of them look worse than the food, but mostly it’s not bad. In such fast-food chains like Teremok or Kroshka-Kartoshka you can try different traditional Russian dishes, like soups, blinis, salads and etc.
If you want to have a bite of Russian cuisine and stay within reasonable budget we can recommend such chains as Elki-Palki or Mu-Mu. They serve Russian cuisine of average quality but good enough to understand whether you are fan or not. They have many locations in downtown Moscow and English menus, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find them and make the right order. Average cheque – 15 to 30 USD per person.
For higher quality cuisine you can check Kvartira 44 (Bolshaya Nikitskaya 22), Mayak (Bolshaya Nikitskaya 19), Staraya Bashnya (Teatralnaya sq, 5), Durdin (Bolshaya Polyanka, 56) and Glavpivtorg (Bolshaya Lubyanka, 5). Prices will vary from 30 to 60 USD per person and don’t forget about the vodka.
For a fine culinary experience we can recommend several high-end restaurants that serve as an example of fine dinning Russian style. First of all, it’s Cafe Pushkin (Tverskoy blvd, 26), that has served as a row model for other Russian cuisine restaurants for the past decade. They also have a smaller coffee shop with more reasonable prices right next door. Na Melnitse restaurant (Sadovaya Spasskaya 24) is an example of a traditional Russian restaurant from the 18 th century. Gusyatnikoff (Alexander Solzhenitzin st, 2a) is like a club restaurant with private dinning rooms, billiards and cigar rooms. If you are ready for fine dinning be ready to pay 80 to 200 USD for such a treat.
Russians also are big fans of breakfast and many restaurants and cafes in Moscow have remembered about that in the past years. A great treat for breakfast are fried cakes made of cottage cheese, which go great with sour cream or jam. Omlets and fried eggs are also popular for breakfast.
This post covers Russian cuisine but the culinary experience in Moscow is not full only with that. We have European, American, Japanese, Thai, Singapore, Indian, Georgian, Uzbek restaurants that are worth trying. But lets leave that for part 2.