It’s time that we talk about the food in Moscow.
I am here in Moscow with a group of Americans and Russians. Some of the Americans, many years my senior, have experience in Russia dating back to the 80s, when Russia was a part of the Soviet Union. All my American colleagues that have visited Russia more than once in the past few years have agreed that the food scene in Moscow is improving and becoming more cosmopolitan. Walking the streets of Moscow, it is very easy to find international options, most commonly including Japanese, Georgian (the country), and Italian food.
The first time I was in Russia was in 2014, when I studied abroad in St. Petersburg. I lived in a dorm and everyday I ate in the “stolovaya” (cafeteria). In the stolovaya at the university, they served basic Russian food (as well as Chinese food, but that was only because of the large Chinese population that made up many of the exchange students). Russian food typically includes dark bread, salads (with less greens and more mayonnaise), fish, and red meats (at this stolovaya, often sausage). In addition, the condiments usually include sour cream, dill, and gorchitsa (spicy mustard). Stolovayas are not only a college campus phenomenon but are also scattered throughout the city. It would not be uncommon for those who have a 9-5pm to run out a nearby stolovaya for a lunch break.
If we were to rank food establishments, stolovayas would be at the bottom with food trucks (which are less common here and typically less fancy). At the higher end of things is fine dining. This is something that I have yet to experience in Moscow. One of the women in my group recounted her experience at a high-end Moscow restaurant called the “White Rabbit.” The tasting menu is 10,000 rubles per person, which at the time of this writing is around $160 per person. The courses are small, but beautiful and extravagant.
On a whole, it is clear that Russians’ palates are expanding, and the food culture and offerings are growing. When in Russia, people will commonly tell you to try the caviar, vodka, and borsch (beet soup); however, there are so many other interesting things that one can not easily find here in the U.S., including the tvorog (Russian sweet, cottage cheese), pirozhki (sweet or savory pastries filled with fruit jams or meats), or the kvass (distinct tasting, fermented beverage, with a near-zero alcohol content).
There is a very good Russian saying that des not translate well into English. “Khorosho sidim”, which literally means “good sitting,” but in conversation it describes a pleasant atmosphere between friends that have just shared a meal and good conversation together. Whatever you try in Russia, Dear Reader, I hope you try it in good company. Khorosho sidim!