Admittedly, when you think of Moscow, the culinary advantages of the Russian capital do not necessarily come to mind first. The largest city of Russia, however, has much more to offer as a world metropolis than was the case in Soviet times, when meager food with cabbage, beets and potatoes dominated the menu. Whether you are looking for Russian classics, international cuisine, or specialties from other former Soviet republics – in Moscow there is something for every budget.
Russian canteens – affordable and authentic lunchtime food
If you are looking for affordable food that is also authentically Russian, you will find it in a so-called Stolowaja (столовая). The direct translation into German would be a cafeteria, although this term does not do justice to the cultural phenomenon of Stolowaja. In Soviet times, these self-service restaurants were probably the most popular places to eat outside your own four walls.
Of course, there are classic canteens in companies and educational institutions, which are usually also open to the public. For example, eating in a Stolowaja in a town hall or a university as a foreigner is completely normal in Russia, unlike in Asia or Australia. But the institution Stolowaja has survived beyond that and now there are hipster canteens, even in trendy neighborhoods, where you can get typical Russian food at affordable prices.
Probably the most famous Stolowaja in the Russian capital is simply called Stolowaja 57 and is located on the upper floor of the luxury department store GUM on Red Square. So if you want to try typical Solyanka, Russian buckwheat or pork in the form of Kotleti in Moscow, you are in good hands here.
Even without knowledge of Russian you get very well here, in the queue that leads past the dishes that are usually prepared and presented in showcases or large bowls, you only have to select them by pointing at them and they will be given to you by the staff put on the plate.
A big faux pas, however, would be to serve yourself without being asked, which is usually acknowledged with an unfriendly reaction on the part of the staff. The dish is served to you on a plate on a tray and when in doubt it is completely normal to place several plates on your tray. At the end of the queue there is the till where you can pay individually, depending on what you have put on the tray.
Fast food in Russia
Of course, the all-round American fast food chains also exist and McDonald’s is particularly popular in Russia. When the first shops with the golden M opened after the end of the Soviet Union, huge queues formed for weeks, the Russians were practically crazy about Big Mac and Co. McDonald’s is still extremely popular in Russia, probably more so than, for example, in Asia or Australia. KFC, Subway and Burger King have also made their way into the giant empire, just like the kebab that is omnipresent in Germany.
But even if you’re looking for a quick, affordable snack in Russia, you don’t have to eat at McDonalds. Fortunately, there are also a few alternatives in Russia that correspond to local traditions.
On the one hand there is the chain Teremok (Теремок), which is very popular in Moscow and Petersburg and which primarily offers Russian pancakes, in Russian Blini. At Teremok you can have simple dishes for around 2.25 $ – on the one hand, of course, the famous pancakes with all kinds of ingredients from savory to sweet, but also salads and other side dishes. Up to blini with caviar, you will find everything you would like as a pancake lover.
Another option is the Stolowaja chain Mu-Mu, which usually advertises with a cow in front of the store. There are also Russian classics like Blini, Soljanka and Borshtsh at extremely affordable prices. There are numerous branches of the popular chain from the well-known Arbat shopping street to Sheremetyevo Airport.
The offshoots of Kroschka Kartoschka (Крошка Картошка), another typical Russian fast food shop, are probably more common. Here you will find everything that is somehow related to potatoes – however, the shop is best known for its foil potatoes, which can be garnished with other ingredients if desired. At weekends, many branches are open all night, so you can satisfy your hunger after a long night of drinking. Conveniently, many of the Kroschka stores can be found at metro stations.
Fine Russian cuisine
Of course there is not only cheap fast food in Moscow. After all, an estimated 100,000 millionaires live in the mega-metropolis and, accordingly, there are more than enough restaurants for the sophisticated taste. One of the most exclusive restaurants is the Turandot on Tverskoy Boulevard, which offers an interesting mix of Pan-Asian cuisine that contrasts with the baroque interior of the restaurant. If you want to dine side by side with Moscow’s rich and beautiful, this is the place for you, but you have to expect a hefty bill.
Not far from Turdandot is a more affordable version of the baroque style luxury experience. Café Pushkin was first mentioned in a French song by Gilbert Becaud – it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the restaurant, named after Russia’s best-known poet, opened its doors. In a baroque ambience that is reminiscent of the tsarist palaces of St.-Petersburg, you can eat Russian specialties such as pelmeni or chicken kiev up to traditional blini. The simple lunch menu is available for less than 11$.
International cuisine in Moscow
Moscow is not necessarily known for it, but it is de facto just as much a melting pot of cultures as New York is. Not only, but mostly from the 14 other former states of the Soviet Union. One of these countries is Georgia and even though the relations between the two countries are now tense on a political level, the Russians still love Georgian food and wine. The Georgian dumplings called Khinkali and the famous pizza-like dough boats with cheese and egg, called Khachapuri, are extremely popular in Moscow.
Add a Georgian wine and possibly a kebab skewer and you have a great dinner. The number of Georgians in Moscow is in the hundreds of thousands, so it is no wonder that there are a corresponding number of restaurants. The Georgian chain Khinkalnaya has a dozen branches in Moscow and offers great quality at affordable prices.
Sushi and everything else Asian are almost as popular in Moscow. The choice is almost unlimited and there are several sushi shops in almost every Moscow district. The best known, however, is the Novikov in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, but here too you have to expect higher quality at higher prices.