Destinations Magazine

I Ate It In Russia

By Colleen Brynn @ColleenBrynn

While preparing a handful of photo albums recently, I ended up sifting through my pictures from Russia and realized I haven’t shared all the meals I had there. I can’t believe it’s been over a year since that trip – almost a year and a half, really! As such, I will do my best to remember the details.

What stands out most when I think about the Russian food I had was that it was not very good, and it was kind of expensive. I did not find Russia to be a foodie paradise, and after a lot of misses early on in the trip, my travel partner and I often opted to buy vegetables and beer at a supermarket and cook at our hostel. Our lazy-lady salads ended up being much more reliable than trying out restaurants everywhere we went.

If I got the Russian cuisine thing wrong, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. If a place really does have good food, it shouldn’t be this hard to find it.

At least the beer was good.



This meal was from the cafeteria in the GUM department store. I read that relatively cheap meals were available here. Key word relatively, and all I can say was that is was okay.



Okay, and there was lots of beer. Every day. Get used to this right now.

This particular beer was consumed at one of the countless restaurants on Arbat Street, a pretty famous tourist hub.



This was one of the more delicious things I had. Borscht. Tasty! I think Sara had a mushroom soup.





This particular place, Stolle, was supposed to have really good pies and pastries, and the price was supposed to be right. We pretty much went on a pilgrimage to find this place, and we left disappointed. They were dry and flavourless. Boo.




Train snacks! Nothing that exciting.


St. Petersburg


At least we found some good coffee. I enjoyed placing those chunks of brown sugar on top of the cappuccino foam and watching it sink as if in quick sand.

And we also found some salads. Both pretty pumped about this:



Call me a weirdo all you want, but for whatever reason, salad and fresh vegetables are the food items I miss and crave most when traveling.





It was hot. REALLY hot. St. Petersburg smelled like a urinal and a fat man’s armpit. We were dismayed by the expensive, tasteless food, the crowds and definitely the heat. So what did we do? We went to a pub (O’Hooligan’s). Because that’s a very Russian thing to do, clearly. We self-medicated with pub food and day drinking.






After a long day in the heat and a day of visiting cathedrals and climbing towers, we decided it was time to self-medicate again, this time with sugar. This cafe, Checkpoint Cafe, was actually really cute. It was expensive for what we got, but it was perfect, and just the charm we needed at the end of the day. We cozied up and played jenga and ate cupcakes and sipped fizzy drinks.




This restaurant (Schaste) was beautiful. We were drawn in by its lush interior and a sign that boasted breakfast specials. Reasonably priced food in this posh of a place? Sure thing! Well… first they got my order wrong:




And then they got my order right, but Sara’s portion was so small, it was laughable. They even cut the crust off her bread. That’s perfectly good, edible calories you’re throwing away there. We’ve got to walk all day and survive this disgusting heat. Don’t short us please!



When most people think of Russia, they also think dumplings. I was ecstatic when I decided to be brave and try something unfamiliar on the menu and it actually turned out great: pelmeni. On the menu, it will look like this: пельмень.

Pelmeni usually end up being a reliable, affordable meal when in Russia. My only word of warning is that it’s probably best to go with a vegetarian option. Here and there with the meat pelmeni, I would come across those awful, mysterious, un-chewable bits. A hard bit, a wiggly bit, an all out gross bit. Stick with veg in this part of the world, and you won’t find yourself wondering why the meat is less expensive than the veg.



Found another cafe and had raspberry crepes and lemonade. Not bad, but not cheap either.



Something else we did with some frequency in Russia: paying for food by weight. There are loads of cafeterias in Russia where you can buy a dish individually or by weight and build yourself a meal, just as we did in the GUM department store. This particular meal was devoured at the train station before catching our train out of the city. Beet salad, zucchini and some sort of beef patty. Not bad, kind of affordable, not overly memorable.

See how excited I am about the Russian dining experience?






More train snacks!

Listen, we had (I had… I can’t really speak for my companion) a lot of negative interactions with Russians while we were there. I had a fight with a Russian on a daily basis it seemed. Even a couple of heavily accented F-bombs came my way on a couple of occasions. We were beyond lucky that on our first overnight train experience we found this guy, Vladimir (while on our way to the town of Vladimir, incidentally). I wrote all about this first overnight train experience here, but all you need to know for this post is that he cracked out his groceries and shared everything he had with us: all his apples, grapes, beer, sausage and bread. He even shoved his headphones at me and insisted I take a listen. He was a real sweetheart, and all I could say in Russian at that point in the journey was “Yes” and “beer”. I can’t say my abilities improved (or needed to, har har) from there.





A cute little babushka was selling homemade pickles, so I had to have one! Holy hell, that was one salty pickle.






Then it was time for some real food. We had some sort of local honey mead to drink and another round of pelmeni. This time, Sara chose the mushroom correctly (which was a little pricier than the meat), and I had the meat option. This was my first experience with the strange body parts in my dumplings.



There was no drinking allowed in our hostel, so we took our king cans outside and drank there like a couple of juvenile degenerates.


Nizhny Novgorod



Eating ice cream and riding on metal statues. Whatever, don’t judge me.



This was one of those “it fills the hole” kind of meals. Nothing too gourmet or delectable here. I do remember the shop where I got this. All of the ingredients were sitting out in tubs, and there appeared to be no refrigeration of any kind around. With all the creamy sauces he used, I wondered how soon I’d be running to the can. I think I just got lucky and somehow didn’t end up ill from this.



Beers at Bezuhov. It was here that we noticed the Russian practice of not filling the beer to the top of the glass but rather to the line on the glass denoting a precise amount of liquid.





Ah, hello, excessively large pieces of pizza, yes please! Probably one of the best meals we had (again, very Russian of us, I know). I don’t remember exactly where this place was, but I know it was on the main drag by our hostel, and all the particulars are (probably) on that napkin.






More train snacks and train beers! We met all the friendly Russians on the train. All it took was a bit of bread and sausage, and voila, best friends!

Oh, and don’t forget this morning view:






I tried kvass for the first time. It’s a fermented drink made from black or regular rye bread (thanks Wikipedia). It’s by no means an offensive or difficult to drink beverage, but it also wasn’t overly exciting or tasty. I guess I just don’t see what the fuss is.



More ice cream. Because ice cream.




We were kind of desperate when we found this open air “restaurant”. Our first tip-off should have been that there was no one else there, and there was certainly no one eating. I don’t even know why this food was being served. I think this place was just a bar; there were a few of them side by side, all along the river in Perm. The location was good, but everything else was just… weird. I guess the guys from Azerbaijan were nice enough, but I can’t say I was flattered when the chain-smoking guy with gold teeth took a shine to me.

I don’t know what that meat was, and I don’t know in what world that stuff beside it constitutes a salad. The meat was hard and stiff and ended up being a further push to the vegetarian side of life.

The beer was good though?



Coffee on the train. Legs need a razor.

And I see these photos and remember the jerks who wouldn’t share the bunk with us on the train. Hey a-hole, we paid for this too.




This was another cafeteria type situation. When I look at this photo I remember the cashier who was so rude to me/us that I almost threw my drink at her. It took every ounce of restraint I had not to do so.

“What?” you’re thinking. “What is this ugly side of you, Colleen? I never knew this existed.”

Yeah, well. You can thank Russia for that.




And more beer.




After an insane, hectic day of running around, trying to stand in two places at once and visit Ganina Yama, we snacked on some random pastries.



This quickly became my most favorite thing to do: nosh on noodles, sip beer, read and gaze out the train window.



And here’s a look at the train’s samovar – the source of all hot water, the creator of coffee, tea, instant noodles or anything else you can dream up that just needs hot water.



More train snacks! Morning coffee and pastries.



More train snacks! I mean, beer.

This was the moment when our Russian compartment-mate proposed to me in exchange for 3 cans of beer. King cans, of course!





Perchini for pasta. And pasta lamps too, of course.






We got caught in a massive downpour that turned the streets into rivers. We hid under the awning of a travel agency (coincidence?) but still got destroyed by the rain. The kind ladies inside invited us in when they saw us, and they served us coffee. Cute.




Okay these are probably the two weirdest pictures – how alien do my fingers look holding those peanuts?? Optical illusion, I swear. I have long fingers, but they aren’t that long or bulbous. And that’s a bottle of kvass and the crazy eyes.

Train snacks!







This was one of the more positive restaurant experiences I recall from the trip. We went to Vagon Restaurant (none of the links online link up properly) and had more beer(!) and I was *gasp* craving lettuce, so I had a simple salad that came with smoked salmon. Healthy and relatively affordable. The best part was that this whole restaurant was designed to reflect train wagons, an all too fitting motif of our Trans-Siberian Railway experience.



After an ATM swallowed Sara’s bank card, it was time for more self-medication. Sara had cake, and I had whatever this was. Some sort of tasty, overpriced coffee.



One afternoon, we visited the Stolby National Park, and while we waited for the chairlift, we had more cafeteria food. Dumplings, pickled cucumber slices and lasagne. Thrilling, right?










More of the good stuff. Train beers. And some chicken from the dining car (which was actually not bad?!) and crackers shared with compartment-mates.




The trip burnout was starting to set in by Irkutsk. It’s supposed to be a pretty place, but I (we?) gave up, ate pizza (with dry crust!) and called it a day. Another fill-the-hole kind of situation. At least it was cheap.



Supermarket chocolates. Had a few of these over the course of the trip.


Olkhon Island –  because this post is getting long, I’m going to reserve these meals for another standalone post. This was a special place.

Ulan Ude


More cafeteria grub from a place called King Food.




And finally, when in doubt, pub.


Have you ever been to Russia? What did you think about the food? 

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