From Russia with Food

The infamous newly renovated Bolshoi…

I am back from my travel-and-sloth-induced hiatus, to finally report on my trip to Moscow!

Russia is in the process of emerging from the culture of almost exclusively eating at home (unless someone is getting married!), and is slowly transitioning to the type of place where people can learn to appreciate the art and convenience of eating out. And I am not just talking about the exceedingly well-heeled “New Russians”. Over the last decade, restaurants of every imaginable cuisine have been springing up all over Moscow.

That being said, wine is still quite an expensive pleasure, sporting considerable mark-ups, both retail and on-premise (retail prices seem to be twice the US retail). For me to satisfy my Burgundy tooth in Moscow would be quite detrimental to my finances. On the same note, Vinosyr (http://vinosyr.ru/) is the only true wine bar I am aware of in Moscow; I must say the selections are not very exciting, especially when compared to the NYC wine bars (so perhaps I am a little spoiled :-)). They hold wine tastings every Wednesday; the one I attended earlier this month showcased the relatively inexpensive but enjoyable champagnes by a small grower-producer Yves Louvet (including their latest 2002 Millesime).

A few comments about my food experiences:

The highlight, without a doubt, was Russian imperial cuisine at Café Pushkin and Tsentral’nii Dom Literatorov (Central Writers’ House), – for those of you who have read “Master & Margarita”, the latter was featured in the immortal novel by Mikhail Bulgakov under the name “Griboyedov”. It has an amazing legacy, and it is arguably the most exciting dining destination in Moscow.

On a practical note: “business lunch” prix-fixe is a nice and inexpensive way to sample this level of cuisine; but you cannot go wrong with any of their a la carte selections.

I absolutely loved their luxurious soups: ukha (rich, amber-colored traditional fish soup with sterlet, zander, and salmon); sorrel soup with beef tongue, cold-boiled pork (buzhenina), and egg; smoked goose soup with cabbage and pickled apples, and the incredibly fragrant, 24-hour steeped veal schi made with a specialty sauerkraut. After having soup with pierozhki (individual-size savory pies) filled with cabbage and egg; with fish; and the incredible lamb pies, I seriously wished for a bigger stomach to be able to savor all of their delicacies: homemade duck dumplings served in a duck broth; roasted piglet with stuffed apples; braised rabbit with cranberries; – too many others to enumerate here.

Unfortunately no photography was allowed 😦 , so please see the pictures on their respective websites. Be certain to check out the interiors of both places, – they are pretty incredible:

http://www.cafe-pushkin.ru/gallery.php

http://www.cdlrestaurant.ru/

Other notable food experiences included shopping (and subsequently eating the purchases) at Armenia retail shop featuring a number of traditional Armenian prepared food items. I picked several kinds of basturma (Armenian spicy dry-cured beef), lavash (flatbread), pickles, several varieties of cheese, walnut preserves, dolmas, lentils, yogurt, etc.

Basturma

Homemade-style pierogi (sweet and savory pies) at café/bar Nicholai, available by the slice or half/whole, for eating in or for takeaway, made a perfect snack.

Another great memory was a midnight home meal of tongue and lightly cured semga sandwiches. “Semga” is steelhead salmon, which is known as “the Mercedes of salmon”.

And of course, there were countless fabulous varieties of milk products (cow and goat milk-based): prostokvasha, ryazhenka, kefir, tvorozhok, tvorog, and smetana.  Some of them are related to yogurt; the rest – to cottage cheese, farmer’s cheese, or sour cream; yet, they have little in common with their American counterparts. They represent a variety of flavors and textures depending on whether they are made from fermented milk, baked milk, skim milk, using a culture, etc. Quality varies considerably as well, depending on where they were made and procured; the best specimens come from farmer’s markets and high-end supermarkets such as “Sed’moi Kontinent”.

Ryazhenka
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11 thoughts on “From Russia with Food

  1. Natasha,
    This is what I am talking about. We need to get over to Moscow and do a full feature on this cuisine. I am mesmerized by all these ingredients and the Cyrillic letters just make the mystery even more intriguing.
    Love this post!

  2. Sorry I turned down the op to travel to Russia. I do however dine often at LADA, a Russian restaurant in Clffside Park, NJ run by the chef from the Russian Consulate. Food is delicious and the pelmini are melt in your mouth good. See the videos of my many visits.

  3. Very educational, both about the emerging eating-out trends in Russia and the “culture of almost exclusively eating at home (unless someone is getting married!)” (love that line, btw!). I often have a hard time explaining that one to non-Russki friends. It’s like, c’mon, carbs taste so much better at home! Here, have a potato! Also, had no idea that the restaurant from Master & Margarita still functions. Will be sure to check out these recommendations next time I visit the mother country.

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