I have been to Moscow a couple of times and will be heading off again in a few days. One of the things I have enjoyed in Moscow (as usual) is the food. You can find any sort of cuisine in Moscow, even an American Diner just a block away from the Red Square (notice the irony here) but what I have enjoyed the most is the Russian cuisine, especially dishes most suitable for their harsh winters.
Remember what I said about always try to eat somewhere where the menu is not in English? (Read: How to be a Different Tourist) Well, you can safely not follow that advice in Russia, because it is likely that they only have an English menu to make it easier for foreigners (not just tourists, we are talking ex-pats as well) who can’t decipher the Cyrillic script but still serve up traditional cuisine of the Russians.
In cosmopolitan Moscow, this is especially the case. As long as you are walking into a Russian restaurant (not Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Georgian and Ukrainian – the latter two are somewhat a trendy thing these days) you are pretty much going to be giving Russian cuisine a real go.
Here’s a four course meal plan that I have enjoyed in Moscow.
I first had Borscht in Poland, and it seems to be the soup of choice in this eastern European / quasi-Asia region. The Borscht is a broth soup, made from root vegetables, mostly beetroot, creating the signature deep pink colour of the soup.
Different regions does it differently. In Poland, I had it completely plain served in a cup. In Ukraine the soup is cooked with chunky vegetables and in Russia, thin strips of beef are added for both flavour and texture, and the soup is served with a dollop of sour cream.
While in Moscow I have also discovered that Borscht is best ‘eaten’ with a shot of horseradish vodka. Oh yes, when it’s -15 degrees out on the streets, this combination will have you warmed up within the first sip!
If you order a salad (that has some description of having ham/shrimps/crayfish/crab etc) you are likely going to get the style of salad that everywhere else simply dubs as ‘Russian Salad’.
It is essentially a sort of potato salad, made with small cubed potatoes mixed with whatever ingredients described on the menu (but it is mostly just peas and carrots) and thick creamy egg mayonnaise.
The Stroganoff comes with various versions of its story. One hovers around the mid-19th century when Russia went to war with whoever it was at war with at the time (this part of the story is not important) – one of the Generals was especially brave and was to be awarded a military medal. He was invited to dine with Russian dignitaries, and the dignitary in question noticed that the good General had lost one of his arms at war. So he rushed to the kitchen and asked the chef to cook something that the General could eat with only one arm – and the Beef Stroganoff was created.
The word ‘Stroganoff’ in Russia just means ‘in small pieces’, and is now a popular stew all around the world. The sour cream and mustard stew is served over rice and I must say is a fantastic and easy meal for a cold winter’s day.
I saw this among the almond cakes and the chocolate Soufflés. Being me, I was always going to order something that isn’t ‘ordinary’. The waitress chuckled, “looks like you have the same mind as the little girl who first asked for it”. I sense a story coming so I pressed on.
A long time ago (as stories generally goes, but I later discovered that this dish was first served in 1980s, not so old after all) there was a very rich man whose little daughter had everything in the world. When it came to her thirteenth birthday, her father asked what she wanted for a present.
She looked around and couldn’t see anything she didn’t already have, so she thought she’d ask for something that she knew no one in the world had – “I’d like pigeon’s milk father”.
The father was distressed, he couldn’t say no, however where was he going to get something that is impossible? So he approached the best baker in town and asked him to make a cake that would resemble pigeons milk.
So voila, the cake ‘Pigeon’s Milk’ was created. It is essentially chocolates with layers of milky cream in between.
It is YUMMY!
Oh, and one last thing – you will have vodka. Always have vodka.