Well this was a challenge! Never had I heard anything about Russian cuisine but caviar and borscht, neither of which I have a special soft spot for. So naturally I was “a bit” preoccupied what our prolonged weekend in Moscow would bring to the table. But it was so much more than fish eggs, beetroot soup and vodka, there was no need to be worried. Reading about good places on other blogs on the other hand was not so easy. I did not really find any.
We ended up following advice from our different guidebooks (Kishmish and Cafe Pushkin) and recommendations from an 2011 Monocle issue (Ragout and Dodo). We checked out places I had googled and read about (Saperavi) but due to my scepticism towards Russian food we chose rather international places and I deprived myself the true Russian experiences. Sadly we often ended up in chain restaurants (try to not hit a restaurant of the Ginza Project chain! I dare you!) Not once the menu was not translated, not once did we end up eating something we were not able to tell what was. So next time I will not walk past a local work place canteen but I will go in and see what a modern day Russian has for working lunch, it cannot all be accompanied by lounge music.
A really useful little helper was an expat magazine we found in a store of the bakery chain Khleb & Co: element. Check out their home page for the pdf version of this restaurant guide or collect your copy when in Moscow (there is a list of places of where to find it in the end of the pdf document). But again, this magazine will not show you the way to the cute little place with a Russian Mamma in the kitchen. Maybe those places do not exist but next time I am in Russia I will definitely do a better job in looking for them and not try to walk the save path of global cuisine. Now at least I know that I won’t have to starve.
To conclude I have to say that you will eat really well in Moscow. I appreciated to get to know the Caucasian mixture of the Middle East (like grilled meat) and Asia (fresh herbs like cilantro and rice dishes) and to see how a concept like stuffed pasta can come all the way from Asia to Europe in different variations: Korean mandu, Japanese gyoza, Chinese dim-sum, Russian pelmeni, Polish pirogi, Italian ravioli. We are not all that different, when it comes to food we seem to agree that some things simply work and we take over each others ideas!
Food can be like religion: we have some strong beliefs on how some traditional local dishes have to be made in a particular way and food is strongly connected to a countries cultural identity. It is great to see how Europe and Asia peacefully meet in Russia when it comes to food culture. One can only dream of religious encounters occuring in the same peaceful manner.