Last Updated on April 19, 2020 by Irena Domingo
In this article I will explain what you can eat in Russia, what are the most traditional and typical dishes, as well as the drinks that accompany them. But I will not only tell you about Russian cuisine, but also the restaurants where you can try it, from local fast food chains to international renowned Russian haute cuisine restaurants.
I'm going to talk about ...
- 1. RUSSIAN CUISINE: a kitchen mix that is difficult to define
- 2. Russians MANNERS at lunchtime
- 3. TYPICAL Russian Gastronomy DISHES
- 4. DRINKS in Russia: from Kvas to vodka
- 5. RESTAURANTS in Russia: Russian, Georgian and other former USSR cuisine
- 5.1. Russian FAST FOOD Establishments
- 5.2. Russian SELF-SERVICE OR BUFFETS cuisine
- 5.3. HAUTE CUISINE restaurants: the Michelin Guide and the Gault et Millau Guide
- 5.4. RECOMMENDATIONS of restaurants in the main tourist attractions
- SAINT PETERSBURG
1. RUSSIAN CUISINE: a kitchen mix that is difficult to define
Russian cuisine does not have the international reputation that other cuisines have, but the truth is that Russia has a long and rich culinary history, with many influences from the cuisine of other Russian regions, former Soviet republics or French cuisine.
Despite this, Moscow and St. Petersburg are experiencing a gourmet modernization of their gastronomic offer. There are more and more haute cuisine restaurants that are gaining international recognition, and this attracts travelers wanting to try a meal out of the ordinary and the truth is that many diners return home surprised and very satisfied.
When I travel to a foreign country, one of the first things I like to know is which is the typical food and drink of the place, which are the open hours, what is the usual tip to leave or what are the most popular local products, and manners at lunchtime. I also like to know the type of restaurants that I will find, both fast-food Russian chains and mid-range and high-end restaurants.
In this article I will tell you about all these aspects applied to Russian gastronomy.
2. Russians MANNERS at lunchtime
2.1. What meals do Russians cook?
Russians begin the day with a breakfast called zavtrak, which can take kasha (a kind of milk porridge and rice cereals or wheat semolina) or bread with butter. Some also have a stronger breakfast that includes sausages, eggs, bread, etc.
The second meal is the obied and is made at noon (about 1:00 p.m. or later) and is the main meal of the day, which includes starter, main course and dessert.
The last meal of the day is made from 19:00 hours, they call it uzhin and it is considered a kind of dinner, which usually does not include soup or dessert.
Most dishes are accompanied with rye bread. They are very fond of sour cream, called smetana, present in many dishes. As a starter they almost always have a soup and for dessert they are very fond of drinking black tea with lemon (which they drink at all hours) along with some candy.
They also use a lot of tvorog, a dairy product, made with whipped cheese, with a creamy and white texture, which is made with cow’s milk.
And what about Russian caviar? There is red (salmon) and black (beluga, sturgeon or sevruga). Regarding the latter, the best and most expensive is that of beluga, and you will only find it in fancy restaurants or in some stores.
At home it is normal to eat the red caviar, the economic one. In Russian homes it is taken on top of a slice of white bread and butter. It also appears in many dishes, such as blinis (similar to crepes). Black caviar, on the other hand, is reserved for special occasions (Christmas, special celebrations, etc.)
2.2. Russian cuisine tours
If you want to delve fully into the gastronomy, some agencies organize gastronomic tours, so you can get to know Russian cuisine and local products better.
For example, a gastronomic tour is organized in Moscow to taste the typical Russian dishes by visiting three restaurants. A gastronomic tour is also organized to try the typical Russian products, in local markets such as the Danilovsky market or a tour to enjoy the typical Russian drinks: Russian vodka, Russian craft beer or Nastoika.
Another option is to enjoy a traditional Russian meal in a centric Moscow monastery, or even take some cooking classes with a local family.
In short, the possibilities are varied. Choose the one that best suits your tastes.
3. TYPICAL Russian Gastronomy DISHES
3.1. The starters: from Borscht to Russian salad
A very peculiar and distinctive element of the Russians is that they eat soup throughout the year. It is almost always the first dish or starter preferred before any meal.
Soups are rich and caloric, to fight the cold in winter. One of the most famous is the Shchi, made of potato, cabbage and meat. It also highlights the Borscht, which is also typical in Ukraine, but very popular in Russia, which has vegetables and beets that give it a very intense red color.
There are also lighter soups such as Solyanka or Ukha (fish soup). But there are also cold soups like Okroshka, with vegetables, potatoes and Kvas.
Salads can also open food. The Russian salad is called Olivier salad. Its name is due to the chef of French origin who popularized it. It is almost always part of the New Year’s Eve menu.
There is another very popular salad called “Herring under a fur coat”, made with herring covered with potatoes, beets, carrots, eggs and mayonnaise.
3.2. The main meals: from Stroganoff to blinis
Stroganoff is one of the most typical dishes of Russian cuisine and you can find it in almost every restaurant. It is a meat dish with diced beef, accompanied with mushrooms, onions and sour cream sauce, served on rice or pasta.
The Shashlik is a roast skewer dish that is very popular in Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Its name varies by country: Mtsvadi in Georgia, Khorovats in Armenia and Khebab in Azerbaijan.
The Russians are very fond of making these skewers on outdoor barbecues in parks when there is good weather.
In Russia, dishes with steaks and different types of stuffed meat are also very common.
As for fish, the Russians mainly take salmon, trout, herring and cod. The garnish of these dishes is usually with potatoes (boiled, fried or pureed). Also sometimes sour cream or smetana is added.
They also take the Koryushka, small fish, typical of the seas of northern Europe and the mouths of rivers such as the Neva. They are taken fried, lightly battered and with sauces. It is a typical and essential dish in St. Petersburg.
Pastas and patties
This type of dishes usually likes both children and adults. First of all, I would highlight the Pelmeni, similar to ravioli and stuffed with meat (either veal, pork or lamb). They are accompanied by smetana or butter. In the English language menus of Russian restaurants, you may find them as Dumplings.
Another version of the Pelmeni are the Varenyky, which are larger and with other types of fillings: vegetables, cabbage, potatoes or mushrooms. They go with any sauce; you can even make sweets with cherry filling.
Golubtsy, or cabbage rolls stuffed with different products, are also very common in restaurant menus.
Also worth noting are buns such as pirozhki, pirogi or kulebiaka. They can be stuffed with cabbage, meat, fish or potatoes, but they can also be sweet (jam, apple or plums). They are often snacks and have different sizes. It is good to know the ingredients beforehand.
Very popular are blinis, a kind of crepes that are served with butter, smetana, jam, honey, red or black caviar, even stuffed with meat, sweet ham, cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, apples, strawberries, etc, or with various mixtures.
Finally, to vary a little, I would recommend you try the Khachapuri, Georgia’s national food. It is a pizza bread dough stuffed with cheese, egg and other various ingredients.
Russians love desserts and therefore have a wide variety of cakes and sweets.
Prianiki are gingerbread candies, commonly with honey, but also with chocolate or stuffed with jams of various flavors.
The blinis mentioned above can also be served as dessert, depending on what they wear.
There are also desserts such as baked apple and other desserts with this base ingredient, such as Ptasie mleczko (or bird’s milk).
Other desserts to highlight are the pastila or fruit paste, the kasha guriev (almost without flour), the Tula gingerbread, the medovik (or honey and cream pie) and the Napoleon, a kind of millefeuille.
4. DRINKS in Russia: from Kvas to vodka
As for drinks, I recommend you try first Kvas, a very mild fermented alcoholic beverage (around 1’2º) and very popular in Russia. There are versions also no alcohol, often of a fruity flavor.
It is a fermented drink based on black bread made with wheat, barley and rye, and to add flavor, you can also add wild fruits. At the time this drink was known as the “Soviet Coca-Cola” for its flavor, color and foam it produces.
On its part, tea is taken at any time of the day. The most traditional in Russia is black tea. Generally, with sugar and lemon, and without milk, served hot. It is accompanied by pastas or sweets.
As for beer, the most famous is the Baltika brand, based in St. Petersburg, the largest company in Eastern Europe and second European manufacturer. It currently belongs to the Carlsberg group. However, in restaurants you can find beers from all over the world, but at a more expensive price.
Also very noteworthy is kefir, a fermented drink based in milk (drinkable yogurt).
And what about vodka? Russians do not mix it or serve it with ice, though the bottle is put in the fridge. It is accompanied by food: pickles, herring, etc. It is served in small glasses.
And wine? You will find good wines in restaurant menus that come from Crimea or the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, etc.), with a predilection for sweet wines. Good restaurants also have wines from around the world in their menus.
5. RESTAURANTS in Russia: Russian, Georgian and other former USSR cuisine
Choosing or recommending a restaurant is very complicated, because it depends on many factors. For example, the price. As I will explain below, in Russia you can find local fast food chains or buffets where you eat well and that are not expensive, but you can also find haute cuisine restaurants of much higher prices. If you are going with young children, they will love Russian fast food chains.
Some important factors to consider:
- Hours in Russia, especially in large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, are wide and extended throughout the day in many places. Thus, lunches are usually from 12:00 to 16:00 hours. Dinners from 19:00 hours, more frequently and maybe already filling up at 20:00 hours, though they may last until 23:00 hours.
- The service offered is good in general. However, you can find menus only in Russian and with staff with basic English skills.
- If we are talking about tips, it is normal to leave an amount between 5 and 10% if the treatment and service deserve it, even more so in quality restaurants. The normal and legal payment is with rubles, either by card or cash.
- In addition to trying the restaurants of Russian cuisine, I strongly recommend trying the textures and flavors of the former Soviet republics, such as the Uzbek or Georgian.
- In the most luxurious restaurants, it is preferable to book in advance. Many of these restaurants allow you to book through their website in English, or also by phone in English, or you can ask at the reception of your hotel to call to make the reservation.
And here’s one last note in case you miss it: pectopah means “restaurant”.
5.1. Russian FAST FOOD Establishments
In Russia, you will find a multitude of American fast food chains (McDonalds, Burguer King, KFC, etc.), but I recommend you try Russian fast food chains. You can find them in central places and in the city malls. There are many but I would highlight the following:
- Teremok. Its menu is based on the world of blinis, filled in multiple ways, even with caviar. You can also try pelmeni, Olivier salad, soups or traditional drinks such as kvas. This chain is widespread in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
- Kroshka Kartoshka. Its name would mean something like “Little Potato” and all its food offerings revolves around the potato, the second most important product of Russia (after bread). They serve large potatoes in every possible way (baked in foil, with butter or with cheese, herbs, meat or mushrooms). But they also offer other Russian food dishes such as pelmeni, vareniki (buns stuffed with cheese) or Olivier salad. It is very widespread in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
- Russian appetite. Another Russian fast food chain with a menu that includes a bit of everything: soups, snacks, hamburgers, pasta, etc. It is best to visit their website to get an idea of what you will find.
- Cheburechnaya URSS. If you are a nostalgic of the former USSR, this is your fast food chain. At the moment it has only 5 stores in Moscow.
5.2. Russian SELF-SERVICE OR BUFFETS cuisine
Russians love buffets too. The best known is Mu Mu (My-My). They are quickly identified by the cow they exhibit at the door of each establishment. They offer all kinds of Russian dishes.
I would also highlight Taras Bulba, of Russian and Ukrainian cuisine, with about 20 establishments in Moscow.
5.3. HAUTE CUISINE restaurants: the Michelin Guide and the Gault et Millau Guide
The Michelin French Guide has not yet arrived in Russia, so you will not find any Russian restaurants in this guide. However, the French guide Gault et Millau has arrived in Moscow, which values the best restaurants in the world with a score of 0 to 20. The best restaurants are not awarded stars but “chef hats” (with a maximum 5 hats).
On the Gault et Millau website you will find the menus of these restaurants with their prices, so you don’t get any surprises. In any case, these are not prices that scare people, if they are compared with the haute cuisine restaurants of other countries.
- Selfie. The menu of this modern signature cuisine restaurant is based on local products: Kursk pork, Murmansk halibut, Bryansk beef, Tver asparagus, Crimean truffle, etc. The Selfie menu contains products from 15 regions of Russia, as well as other countries.
- Savva. Near the Red Square, in the facilities of the legendary Metropol Hotel and with a somewhat dated decoration. It is currently closed for renovation tasks. The baked crab with asparagus is especially highlighted. The restaurant is named after the founder of the hotel, Savva Mamontov, a philanthropist and author of many ideas that changed the look of Moscow in the early twentieth century.
- OVO by Carlo Cracco. This Italian restaurant is located on the second floor of the prestigious Lotte Hotel.
- Semifreddo. Wide selection of Italian dishes. Not far from Gorky Park.
- Björn. Scandinavian cuisine.
- Grand Cru by Adrian Quetglas.
- Cristal Room Baccarat.
- Varvara Café.
- AQ Kitchen.
- La Colline.
- La Marée – Smolenskaya
- Novikov Restaurant & Bar
- Remy Kitchen Bakery
- Balzi Rossi
- Wine and Crab
- Café Pushkin
- La Marée – Petrovka
- La Marée – Gruzinskaya
- Le Restaurant
- Chesnaya kuhnya
- Wine Religion
In addition to these restaurants, in the guide you can also find many other restaurants that are also very good under the name “pop”. It is best to check their website to find the one that best suits your taste or budget.
Among the fast food restaurants and buffets scattered throughout the city and the haute cuisine restaurants, there are endless dining options and I will talk about this in the next section.
5.4. RECOMMENDATIONS of restaurants in the main tourist attractions
On many occasions, the choice of restaurant depends on the place you are visiting. Not always the restaurant that is next to the monument, museum or attraction you are visiting, gives the best value for money. Sometimes it is possible, but the most normal thing is that you have to walk a little more or deviate, if possible.
You will find fast food restaurants and buffets scattered throughout the city and close to the main tourist attractions. On the other hand, it is a little more difficult to find good Russian cuisine restaurants at an affordable price close to the main tourist attractions.
In this regard, I recommend using the Google Maps or TripAdvisor applications, which allow the geolocation of restaurants according to your location, with the scores and opinions of other customers, as well as the average price of the menu.
Here are suggestions of restaurants in which you can eat near the main tourist attractions in Moscow and St. Petersburg:
Red Square Restaurants
If you are visiting the Red Square or any of its buildings such as the Kremlin or St. Basil’s Cathedral, you have several options for eating. First of all, in the GUM Galleries, beautiful shopping center of the Red Square, you have three options:
- You can eat economically in one of the self-service restaurants, such as Stolovaya No 57 or Cafe Festivalnoye, located on the third level of the shopping center.
- Treat yourself to eating at the Beluga Caviar Bar, which specializes in caviar and vodka, but where you can try exquisite Russian cuisine dishes. It is located on the ground floor. Tourists dream to enter here to try caviar and Russian vodka (15 grams of salmon caviar and a shot of vodka can be around 600 rubles)
- An intermediate option between the above is the Bosco Fresh Bar, on the ground floor of the GUM and with a terrace next to the Red Square (Italian and Russian cuisine)
Secondly, you also have the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Center, located below Alexander’s Gardens, next to Red Square. As it is an underground shopping center, many often go unnoticed for tourists, but here you will find a wide range of restaurants and more affordable prices than GUM Stores.
In addition to McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC or Subway, here you will find a wide variety of Russian fast food chains, such as Teremok or Kroshka Kartoshka, as well as self-services such as Mu Mu or Georgian fast food chains such as Eat Georgian. You also have good Italian restaurants like Osteria Mario or Asian cuisine.
Restaurants nearby Red Square
If you are looking for something better, moving away from the tourist area, there are some fabulous restaurants:
- Gourmet Russian cuisine. Walking about 20 minutes from the Red Square you have the LavkaLavka Farm-to-table Restaurant (Petrovka Ulitsa, 21). A few meters from the Kremlin (Mokhovaya, 15/1 Hotel National) you have the Grand Cafe Dr. Zhivago.
- Georgian cuisine. Walking about 15 minutes from the Red Square you have the Megobari restaurant, of Georgian cuisine. Here you can find its menu. It offers great value for the price. Another very good Georgian restaurant closest to the Red Square (in the Revolution Square) is the Tkemali.
- Moldovan cuisine. To try Moldovan cuisine, you have to go to Moldova restaurant, 15 minutes’ walk from Red Square. It is a hidden place in a passage (Rozhdestvenka St, House 7 metro station Kuznetsky most). Highly recommended.
- Barbecue. Walking also 20 minutes you have the Bryanskiy Byk (Bldg. 1 Bolshaya Lubyanka St. 24/15). Excellent grilled meat.
Arbat Street Restaurants
On Arbat Street you will find an immense restaurant offer. You will find all Russian and American fast food chains, as well as different buffets such as Mu Mu or Grabli, Georgian restaurants, Armenians, Asians, etc.
If you are looking for a fancy restaurant, in this area you can find the White Rabbit, a modern Russian-style restaurant that is located on the 16th floor of a shopping center in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. Here, traditional Russian dishes are intertwined with the latest gastronomic trends, and local products are at the level of the most gourmet palates.
Restaurants nearby Tretyakov Gallery
Inside the Tretyakov museum there is a cafeteria in case you want to eat or drink something, though I would not recommend eating in the museum. If you are looking for a good restaurant at the museum exit, walking 5 minutes, I recommend, Abramov, a restaurant of elaborated Russian cuisine. Something more economical is the Taras Bulba Ukrainian cuisine restaurant.
Restaurants in the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery
In the surroundings of the monastery (or convent) of Novodevichy there are several restaurants with elaborate cuisine: Givisatsivi (Georgian) and Golubka (Italian and Russian cuisine). If you prefer, you also have a Russian fast food establishment from the Kroshka Kartoshka restaurant chain.
Restaurants in the Cosmonautics Museum and VDNH
On Russian cuisine, you can find the Mosnebo restaurant, near the Vostok space rocket.
Restaurants in Moscow City
In Moscow City, the catering offer is wide, with many fast food franchises and buffets. It is a good place to eat from the heights of Moscow. Some recommendations of more elegant restaurants are the following: Ruski (Russian cuisine), Yaffa (Israeli cuisine) and Sixty restaurant (Italian and French cuisine).
Restaurants in the downtown area (Hermitage, Nevsky Avenue and main cathedrals)
- Stolovaya nº 1. The most economical you can find. Near the Hermitage and Isaac’s Cathedral. Nevsky Avenue, 13/19. It has several Russian, Central European and Oriental cuisine food locales, with canteen type buffets. Frequented by Russians and tourists. You can eat well for between 300 and 800 rubles. There are quite a few establishments of this type in the city. In fact, stolovaya is “dining room” in Russian.
- Market Place. With more modern decoration than the previous one. International cuisine very varied. Recommended especially for lunches.
If you are looking for something better, I recommend eating at one of the following restaurants:
- Amo Cucinare. A fantastic alternative if you fancy Italian food. Very close to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Between 1,000 and 1,500 rubles, being able to exceed the last figure.
- Teplo. A good place if you are going with children because it has attractions for them. Very varied Russian food. Economic menu, but prices go up if you ask a la carte. It is near the St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
- Tandoor. Indian cuisine and decoration. In the same area as the previous one.
- Erivan. Armenian and Caucasian cuisine. By the Fontanka jetty, near the Lomonosov bridge.
- Pelmenia. A cozy place to eat Russian specialties such as pelmeni or varenyky. Identical area than the previous one.
- Yat Restaurant. Cozy and small establishment of homemade Russian cuisine and also European. You can eat well à la carte, but there are also menus for groups of tourists for less than 1,500 rubles. On weekends there is live music. Very centric and close to the Hermitage.
- Mansarda Restaurant (Ginza group restaurants). Italian, Russian and Oriental cuisine. Located in St. Isaac’s Cathedral area.
- Stroganoff Steak House. Russian, European and American cuisine. Huge and well-kept meat grill. By St. Isaac’s Cathedral area.
- Fiolet. Asian, European and Japanese cuisine. Embarcadero Fontanka, next to the Lomonosov bridge.
- Public Café. One of the best rated restaurants on TripAdvisor with excellent value for money.
- Khacho and Puri Restaurant. Georgian and European cuisine. Nice atmosphere. Ligovsky Avenue, 29 (there is another one further away). Near the obelisk to the heroic defenders of Leningrad.
- Mamalyga. Caucasian and Georgian cuisine fundamentally. There are three, but the most central is by the Kazan Cathedral.
- Percorso. Italian specialties luxurious. Ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace. Very close to St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
- Belleveue. Luxury restaurant located on the ninth floor of the Kempinski hotel. Fabulous views.
Restaurants near Peter and Paul Fortress
Regarding where to eat at the Peter and Paul Fortress, it should be said that inside the fortress there are two coffee shops and several fast food kiosks, but if you are looking for a good place to eat I recommend the Koryushka Restaurant (of Ginza group), next to the historic site and on the very island of Zayachy (next to the sandy beach). They accept online reservations on their website. Spacious, good decoration and panoramic. You can eat for about 2,000 rubles on average.
Next to the Koryushka restaurant you have a fine sandy beach, very frequented in summer, so you can complete your visit with a good swim in the Neva River 🙂
Another very good option, very close to the fortress, is Mari Vanna, very original restaurant decorated like the rooms of a very kitsch apartment. Good Russian food. There are identical stores of the same brand in London, Moscow, Baku and New York.
Restaurants in Peterhof and nearby
If you want to eat better, you will have to leave Peterhof gardens and enter one of the many restaurants near the entrance of the upper park of Peterhof (be careful because if you leave, you won’t be able to enter again with the same ticket). As you move away from the main entrance to the upper park, you will probably find better restaurants. I recommend the Romance Cafe.
And if you want to eat fancy, I recommend the Home Cafe Peterhof, one of the best rated restaurants in St. Petersburg, though this is further from the palace.
Restaurants at Catherine’s Palace and surroundings
There is a cafeteria in the lobby of Catherine’s Palace, a summer cafeteria in the gardens of Catherine’s Park, as well as two restaurants and several fast food kiosks. More information on this link: http://tzar.ru/en/services/cafe
If you are looking for something really authentic and typical of Russian cuisine (though very touristy), then there’s the Podvorye restaurant. It has wooden interiors and also with an original exterior construction. Good value for money.
I hope this article has been useful, so you can get to know better and to try Russian cuisine. You can share this article with your friends on Twitter or Facebook to get to know Russian cuisine better.