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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Russian Fast Food in Moscow and St. Petersburg - Page 2

Written by Steve Street
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If it’s your first time in Russia, chances are you’ll be thrown by the Cyrillic, even if you’ve diligently studied the alphabet charts in your guidebook beforehand. The mix of recognizable Roman and Greek characters and the Russian ones with no English equivalents will be charmingly baffling and somewhat disorienting for about four hours, or until you get seriously hungry. Even simple staples like kulibeka, a bread with white mushrooms or cabbage baked inside, or moiva, a small dried fish served whole as an appetizer, or the traditional fermented wheat beverage krace, a sort of peasant’s pop like a dark near beer, are hard to translate, let alone order. Never mind delicacies such as pickled garlic or pike-and-perch soup.  I Had Borscht because I could say it, though I hadn’t touched beets since some unpleasantness at age five.

In St. Petersburg, the fast-blini chain Teremok is also something you will likely see all over town. Don’t be put off by the lit-plastic orange-and-blue burger-chain-like facades and ordering systems: the upside is that the food is pictured, so you can point (and smile). You’ll be glad to know it is also good food and quite reasonable Choices range from ham and cheese to soups, salads, krace and, of course, blini. Blini are pancake-like crepes, griddle-fried for each order -so the lines can be slow, particularly on Nevsky Prospect around weekday lunchtime, but the wait is worth it; they’re filled with salmon or red caviar. Salads, often a bit heavy on the mayonnaise, come in the kind of clear plastic cups used for sundaes at Dairy Queen. Krace, on tap like soft drinks, can be bought to go, in a plastic bottle.

A cafeteria can be another find, a great place to smile and point. One called Kapmaro on the east side of the Gribadoevar Canal in St. Petersburg (on the right as you turn in from Nevsky Prospect toward the Church of the Spilled Blood), promises “quick service” on its orange signs outside and inside offers nature videos on twin TVs and, among other dishes, salmon whole or in patties, patries, and borcht served hot or cold. In another, a step-down with an Arabic name on the Nevsky Prospect just above the M. Morskaya Ulitza, another Western traveler, judging from his new “So-and-So Properties” shoulder bag, and I ate well and in peace.

A note about the mayo: if you don’t like it, visit a different country. A piece of meat, maybe veal, that I ordered once in a restaurant like those mentioned above arrived under a puffed layer that looked like breading or melted cheese until cautious prodding revealed it as maybe half a cup of mayonnaise, possibly baked, the closest this traveler came to a complete cultural balk, though of course the goo was easily scraped off. The mayonnaise for take-out salads comes in packets, so you can set your own limits.

I found the salads in a refrigerated display case at one of the small stores identified by sidewalk signs that read, more or less, “24-YACA,” (“chasa,” or hours) – not a chain, just a sign. Think Mom and Pop store meets 7-Eleven. At a step-down 24-chasa behind white latticed doors and windows on the Kazanskaya in St. Petersburg, what looked to be dozens of varieties of vodka (including garilka, a Ukranian hot-pepper vodka best consumed carefully) in interestingly shaped and labeled bottles share shelf space with breads and other goods that women behind the counter will hand down to you one by one, sighing. This 24-chasa was in a trailer parked at the angle of Zabovsky Bulvar and Burdenko in Moscow, near the Leo Tolstoy statue and the Moscow Home HI hostel. My salads were in round clear-plastic containers that make the contents visible. And the contents do need identifying, because in Russia anything - from fruit to cucumbers to pasta to pickles to fish and meat - can qualify as “saLAHT” (looks like “calat”). It’s healthy food, the ingredients neatly cut or cubed and stacked by kind in the container, though it did take two salat to make a meal for this overindulged American appetite. Two salads along with a bottle of BonAqua “bez gaz” (still) mineral water, cost 55 rubles, some $2.25.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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