Foraging for food in Moscow proved quite frustrating early on but once I figured out a system – it was a vegan paradise.
The problem for me was not a lack of options but rather a translation problem. While I highly recommend visiting Moscow (Russia), if you have the chance. It is not like traveling in Europe where most people speak a little English, especially in shops and restaurants. In Moscow, some academics and government officials speak English but that’s about it. If you wander into a European chain restaurant or some Russian and Georgian restaurants, they might have an English menu but that does not mean the server speaks English. They can say hello and thank you; other than that they know how to match up the English and Russian items on the menu. So, if you need to ask questions or make alterations to your order you need to speak Russian or have some form of translated text to show them. And do not expect American chains to have menus in English – because they do not. Be prepared to smile, say please and thank you in Russian (it goes a long way) and point at items. With that said – people were very kind and patient – and everything I ate was fantastic.
If you’ve read my previous travel oriented blogs then you probably know that I have a stockpile of food allergies and cannot eat any animal products at all – otherwise very bad things happen…Plus, I have a few veggie/fruit allergies. Don’t feel bad for me, there’s still tons of food I can eat. I’m accustomed to dealing with it when I travel but recently I spent a month traveling with two separate large groups. Let’s just say that makes it far more difficult to deal with because I can’t always stop at the first restaurant or kiosk that comes along.
I have to say, without our fearless leader Katherine, who speaks Russian, I would have been really miserable those first couple of days and it made ordering easier in general for all of us throughout the visit. Our motto for Russia: “Keep Calm” and ask Katherine.
My tips: take the time to learn some survival Russian before you go and download the word lens app. If you point your camera at Russian menu items, signs etc., it translates the words (fairly well) into English. If you have food allergies – have a piece of paper with the allergies listed in Russian and hand it to your server.
A few days in, I started to show the allergy list to servers at every meal, even when we had English menus. It made the interactions much easier.
One thing to know about dining in Moscow, other than tipping is closer to 10%; unless you order from a street kiosk or fast food place, leisurely meals are the norm, i.e.: expect to be there a while. And you will need to ask for the bill.
On to the food…traditional and vegan.
Medoc Gastro pub, near the Paveletskaya stop in Moscow’s business district is a winner. They have a small space inside and also a huge space out front under a massive tent. On the first visit, we had around 15 people and sat outside. The second visit, there were only four of us so we sat inside. Both times, I ordered fabulous grilled veggies, potatoes and pickled crudités of cabbage, other veggies and of course pickles…
The Sovietsky Diner was one of my favorite experiences. It is typical of Soviet era style canteens, the art inside is fabulous and the staff is extremely nice. The food was great and they have crazy soda flavors, beer, wine, etc. I had a cabbage piroshky and a yummy potato dish.
Genatsvale is amazing – inside and out. This Georgian restaurant is over the top, with fish swimming around under the glass floor, waterfalls, musicians, and also numerous levels and rooms. Of course I didn’t partake in the khachapuri (cheesy bread) or lamb and fish dishes but they received rave reviews, and my food was fabulous. My advice — Do not order the borsht. Try the Georgian soup. Otherwise you will have a Seinfeld “No Soup For You” moment. The restaurant is also a known mafia hangout, allegedly.
Sok (кафе Сок) is a vegetarian café directly across from the Tretiakovskaya gallery. They have a substantial menu with juices, appetizers, mains and desserts. I had traditional toasted Russian rye bread garlic strips – so tasty. It’s a popular appetizer at most restaurants and bars – try it. I also ordered the vegan sesame Caesar salad with hot soy-marinated tofu, which was fabulous. They also make a vegan borsht (beet soup). In most restaurants you need to ask if it has meat or if it is vegetarian. I also had strawberry mint lemonade. I mention this because it was one of the best things I have ever drank and they sell it everywhere –- a little sweet, cool and tart all at once – and completely refreshing in the hot, hot heat. Even my carnivore friends loved this place.
Avocado on Tverskaya Street is amazing. There are actually two locations but this location is about a block away from Red Square and the Kremlin. On one occasion, I had yummy lentil patties, followed by a tofu and avocado dish. For the next visit, I had a hummus appetizer and a veggie burger with sweet potato fries. Avocado was probably my favorite restaurant in Moscow.
Our entire group headed over to Strelka Bar for drinks and tapas on their terrace on one of the hottest nights we had while in Moscow, and there were many… We watched the sun go down, which doesn’t happen until late at night in summer (10pm). Luckily they have misters and a great view of the Moscow River, the bridge, cathedrals and more. This gastro pub is a popular spot for the young/hip crowd, plus oligarchs and government officials who have their own private tables. It has great atmosphere – highly recommended.
I also ended up at НАШИ КАФЕ – МЕНЮ – Кейтеринг – Компания aka Le Pain Quotidien a few times. The menu is what you would find all over the world with Russian inspired variations. It was good when I needed a low stress option.