Recently I went on my first trip to Russia with my youngest son. I had promised him a trip some years ago and a few months ago he said he wanted to visit Moscow. About 3 months ago I managed to find a job so we went ahead and planned the trip.
One of the challenges of getting around Moscow is following Cyrillic signage but thankfully most menus are bilingual with English as the second language. However, some of the translations can be misleading or cofusing. I am not being negative about this - after all which places to eat in Britain offer multi-lingual menus?
We stayed at the hotel - a large 3 star complex on the North East side of the city. The hotel has many restaurants and cafes some of which were reasonably priced in Moscow terms. One breakfast we saw sandwiches on the menu and while 'ham sandwich' or 'smoked salmon sandwich' were clear we were intrigued at 'cheese sandwich with oil'. My son was put off trying it but I was sure it was a mistranslatioon and the "oil" turned out to be butter.
We had to learn that it is very rare for a main course to come with vegetables. Everything had to be ordered separately and even portions of mustard or ketchup are separate line items on the menu (see above).
Another thing to note is that in many cases a menu specified the weight in grams of portions or of key ingredients. In fact the "cheese sandwich with oil" had three figures which seemed to correspond to the weight of the slide of bread, the (4 mm thick) slab of butter and the (20 mm thick) slice of cheese.Generally though you have a good idea of what portion sizes are.
Generally speaking we had been warned in guidebooks that eating would be expensive. Restaurants seem to be geared to tourists and Russian "new rich" and you needed to budget similar money to the UK. In our hotel we had a Russian buffet for about 450 Roubles per head (~£10) which comprised finely chopped salads, pickled vegetables, various hot dishes including stuffed peppers, stews and fresh fruit. Eating a la carte in the hotel cost more than that. Eating out in the Arbat area could easily cost 1,000-1,500 Roubles per head.
Despite that it is possible to find more reasonably priced food even in a popular area such as Arbat. There was one reasonably priced chain called Ϻу Ϻу in Cyrillic which is pronounced "moo moo". As you might expect there is a cow outside. This chain uses a cafeteria format so you queue up with your tray and can choose from a selection of salads, soups, meats, vegetables and desserts; all portions are carefully weighed. A meat portion cost about 130-150 Roubles whereas nearby restaurants charged more like 350-450 Roubles. My My offered the choice of eating in the basement, groundfloor or in a covered terrace area. Our food there was quite tasty and was much better value for money than elsewhere.
On some occasions we were confused looking the the illustrations of food with Cyrillic only descriptions. When I saw the picture above I thought it was strawberries, ice cream with chocolate sauce plus rocket! However I managed to work out decoding the Cyrillic that is was strawberries, marscapone cheese, balsamic vinegar and rocket. Some words are similar to Italian e.g. ruccola for rocket and pomodoro for tomato.
Something that was interesting was the availability of food from other parts of the former Soviet Union such as the Caucasus or Central Asia. We wanted to try some of these places that you are unlikely to find in Western cities. The picture above is of Shesh-Besh an Azeri restaurant on ul Novy Arbat; we unfortunately did not get round to trying it out.