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Beer Kiosk in Moscow

Beer Kiosk in Moscow

While street food in Russia cannot compare to the rich abundance of Singapore or China, it’s an ideal way to avoid the overpriced horrors of Russian restaurants–think $30 US for a simple salad in a cafeteria!

The street food isn’t cheap–blini (блин(ы)) thin Russian pancakes with meager filling cost about $5–but at least it does at least exist on every train platform and the street corners of each major city.  From mass-produced hot pockets (all under a dollar), to home-made pirogi (пироги) and house-dried fish, Russian street food offers travelers a means of trying traditional food at affordable prices. And, for beer drinkers, the kiosks selling beer and packages of dried fish are legitimately cheap–$0.85 for a Baltika.

Pelmeni and Flat Pierogi

Pelmeni and Flat Pirogi

From train kitchens to road-side stops, pirogi (пироги) , fried dough balls stuffed with a variety of fillings, are always a cheap bet (under $2) for lunch. And with the exception of the stale, organ-meat filled pirogi that I bought unknowingly in the Lake Baikal area, all the many pirogi we ate were at least edible, with stuffings ranging from dill and potatoes to cabbage and hot dogs. For a different meat-stuffed dough, pelmeni (пельмени), sometimes called vareniki (варе́ник[и]), Russian dumplings, were found in some street stand and were always among the cheapest things on a menu. These dumpling came topped with sour cream or accompanied by ketchup as a dipping sauce.

Kvass Stand

Kvass Stand

Through out Russia, the drinks of choice ranged from cognac and vodka to lighter alcohols like the ever-present Baltika lager. But, for those too young to drink, or those needing a break from the demanding schedule of toasts and shots of liquor, kvass (квас), a fermented bread drink filled the void.

Russian-style Hot Dog

Russian-style Hot Dog

Tasting sweet and yeasty like a Belgian triple, I found this mildly alcoholic beverage (>1% alcohol) less than thirst-quenching.  But it helps wash down the Russia-style hot dogs–boiled dogs topped with cabbage (how Russian!) and sweet, red sauce.

We relished blini (блин(ы)) for the simplicity of their fillings and the clear ability to detect exactly what we’d ordered! Little orange balls? Clearly roe (икра), though call it caviar if you want to lunch to sound posh. Melted white goo? We’d scored with cheese (сыр). Like a crepe, the fillings came in both the sweet and savory categories–our favorite being the traditionally Russian sour cream and honey.

Blini Stand

Hot Pocket Stand

At un-refrigerated stands, dry open-faced sandwiches prevailed, with a choice between salami or smoked salmon. While salmon is Russia has a great reputation, I could never bring myself to try a sun-cooked salmon sandwich…maybe that’s more of a winter sandwich choice.

Dry, Expensive Salami Sandwich

Dry, Expensive Salami Sandwich

For those of us living in the US, where smoked fish conveys an elegant brunch-like luxury, the abundance of home-smoked, as well as mass-produced, dried, fish is overwhelming. Fish as a snack to accompany beer is the Russian equivalent of buffalo wings or chips and salsa. And once you get over the strangeness of cutting into a giant smoked fish as you sip your Baltika, or learn to peel a handful of small fish before throwing them into your mouth, the salty, brininess becomes quickly addicting. Though I can safely say, even the tastiest fish needs to be thrown out after an hour of sitting in a stuffy Russian train.

Dried Fish and Beer

Dried Fish and Beer

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