That choking sound- is of me eating my words

The time has come to say: Moscow is an excellent city for being vegan in, if you during Lent and you know where to look. 

  

Today my plan was to make the most of the brilliant Moscow sunshine and do a tour of the metro stations of the inner garden circle. They’re world renowned for their art, their murals depicting proletarian successes, and there are lots of smiling people carrying rakes. It’s all very rousing and inspirational.

But I got a bit lost owing to me not speaking Russian or reading it very well ( there are no translations on the trains and the tannoy speaks super quickly) so ended back at my default station, Tealtry (or similar). The one where all the theatres are anyhoo.

Realising I was ravenous, I dashed above ground and thought about my options. All my go to restaurants were closed – where else was there? Perhaps Pain Quotidien, of which there are inexplicably many (why Moscow would choose to adopt this random European chain when there are far more exciting ones out there is beyond me) would serve me a slice of bread and jam. 

  

Having found one (really, they seem to be as ubiquitous as Starbucks in London) I found to my sadness that I was unable to get bread and jam, but they did have a lent menu. A lent menu that was pretty much completely vegan- yay for Orthadox countries! 

So I just had granola with soy milk and could have had oatmeal or hummus too. They even have a vegan soup option. 

So, I’m rather puzzled by the whole state of affairs. I’m interested to see whether this is just a lent thing because at Pain Quotidien in London, I don’t think I can eat anything. It’s basically all fondue. (Basically.) 

  

Point of note: they gave me a teaspoon with which to eat my very small bowl of granola. Giving me a tiny spoon to eat my overpriced tiny breakfast is not going to convince me that I’ve suddenly transformed into a giant and I’ve actually got a hearty portion of cereal. But quibbles. 

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Cafe Sok, more Moscow vegan eating

Just opposite the Tretyakov gallery, cafe Sok is the perfect place to go if  you’ve spent several hours staring at Russian iconography.

  

The menu is extensive, offering raw, vegan, and vegetarian meals. The atmosphere is jovial, a man who has a daughter at Malvern College was treating his two younger daughters to lunch during his break, and three older women were gossiping next to me. Again, about two words of English were spoken, but no matter. It was a point and click job.

The pictures looked pretty.

Outside the snow gusted itself into a blizzard. Russians all seemed to own non-stick snow coats, while mine seemed to attract flakes. I was happily thawing out with my diet coke. As in Iceland, and indeed in Hungary in January when I went with my friend Katherine, much of my time in Russia has so far been spent hiding from the elements. It’s just so cold being outside for any longer than three hours is impossible. I’d craved a hot bowl of soup all day but was so tempted by the thought of hummus that I opted instead for that and some dumplings.

  

Note for all future or current visitors: dumplings, although delicious, are basically potato ravioli, which is heavy. Despite this, and the weirdest hummus I’ve ever eaten, I still managed to leave hungry. I remained hungry until I went to the cinema to shelter from the Arctic Gale and sat through the second best exotic marigold hotel with a packet of Pringles that I demolished in seconds.

It was cheap though. Maybe because I was a foreigner or wearing a coat or had brown hair or something, but there was a 20% discount on the bill. Brill!

  

Fresh, yet another vegan restaurant in Moscow. (Yawn)

First things first, go here if you want great vegan food. Now we’ve got that covered, a few thoughts.

Maybe it’s a Russian thing, or maybe a vegan thing, but everyone is very hasty to take your order here. Similarly to clear. And to give you the bill. One thing I’ve also found, is that servers look a bit dazed when you enter the restaurant. I haven’t been turning up one minute before closing or at 3pm, just normal eating hours, yet they look shocked that you’d come in. I had one woman in Fresh, where I’m sitting now, just wordlessly hand me the menu and block my entrance. Weird.

  

The menu here is incredible. As well as being in English (bonus) it’s full of things you actually want to eat, as opposed to many vegan restaurants that are a bit worthy.

According to the website it’s a Canadian import, and it feels more a low-lit Pret than either of the other more Soviet style establishments I’ve been in since I arrived in Moscow.

There’s lots of mention of chia seeds, carrot fettuccine, and there’s a great salad selection. All of their deserts are vegan including blueberry cheesecake and panna cotta. Despite this, I just went for Carrot Cake – damnit!

  

Coffees come with any milk you might require, and breakfast looks like something any hungry vegan might crave – avocado toast, oatmeal with almond milk, or tofu scramble. I’m in love already and I only ordered the thai style burger – a protein heavy burger (much needed after all the walking today) with coriander and a peanut sauce. I ordered a glass of wine too, which means that I couldn’t order more food. I don’t know whether it’s because I skipped breakfast, or have been out since 8.30 in the snow, but I’m still ravenous. 

Maybe posting a picture of the burger and the menu will help. And my carrot cake if it ever arrives…

  

Ps. The vegan carrot cake with coconut cream was the tops. Just sayin’

Eating vegan in Moscow: Avocado Cafe

 

 There must be a rule somewhere, that if you own a vegan cafe you must either call it “green” something or “avocado”. Originality aside, I was very relieved to not only find a vegan restaurant, but to locate one so close to my hotel.

From all of the 24 hours I’ve been here, I am confirm that the stereotype is true. Russia is awful for vegetarians, especially if they don’t speak Russian.

I hadn’t expected there to be so little linguistic overlap, or so few budget falafel shops that litter the rest of Europe. I say litter, I meant enhance. But thinking about it, the sort of people who immigrate to Moscow most likely come from the provinces and ex-Soviet territory, where, with the possible exception of Georgia, food is mainly meat and potatoes. And I imagine even Georgia’s meals revolve around meat and two veg somewhat.

ThUs, the culinary scene isn’t as varied as London or New York. Think Paris, a scene where they do their own cuisine exceptionally well, and haven’t branched out a lot to other nationalities. Chinese restaurants aren’t as numerous as I thought considering Russia shares a border with China, but there are more than enough Georgian restaurants to make up for any deficit. Plus there’s a swanky Italian place called Bosco in the old GUM shopping centre.

  

So I chose to be unadventurous and hunted down Avocado, a vegan restaurant about 15 minutes walk from my hotel. The menu has been mauled by Google translate (I imagine), but if you can get past that and just say “vegan” in a questioning tone while pointing at the pictures, you’ll probably be fine. Like in Hungary, I get the feeling that Russians still go for these set menus with a soup and a main. (Edit. Or salad, as I have been reliably informed by a Russian reader). I don’t. I hate starting meals with soup. It’s like drinking a ton of water that fills you up and then you can’t enjoy the main couse. So the server looked at me as though I was a felon when I ordered two mains to make up for no soup. Thankfully the salad and rosti type fritters were small, and they came with a helping of vegan sour cream which was fabulous. Beware of the oil though – there was a lot of it. 

  

There seemed to a few vegan deserts, there were stir fries, heavy, Russian sounding dishes – potato with a side of potato – style. However, what I did have was delicious and for ten pounds (two mains and a drink) not a bad price at all.

  

The decor of the place was sparse to say the least, and like everywhere I’ve been to in Moscow so far (including my hotel room) located in a basement. To counter this, the establishment had thoughtfully installed two TV screens which showed a mountain stream flowing through a wood accompanied by tinkling music. Thank God they did.