Anyone who looks at a map of Russia will understand that the inhabitants of such a vast territory cannot cook in the same way. Until recently, in Moscow it was mainly people who moved to the capital from outside that were more familiar with the gastronomical differences across Russia than those living there.
However, in recent years the situation has begun to change, and regional Russian cuisine is rising in Moscow for many reasons. Here, we discuss three of the most significant.
Firstly, in August 2014, in response to European sanctions over Ukraine, the Russian Government introduced a ban on the import of many products from EU countries, the United States, Canada and Australia. The ‘banned list’ included meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and dairy products. The banned products were used mostly in restaurants, so Russian chefs were forced to investigate and explore domestic products more thoroughly.
But, the concept of ‘local product’ in a country that is 10,000km by 4000km is different from how it is generally perceived in other parts of the world. In normal terms, it doesn't suit the definition of locavorism as seen for example in California or Italy. But all these ingredients are traditional and Russian. Of course, the best way to find good quality products is for chefs to go to the regions in which they are produced.
In Moscow, chefs use ingredients from all over Russia: far Eastern seafood (shrimps, scallops, oysters and Kamchatka crab), pineapple guava and persimmon from Southern Russia, watermelons from Astrakhan, reindeer from Yakutia, honey from Altai, and fish from Siberian rivers. The hardest part is the cheese. There are traditions of cheese making in Russia, but different from European ones. Difficulties with cheeses led many chefs to establish their own cheese production in the restaurants. Some new restaurants even built a concept around their own creamery.
Openness to Experimentation
Restaurant diners and foodies have become more open to new tastes and flavours, no matter where they come from, Peru or the Russian hinterland.
The same can be said for the exotic ingredients of central Russia – whether it's marinated ferns, smoked dried Cherkessia pear, northern berries (cloudberry, Arctic raspberry, blueberry) or Dagestan urbech (a paste made from ground nuts or seeds and sugar). Russian products are becoming trendy thanks also to the efforts of entrepreneurs, chefs and the press, and even restaurants with ‘European-style’ fine dining are beginning to indicate the origin of tomatoes and herring on the menu.
Moscow foodies have been able to taste more of these local products over the last two years through an increasing number of pop-ups of chefs from different regions, including from Rostov-na-Donu (Anton Kochura from classical and classy fine dining restaurant Onegin Dacha), Vladivostok (Egor Anisimov from the ever popular Zuma), Krasnodar (Andrei Matuha, chef of UgliUgli and The Pech, who will represent Russia this June at the Bocuse d’Or Europe in Turin), Sochi (Andrei Kolodyazhny), and Tula (Mikhail Lukashonok from Mark and Lev, the only real locavore restaurant in Russia) have all cooked in the capital.
In 2017 there were two big initiatives – one organised by the Karlson restaurant, the second by Novikov School (the cooking school, which is the part of business of well-known Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov), and some ‘non-series’ dinners (the biggest was organised on Polar Explorer’s Day and brought eight chefs from Moscow and eight from all over Russia together). All the chefs tried to present the best recipes and ingredients from their native lands. For example, Egor Anisimov cooked exotic for Moscow sea cucumber and ascidium, Andrei Matuha — black pudding from Kuban, and Andrei Kolodyazhny – buns with palm flour (from palms that are cultivated in Sochi).
New Openings in Moscow
Thirdly, regional restaurateurs have now accumulated enough experience and energy to reach the most challenging market in the country.
Tahir Holikberdiev, from Krasnodar, first opened a meat-centric restaurant, Scotina (The Beast) in his hometown, which became famous far beyond the city limits. He went on to open a restaurant in Moscow, Yuzhane, which translates as ‘Southerners’ in English reflecting the regional influence on the restaurant. Tahir works with meat producers in southern Russia, sourcing all the beef for his restaurants from the Krasnodar region. He is also trying to introduce Moscow foodies to traditional products and recipes from southern Russia. On the menu, you can find a cowbyk (a kind of souse loaf, pork meat and offal boiled in a pig's stomach) and a burger with nutria. He has also opened a fast-casual restaurant in Moscow, Butcher's Pie.
At the end of 2017 restaurant KU by Denis Ivanov appeared in Moscow. Denis owns about 30 restaurants in Novosibirsk and made his debut in Moscow with a very successful ramen izakaya. His next project will be #SiberiaSiberia, a branch of the restaurant in Novosibirsk with mostly Siberian cuisine — pelmeni, sugudai (a dish of raw river fish), stroganina, beetroot salad with smoked muksun, etc.
Additionally, Andrei Kolodyazhny is expected to open a new restaurant in Moscow soon (the name and exact date are still unknown). One of the most notable chefs outside the two capitals, he left his restaurant Baran-Rapan in Sochi, where he cooked herbs growing in the surrounding mountains, and apparently will continue to cook the same style of cuisine in Moscow.
Finally, wine restaurant Touché has launched a series of dinners called 'Expedition', inviting chef-bartender teams. In March and April, they presented dinners by chef Andrey Fedoseyev and bartender Dmitry Boychenko from Vladivostok gastropub Old Fashioned, as well as chef Anton Ivnitsky and bartender Artyom Ataulov from the restaurant Matrëshki and gastropub Before.