Food and travel. They go together like salt and pepper. We travel to try new and exotic flavours, to discover the terroir of a region, and explore the richness of its local fare. But one destination is never enough. Which is why we keep on travelling.
In the first of an exciting new series of Tasting Trails, Fine Dining Lovers takes you on an epic journey of culinary enlightenment on a railway ride that should be on everybody’s bucket list.
The Trans-Siberian Railway, Part 1: where to eat
Spanning over 9000 km, two continents and seven time zones, the Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the world’s great train journeys. From Europe into Asia, the legendary line stretches from the bristling metropolis of Moscow in the west, over the great divide of the Ural Mountains, through the vast expanse of Siberia, to Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast. It’s such a mammoth trip, we had to split this guide into two parts.
If you do it all in one go, it’s a six-day slog. But where’s the fun in that? There are lots of trains to choose from and you can break up the journey, get off and explore an historic route that cuts to the very soul of Russia. Whatever the time of year, you’ll experience fascinating art and culture, vibrant cities and sprawling landscapes of steppe and taiga. But what about the food?
Survival on board
Eating on Trans-Siberian trains is a mixed bag. The hot and cold food on board is hardly gourmet, although you might strike it lucky with a bowl of borscht or creamy hot porridge with dried fruit. The samovar at the end of each carriage is a blessing, however, always on standby to dispense piping hot water for endless cups of tea and the occasional pot noodle. But respite comes with each station stop, where local delicacies are often sold on platforms, or beyond the station gates, where a world of gastronomic discovery awaits.
1. Moscow: from new wave chefs to old-time dishes
We begin our classic Trans Siberian trip in Russia’s capital city, Moscow. Its gastronomic renaissance offers travellers the chance to indulge in everything from cutting-edge cuisine, to nostalgic Soviet-style canteen food before heading east.
Decades of scarcity meant Russian cuisine had begun to stagnate, but a new wave of young Russian chefs is changing all that. Vladimir Mukhin makes the most of local ingredients at the glass-domed rooftop restaurant White Rabbit, where his Kamchatka crab with carrot sauce, pike caviar and salted egg yolk has become a beacon of new-Russian gastronomy. Meanwhile, at Twins, brothers Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy’s duck, blackberry and ‘papirovka’ apple applies modern techniques to traditional ingredients.
Bronnaya St., 13
More traditions are unearthed at LavkaLavka, a farm-to-fork project that’s reviving healthy old recipes and promoting seasonal organic ingredients, while forging strong links with local farmers and producers. Enjoy pike from the river Volga or reindeer from the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Grab another taste of the past at Stolovaya No. 57, a self-service canteen that replicates dishes from the Stalin-era Book of Healthy and Tasty Food.
Petrovka St., 21/2
Stolovaya No. 57
GUM Department Store, Red Square
It’s a good idea to stock up before catching your first train, and there’s no better place than Danilovsky Market. This UFO-shaped farmer’s market dazzles with displays of locally produced fruit and vegetables, as well as spiced sausage, cheese, jam, nuts, dried fruit and pot even noodles – in fact everything you might need for snacking on while riding the overnight train to...
2. Nizhny Novgorod: the food and culture capital
Formerly known as Gorky, after the writer Maxim Gorky, this attractive city on the banks of the mighty Volga has art and culture running through its veins. Its ‘eda i kultura’ food and culture movement comprises a network of eateries such as Bezukhov a colourful literary café and creative hub, and Bufet, the art café where the movement began in 2005. Look out for regular exhibitions and events.
Rozhdestvenskaya ul. 6
Before getting back on track, immerse yourself in Nizhny’s thriving craft beer scene at Ale Capone, Rebel Craft Beer or Pivoteka Hophead. All offer an ever-changing menu of independently brewed Russian and international beers, and the opportunity to stock up on carry-outs for the next leg of the journey.
Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St., 2
Rebel Craft Beer
Kozhevennyy per 7
Rozhdestvenskaya St., 8B
3. Yekaterinburg: the Gateway to Asia
As the Trans Siberian route crosses the Ural Mountains, from Europe into Asia, it has become customary to raise two glasses (vodka, beer, wine – it’s your choice), one in each continent. You can alight at Yekaterinburg on the Asian side, where the Ural version of pelmeni dumplings can be tasted at Vladimir Olkinitskiy’s 26/28. Alternatively you can hunker down in your comfy air-conditioned sleeper cabin and graze on snacks as a landscape dotted with birch trees and wooden dacha houses rolls by.
Lenina St. 26/28
4. Barabinsk: a 15-minute stop
Watch out for Barabinsk, some 3000km east of Moscow, where local women sell dried and smoked fish, baked potatoes, pastries and cakes on the platform. It’s only a 15-minute stop, but your compartment comrades will be sure to share their purchases with you as the train cuts through miles of Siberian taiga on its way to Russia’s far east.
Coming up in Part 2: From Mongolian and Buryat cuisine in Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, to a taste of North Korea at the end of the line in Vladivostok.
Photo credit: Golden Eagle Luxury Trains