Above: A replica of St Basil's Cathedral made from grains, at the entrance of the uberposh Gastronom No. 1 Food Hall at the GUM luxury mall on Red Square (right across from Lenin's tomb, poetically)
Top tip on traveling and eating in Moscow? Go when you have money. Preferably backed by commodity du jour, with a side order of a English Premier League football team. Or else do a massive amount of research beforehand on value-for-money local and street food haunts before showing up. Otherwise, it's simply a metropolis of slick and expensive restaurants of every ilk of global cuisine. Very exciting for local and expat residents do doubt, but exhausting for a frugal foodie backpacker hoping to chance upon something cheap, cheerful, and core to the indigenous food scene.
Crunched on time and budget, and let down by 2 distinctly budget-busting-but-ultimately-"meh" Georgian restaurants, we did the next best thing to console ourselves; a little food gawking.
Especially amusing were these signboards below at a fried chicken shop at Gorky Park, the city's historic sprawling recreation centre and amusement park for locals.
For a while I entertained the idea that the one place on this round-the-world sabbatical that might be appropriate to eat at Micky D's would be at Moscow's Red Square. The place was absolutely mobbed (I mean crowded, not necessarily occupied by local goombas). It was a case of Russian Breadlines: The Capitalist Remix. I decided that life was too short and there had to be a better use for my already too-few rubles.
I noted with curiosity that there was a slew of sushi joints all over St Petersburg and Moscow. And peering at diners' platters from the sidewalk, the sushi actually looked credible. You can kinda tell when a city is just starting to get into sushi but sushi chefs and local palettes haven't been trained up yet. The rice looks dry and loose grains fall all over the platter. The maguro is an anaemic pink rather than a healthy deep maroon. And people are eating mostly plastic looking california rolls with crabsticks and neon pickles. But this was not the case in Moscow.
According to Peter, our guide in St Petersburg, sushi's become quite the staple for urban Russia's aspirational middle class over the last decade or so. Sushi has a great combination of a having designer look and exotic vibe, and apparently is especially popular among young Russian women looking to reduce their stodge intake.
So before camping out at Sheremetyevo Airport for the night to catch a early morning flight to Istanbul, we followed the lead of the locals and had sushi for dinner. We popped into Yakitoriya (a long list of branches throughout Moscow, and a delivery service to boot) where the sushi and ramen were credible for the price.
Next time I come back here, if ever, I'll follow my own advice. In the meantime, bring on Istanbul!