What are Some Favorite Junk Foods in Russia?

Line to first McDonald's in Moscow 1991

Line to first McDonald’s in Moscow 1991

Most favorite junk food in modern Russia is McDonald’s. McDonald’s arrived to Russia in the 90s, opening a store in the heart of the city. That was time of shortage of basic food in grocery stores, but it was also time of great interest to everything Western and especially everything American.

People were standing in line for 3 hours during winter to get into McDonald’s and buy a BigMac, fries and cola. This food was expensive, but it was so tasty. Many people took plastic boxes from BigMacs home and put them on display in cupboards, next to expensive crystal and china. Now, when I write about it, I feel shame. Why have we been so barbaric and hungry for everything Western?

Big MacA BigMac at that time was much more than a piece of meat in a bun. It was a taste of freedom, of all the new opportunities, a taste of change. Even now, when grocery stores are packed with any kind of food you wish and restaurants are omnipresent, McDonald’s is still crowded with people waiting in queue – both in-store and for drive in.

I am well off and I try to maintain a well-balanced diet. But from time to time I cannot cope with an urge to stop by the golden arches. I usually haggle with myself – I like McDonald’s latte a lot; and so, I promise myself that I am stopping by for coffee and that’s it. But very often my inner negotiations fail and a cheeseburger appears in my order. What can I say, this company knows how to please your taste buds, for sure.

Once I was on a road trip with my mom across the States. I wanted to show her the variety of food in the country, so when we were driving through California, I made sure we stopped at In-and-Out burger joint. In my opinion, those are the best burgers one can get outside bbqs at your friend’s place. She said they were quite tasty, but McDonald’s is still better.

As for traditional junk foods in Russia – it is interesting that this question has puzzled me. In general – street food, snacks and junk food were never part of the traditional food culture. People had a healthy habit of eating proper meals at home – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Working people usually had lunch at a canteen at their workplace. Snacking was not part of our culture except tea drinkingnever without candies, biscuits or cakes. Partially, that was caused by poor quality and limited supply of junk food on the streets.

plombir v vafelnom stakanchikeThe only high quality junk food available was ice cream. Russians were always proud of their ice cream and they had a right to be proud: ice cream was made of pure cream, butter and other natural ingredients. It melted in your mouth and it tasted great. In Soviet times there was never a big variety of ice cream. Typically you could find an eskimo – milk ice cream brick covered with excellent kind of chocolate on a wooden stick for 15 kopeks, waffle cups with creamy ice-cream, called plombir for 20 kopeks and brickets of plombir ice cream to be eaten at home for 48 kopeks (half a ruble). Ice cream is considered to be a summer treat all over the world, but not in Russia. Ice cream is consumed in any weather or temperature. It could be minus 20C (minus 4F), but people will savor ice cream outside. Now there is a huge variety of ice cream, but quality has gone down: milk, cream and butter are being substituted with artificial fats, which affects taste. Only a couple of factories in the country produce real ice cream, but the habit of eating ice cream as a tasty snack on the go is still there.

Ponchiki - Russian donuts

Ponchiki – Russian donuts

Another popular junk food of Soviet times were ponchiki (donuts). They were not healthy at all. This fall Krispy Cream has opened a store in the center of the city. It is gaining some popularity, but only as a result of huge ad budgets. Same thing with Dunkin Donuts. Soviet donuts were usually sold in cafeterias in grocery stores. They were sold not piece-by-piece, but rather by weight. Frying oil was used over and over, so those donuts were most likely really unhealthy. But very tasty and very popular.

Belyashi - meat-filled donuts

Belyashi – meat-filled donuts

A less popular treat was belyash – a kind of similar to donut, but from non-sweet dough and with meat filling. Tasty if made from quality ingredients, these ones were not. People joked that they are made out of kitten meat and tried to avoid them if possible.

A more safe and tasty variety of meat stuffed pastry was Chebureki – meat-filled oil fried samosas. In Moscow there were just several places where one could get them.

Chebureki - meat-filled pastry

Chebureki – meat-filled pastry

When business came to Russia, street food became a good business opportunity.

Hot-dog kiosk on a street

Hot-dog kiosk on a street

Kiosks, selling food on streets became widely popular. One very popular chain sold hot dogs, another one sold blinis,

Kroshka-kartoshka - "baby potatoes", the size of a baby head

Kroshka-kartoshka – “baby potatoes”, the size of a baby head is making a lot of money selling stuffed baked potatoes (a customer can choose from a variety of fillings – fried mushrooms, meet, salads with mayo, fish etc).

another one is still making huge money selling stuffed baked potatoes (a customer can choose from a variety of fillings – fried mushrooms, meet, salads with mayo, fish etc).

Shaurma - Gyros

Shaurma – Gyros

However the most universal were Shaurma kiosks – Gyros. Meat particles, carved from a large chunk of meat, combined with salad and sauce in pita bread, have won hearts of Muscovites. It is a fast, tasty and inexpensive street meal. Not very safe though, food poisonings from shaurma have happened often.

Kiosk selling modern burgers in Park Gorkogo

Kiosk selling modern burgers in Park Gorkogo

Now in Moscow one can find most of Western fast food chains – McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s in addition to a range of local fast food chains. And some really upscale fast food joints, where you can get a $20 burger with shaved truffles or other exotic ingredients. As in the West, all the popular fast food and junk food here is united by the same principles – this food has high content of sugar and fat. Such food is most pleasing and craved by anyone. The reason behind that is deeply rooted in our brain. Ancient man was looking for high calorie food, modern fast food provides exactly that. As long as human civilization is present on earth, people all over the world will indulge in eating sugary, fried and fatty foods.

Leave a Reply

  • Peter Petrov - 5 years ago

    If my memory serves me correctly the first McDonald’s was opened in Moscow exactly on 31st of January of 1990. So today we celebrate 24th anniversary)))

  • Byron C. Go - 5 years ago

    My dad went to Moscow in 1980, and he brought us some chocolate when he returned. We enjoyed it very much. I remember he told me that he did try the ice cream, and it was very good. Unfortunately, it being ice cream, he couldn’t bring it back with him. :-)

  • Ana - 5 years ago

    You mentioned that some put plastic boxes or envelopes next to the crystal. That sounds so sweet. Don’t feel embarrased! Why be embarrassed? I can understand why someone would do that. They had high hopes and felt like it was a dream. Anything that can symbolize such great dreams can become cherished. I feel very moved to read that. (Even though I don’t like McDonalds, lol, because I live in America, and it’s a sad place of America’s dark and harsh realities to me….but that’s another matter, and it doesn’t have anything to do with this.)

  • Gil - 2 years ago

    Next time your in California – try the Habit in stead of In and Out. :P Awesome post! :)

    • Tanya Golubeva - 2 years ago

      Thank you Gil! I have not heard about the Habit, will definitely try them out next time I am in CA!