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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Food & Drink

The kind of food visitors will eat from day to day depends on which city they are visiting and what the time of year. Breakfast is often comparable to the Scandinavian, with cold meats, boiled eggs and bread served with Russian tea. Kasha (porridge) is a staple breakfast dish, made with milk and oats, buckwheat or semolina. For midday and evening meal, the food is often more traditional, again depending on the region. One of the most famous Russian dishes is borshch, a beetroot soup served hot with sour cream, and the sister dish of akroshka, a kvas soup served cold.

Several dishes which are often seen as international but find their origin in Russia are aladyi (crumpets with the same filling and jam), beef stroganov (beef stewed in sour cream with fried potatoes), blini (small pancakes filled with caviar, fish, melted butter or sour cream), and especially ikra or krasnaya ikra (black and red caviar).

Local chicken kiev should not be confused with Western imitations. Tsipleonok tabaka is another chicken dish: the meat is roasted on a spit. Whole roast suckling pig and roast goose stuffed with buckwheat, roast duck stuffed with apples and shashlik (shish kebab) are served at parties and for special occasions. A vegetable variant of shashlik is also available.

Local dishes worth trying include kotlyety po Pozharsky (chicken cutlets), prostakvasha (yoghurt), pirozhky (fried rolls with different fillings, usually meat), pelmeni (meat dumplings), rossolnik (hot soup, usually made of pickled vegetables) and shchi (cabbage soup). Mushrooms in sour cream is very popular.

Great selections of salads available include winter salad and vinegret (made of diced vegetables). Desserts include morozhenoye (ice cream), vareniki (dumplings containing fresh berries, cherries or jam) and ponchiki (hot sugared doughnuts).

One of the very popular drinks is chai (sweet tea served without milk). Coffee is usually available with meals and in cafes, although standards differ. Fruit juices, soft drinks and mineral waters are widely available. Vodka is often coloured and flavoured with herbs and spices such as ryabinovka (steeped with rowan-tree berries), zubrovka (a kind of grass), starka (dark, smooth, aged vodka) and pertsovka (with hot pepper). Posolskaya, Rossiskaya and Stolichnaya are popular brands.

Krushon is a highly recommended cold ‘punch’; brandy, champagne and summer fruit are poured into a hollowed watermelon and refrigerated for several hours. This very delicious cocktail is usually served from a crystal bowl. Cucumber and white wine are used to make a drier variant. Nastoika is a fortified wine made of herbs, flowers, leaves, fruit and roots of plants with medicinal properties. Nalivka is sweet liqueur made with fruit or berries. The strawberry and cherry flavours are highly recommended. Ryabin Cognac is made from rowan-tree berries.

Russian champagne is amazingly good and reasonably priced. Imported wines from Moldova and Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenian Cognac are excellent (for further information, see the separate sections on these countries). Kvas is a refreshing and unusual drink, made from a fermented mixture of rye bread, yeast, jam and water, and should be tried on a hot day. Drinks are ordered by grams or by the bottle. City centre bars close around midnight.

Nightlife

Theatre, concert, circus and variety performances are the main evening entertainments. Tickets are available in advance and from ticket booths immediately before performances. Visitors should note that prices for foreigners are normally much higher than those paid by Russian nationals. The repertoire of theatres provides a change of programme almost every night. In the course of 1 month, 30 different productions may be presented by the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Company. More details of performances can be obtained on arrival. Visitors should apply to the service bureau of the hotel they'll be staying in. All of these establishments are open 0600-2200hrs.

Shopping

A wide range of goods such as watches, furs, cameras, wines and spirits, ceramics and glass, jewellery and toys may be bought in Moscow and St Petersburg. Shops take payment in roubles and, also sometimes, by credit card. It is necessary to allow extra time for souvenir hunting: shopping can be a very time-consuming activity, owing to the relatively chaotic state of the retail trade in the Russian Federation. It is advisable to shop around, as prices differ significantly. A good strategy is to choose your souvenirs in a department store such as GUM (on Red Square), and then buy them in a smaller and less centrally located shop.

Palekh and Kholui lacquered boxes make eye-catching souvenirs. Traditional and satirical Matryoshka dolls (wooden dolls within dolls) are extensively available. Khokhloma wooden cups, saucers and spoons are painted gold, black and red. Dymkovskaya Igrushka are pottery figurines based on very popular folklore characters. Gzhel porcelain, engraved amber, Vologda lace and Fabergé eggs and jewellery are highly sought after. A samovar makes a fine souvenir. Antiquities, works of art, valuables and manuscripts other than those offered for sale in souvenir shops may not be taken out of the Russian Federation without an export licence.

Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0900-1900hrs. Most food shops are open on Sundays as well. Department stores and supermarkets are open throughout the lunchtime. Stores that are open 24 hours a day are becoming more common.

Social Conventions

• It is usual to shake hands when greeting someone.
• Company or business gifts are well received.
• Each region of the country has its own characteristic mode of dress. Conservative wear is suitable for most of the places and the seasonal weather should always be borne in mind.
• Smoking is acceptable unless it is stated otherwise.
• Avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and it is advisable to keep expensive jewellery, watches and cameras out of sight and take precautions against pickpocketing.

Tipping

Hotels in Moscow and in other large cities include a 10% to 15% service charge. Otherwise 10% is customary.