David Lee in Russia for World Cup: Shashlik shiok, but nyet to kvass

The My-My stolovaya is a Soviet-style canteen that serves a variety of food, much like Singapore's economy rice stalls.
The My-My stolovaya is a Soviet-style canteen that serves a variety of food, much like Singapore's economy rice stalls.ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE

MOSCOW - Before I left home for the World Cup, I posted my first Instagram (@davidLeeST) story - a short clip of my neighbourhood kopitiam with all the local food that I would miss in my 38 days in Russia.

Travelling more than 8,400km from home to Moscow, the last thing I expected to find here was cai png (or economy rice).

So, imagine my excitement when I chanced upon the My-My (pronounced Mu-Mu) stolovaya near the Smolenskaya metro station.

Commonly found here, not only do these Soviet-style canteens offer authentic Russian food at an affordable price - each meal costs under $10 - it also reminded me of home, where you can just pick and choose which dish you want and pay at the end of the line.

There was even rice and beehoon, but that's where the similarities end.

Bread is an important part of Russian cuisine and the more common ones are Darnitskiy (black bread, although it looks more grey), and the sour sweet Stolichniy rye bread.

Borscht is perhaps the most famous and tasty Russian soup with the distinctive red colour and sweetness derived from beetroot and beef, but there are also other unique options like the ukha fish soup and okroshka, which is served cold.

Other than the regular chicken, pork, beef and fish options which are priced by the 100g, there are also local delicacies such as the syrniki (cheese pancakes), and pelmeni dumplings, which are often washed down with a glass of kvass, a fermented drink made from rye bread. I took a sip, but alas, it reminded me of the traditional Chinese medicines of my childhood.

Fortunately, my experience with shashlik was far better. As a carnivore, this was my personal favourite, and I was particularly enticed by the fragrance of the grilled meat skewers. Biting into the perfectly marinated chunks of meat sent me to a happy place.


Shashlik - skewered and grilled meat cubes - is another Russian delicacy. ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE

What made me not so happy was when I was approached by a well-dressed man who claimed to be from Colombia as I was about to begin my meal.

He asked if I was from Peru and could buy him a meal because he didn't have money.

 

In the spirit of the World Cup, I agreed, only to see him drag out an artificially-tanned, younger-looking lady, who looked equally well-groomed. Sensing my doubts, he then said he was a student, which could have been believable if he didn't look like he was in his 50s and sound like a scammer, and so I waved him away.

Besides shashlik and stolovaya, the cosmopolitan Russian capital is also full of bars that serve delightful beer and bar food. Pivbar offers 30 types of craft beer, juicy burgers, tangy buffalo wings and ultra-skinny fries.


Pivbar serves 30 different types of craft beer and bar food such as burgers, buffalo wings and ultra-skinny fries. ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE

Speaking about beer, did you know that fast-food chains KFC and Burger King also sell the golden goodness here?

And talking about Burger King, it was at the Domodedovo Airport outlet when Luda and Katia from Tula sat with me and offered me a horse-meat kolbasa sandwich which their friend from Sochi had made for them. It was salty and an acquired taste, but I made it a point to finish it, with a toast to my new friends.


The Straits Times journalist David Lee with Luda and Katia from Tula. ST PHOTO: DAVID LEE

As they say in Russia, na zdorov'je (let's eat and drink to our heart's content)!