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STUDENT GUIDE TO RUSSIA  / HARD TO FIND FOODS IN RUSSIA
18.02.2016


"Normal Food"
Hard-to-Find Foods in Russia

  BN-AV843_1219we_J_20131219221038
  Some things, for better or worse, are
hard to find in Russia...

Very often SRAS is asked by Western students in Russia where they can find "normal food." While we encourage students to acclimate to the culture (and food) in Russia as best they can, we realize that Russian cuisine can be very different from what students are used to and can often seem bland and overly oily or fatty.

The list below is a list of Western foods that are hard to find in Russia either because Russians generally find them unpalatable (like root beer or Grape Nuts) or because they simply haven't been introduced to the market (like molasses).

The list below is provided for general interest as well as to help students pack a supply of something they might miss too much while abroad! It includes both English and American "delicacies." To help even out the cultural value, we polled Russians on foods they miss while abroad - that list is provided below. All entries were originally collected from the forums on Expat.ru, a forum for English-speakers in Russia, in 2007. Things change in Russia quickly, though: we last updated the list in February, 2016.

 
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Much has changed in the last nine years. For instance, flour tortillas, peanut butter, a small selection of breakfast cereals, and several other products, while one still might have to look for and chose from unknown brands, are making substantial inroads in Russia and can now be found at many of the larger supermarkets in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Some brands like Dr. Pepper have recently (within about the last year) started to become more regularly available as imports. Some foods made inroads and then disappeared again with sanctions (like Doritos). Some disappeared and then reappeared as local production ramped up (like cheddar cheese).

Mexican Foods:
Mexican food is something that students often complain that they miss. While there are Mexican-themed options now in most major Russian cities, the food is often more of a Russian take on Tex-Mex food rather than Mexican cooking. In stores, products can be found to make your own, but, again, is often lacking spice.

  • Salsa (hot; mild salsa, particularly the Delicados brand, is now fairly widely available in major supermarkets)
  • Tortillas (corn, hard or soft shell; flour tortillas are now fairly widely available in Moscow and St. Petersburg, again, under the Delicados brand)
  • Frozen burritos
  • Guacamole 
  • Spanish Rice (also rarely occurs in even the most authentic of Mexican restaurants)
  • Chili con carne
  • Chili
  • Refried beans
  • Bean dip
  • Cumin (the spice)
  • Canned jalapenos
 
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Dinners:

  • Mac and cheese (in a box)
  • TV dinners
  • SPAM
  • Canned pastas (Chef Boy-ar-dee; Franco-American)
  • Baked beans
  • Corned beef hash
  • Stove Top
  • Yams and sweet potatoes (canned or fresh)
  • Pumpkin (canned)
  • Falafel
  • Tesco pork pies

Baking Goods:

  • Betty Crocker mixes (in general, baking mixes are not a common site in Russian supermarkets)
  • Bisquick
  • Corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Marshmallows
  • Marshmallow cream

Cereals:
Kellogg's brands are still rare, despite the fact that Kellogg's bought United Bakers Group, Russia's first major local producer of breakfast cereals way back in 2008. United Bakers Group produced the Lyubyatovo brand of corn flakes, multigrain flakes, and others. Although Kellogg's has not introduced western brands via its local production facility, it has expanded the domestically developed Lyubyatovo lineup, which now includes grechka balls. Several Nestle brands - such as Fitness - are also available in most Russian groceries. Some flavors that you might miss:

  • Anything made by Kellogg's or Post: Raisin Bran, Frosted Mini Wheats, Grape Nuts, Wheaties, Capitan Crunch, Lucky Charms, etc. All of these have no analogue in Russia.  
  • Wheetabix  

You can't buy Mrs. Butterworth's in Russia! :(

Cheese:

Cheese has gotten a lot of attention in reporting about Russia lately. As the Russian economy grew and matured, a wide range of cheeses made inroads into Russia. The Russians were once used to fairly bland, soft white cheeses that were available in the USSR. Then, cheeses were imported from Europe and many Russians gained a taste for them. With sanctions, many disappeared from shelves. Now, other sources are being used (Switzerland is not on the sanctions list, Tunisia apparently makes a number of cheeses, and Russia itself now produces many cheeses itself). In some upmarket groceries, the variety of types and brands seems even more diverse now than it did before the sanctions.

  • Cheddar cheese (is now widely available; there are at least three Russian brands of this, the best being Cheese Gallery; unfortunately, no aged brands are yet available)
  • Blue cheese, camembert, cream cheese (is available in upmarket groceries. Again, for locally produced blue cheese, see Cheese Gallery brands).
  • Swiss Cheese (unfortunately, is nowhere to be found...)

Sauces and Toppings:

  • Maple Syrup (Real maple syrup is becoming increasingly available in larger, upscale supermarkets, but it is pricey. The fake maple syrup that most Americans grew up is still a rarity. As a substitute, try honey with a bit of vanilla extract added.)
  • Marmite
  • Heinz Salad Cream
  • Miracle Whip
  • Peanut Butter (Peanut Butter is beginning to appear in larger, upmarket supermarkets - in smaller jars by obscure, usually European brands)
  • HP Sauce
  • A1 Steak Sauce
  • Molasses-based BBQ Sauces (such as Bulls Eye or Jack Daniel's; note that Heinz BBQ sauce is widely available).
 

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Snack Foods:

  • Doritos Corn Chips (Made inroads as an import, then collapsed with sanctions. As an alternative, try Papa's corn chips - made by the Russian company Ruskart.)
  • Fritos
  • Ritz Crackers and Ritz Bitz (Try Lyubyatovo brand crackers - particularly "Klassicheskii" for a good substitute)
  • Oreo cookies (These just started local production and are now widely available!)
  • Chips Ahoy cookies
  • Nutter Butter cookies
  • Pop-Tarts
  • Triscuits
  • Rice Thins
  • Crispers
  • Cheez Whiz
  • Fig Newtons
  • Jello

Candy:

  • Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Reeses Pieces (These made significant inroads into the Russian market, but vanished again with sanctions. However, Russians generally love them. Bring some and make some friends)
  • Candy canes
  • Peppermint patties
  • Peeps
  • Cadbury Eggs
    (The below are truly only applicable to the brand loyal. Russia has a few major brands: Krasnyi Oktyabr, Rot Front, and A. Kornikov, for instance, all produce excellent quality and affordable candies and chocolates. Try them and you'll be missing them when you go home!)
  • Hershey chocolate bars
  • O. Henry candy bars
  • Babe Ruth candy bars
  • Heath toffee candy bars
  • Nut Goodie candies
  • Turtle candies
 
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Drinks:

  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Malted milk mix
  • Dr. Pepper (Dr. Pepper can increasingly be found, usually imported from Poland. It was widely available in the 90s in Russia, then left the Russian market. It is now imported and sold as a nostalgia item.)
  • Mr. Pibb
  • Root Beer (Russians generally hate Root Beer).
  • Mountain Dew (Mountain Dew has started local production in Russia and is generally available in Moscow and St. Petersburg)
  • Ovaltine

AND WHAT DO RUSSIANS CRAVE WHEN ABROAD?

It is interesting to note that almost no one responded to this open-questioned by citing brand names, though many specified "Russian" in the names of the products they mentioned that are available in similar forms abroad. Below are the most popular answers given.

Many of the names have been annotated and linked to sites with more information.

Grains and Breads

  • Rye bread (often darker and thicker than what you find in America)
  • Millet and Russians crave gretchka while abroadGrechka (cooked and eaten like rice; both of these can generally be found in health food stores, often in the bulk sections)

Dairy Products

  • Russian 20%, 30%, 50% dairy fat sour cream,
  • Prostokvasha (very similar to butter milk)
  • Ryazhenka (Similar to butter milk)
  • Kefir (similar to butter milk, but more sour; this is starting to make inroads into America)
  • Sgushonka (sweetened, caramelized, condensed milk – mmmm tasty!)
  • Russian yogurt drinks
  • Russian ice cream
  • Tvorog (similar to cottage cheese, but with smaller curds and thicker texture; ricotta can be used as an approximate substitute in many recipes, although ricotta tends to be wetter and sweeter)
  • "Russian" mayonnaise (generally has a much higher fat content than in the West)
 
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Pickled Things
Russians take their pickling very seriously. Russian pickles are traditionally made in a lightly salted brine. Too much salt or the use of vinegar is generally frowned upon.

  • Pickled cucumbers
  • Pickled cabbage
  • Pickled garlic
  • Pickled tomatoes

Meats and Fish

  • Kholodets - a jellied product usually made from pork and flavored with garlic
  • Salo – pork lard, often cooked and eaten alone or diced, fried, and added to dishes
  • Selyodka pod shuboi - a layered salad made from herring that no one except real Russians seems to have the ability to tolerate
  • Shashlik - marinated meat roasted over coal

Traditional Medicines
Most Russians prefer herbal and non-traditional medicines to professional health care.

  • Chainyi grib - a cure-all made from fermented tea, sold in the US sometimes as Kamboocha
  • Russian herbal medicines and traditional healers 

Drinks

  • Baltika 9 - a Russian beer with 9% alcohol (Available in speciality stores in many major US cities)
  • Cheap Vodka - according to most, that available in the West is a third of the quality for many times the price. Vodka is often cheaper than beer in Russia!
  • Kvas - made from fermented bread, usually slightly alcoholic
  • Tarkhun - made from targon leaves

Other

  • Tkemali sauce (a Georgian spiced sauce made from tkemali fruit)
  • Russian Chocolates (Krasnyi oktyabr, mishkas, alyonka),
  • Russian hot chocolate (generally it's just melted chocolate in a cup)

 


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