Moscow and St Petersburg are bursting at the seams with cafés and restaurants covering everything from budget blowouts to elitni (elite) extravagance. Japanese is the favoured cuisine, so sushi abounds, but traditional Russian food is still at the heart of many locals’ everyday diets. National dishes worth tasting include borshch (beetroot soup), shchi (cabbage soup) and pirogi (small pies stuffed with potato, cabbage or tvorog, a kind of cottage cheese). Try these at one of the stolovaya (canteen-style) restaurants, such as Moo-Moo. Cheap blini, available from street stalls such as Teremok and Russkiye Blini, subdivide into blinchiki, wraparound pancakes stuffed with meat or berries, and flat pancakes, served with honey, condensed milk, sour cream (smetana) or red caviar (krasnaya ikra). In summer, Russians go mad for morozhenoe (ice cream) at a fraction of the Western price.
Vodka (vódka) is, of course, the national drink, knocked back in one gulp and chased with a bite on black bread or salted cucumber. Beer (pivo) is essential in summer (many Russians drink on their way to work); try Baltika, rated in strength from 3 to 9, Stariy Melnik or Nevskoe. Refined palates may prefer excellent semi-sweet Georgian wines (Khvanchkara was Stalin’s favourite). For cheap eating and drinking, stock up at a produkti (product store), or at rynki (markets), scattered across both cities, though concentrated in the suburbs. These sell the full range of Russian dairy delights (try kefir – sour milk), salami, sausages and cheap fresh fruit and veg. Traditionally, breakfast is eaten at 8am and lunch between 1 and 2pm; evening meals tend to be eaten around 8pm.