Some things, for better or worse, are harder to find in Russia...

Hard-to-Find Foods in Russia

Published: August 23, 2019

In 2005, when this resource was first developed, supermarket chains in Russia were only first developing. Brand and product selection, while perhaps normal for a post-Soviet location, was disappointing and monotonous for most visitors. The restaurant scene, even in places like Moscow and St. Petersburg, also felt underdeveloped. Of the three things commonly looked for in a restaurant: food quality, service, and value – finding two in the same establishment felt like a major discovery. Thus, where to find “normal food” in Russia was a common question we often received.

A lot has changed since then. Major supermarket chains have matured and spread, saturating the market in just over ten years. With competition and efficiency, brand and product selection, particularly in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, has become much more diverse. Russians are better traveled and more often online – which has led to evolving food preferences and more variety, with supermarkets and restaurants are reflecting that.

The food scene across Russia is now flourishing. There are still a few specialty items (like root beer or sharp cheddar) or brand names (like Betty Crocker or Kellogg’s) that are hard to find. Below, this resource has been updated a third time – as of August, 2019 to record to history and evolution of commercial food in Russia. Be sure to go all the way to the bottom – where we’ve asked Russians what THEY miss when they go abroad.

There is a fascinating article on the recent history of groceries in Russia on our sister site GeoHistory.today.

 

General Tips

If you are looking for something specific and not finding it, try a bigger supermarket – in Moscow and St. Petersburg, try Ashan. In Irkutsk or Vladivostok, try O’Kei and Lenta. If you don’t find what you want there, try an upmarket stores like Perekrestok or Azbuka Vkusa, which tend to have more specific imports. Russia also has a rapidly growing online economy with many shops that offer specialty goods. Trying searching (preferably in Russian) on Yandex. Lastly, you might try asking around about the rynok. In modern Russia, most of these have evolved into something much more resembling a farmer’s market – with more locally produced, artisan foods and are often a great source of spices. The rynok is not the place to go for an imported brand, but can be a great for expanding your dorm kitchen’s palate of ingredients!

You can find specific tips for shopping in SRAS locations on our guides.

 

Things Americans Sometimes Miss Abroad:

 

1. Mexican Foods

Mexican food is something that students often 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 and doesn’t quite meet expectations. Products can be found, however, to make your own abroad.

For other staples, look especially for the Delicados brand, which is now widely available. Tortillas and corn chips can be found in many grocery chains and have gained wide appeal. In larger and upmarket establishments, salsa, guacamole, and even canned jalapenos and packets of burrito seasoning can be found, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg. For spices, Santa Maria is the most widely available brand (but note that seasonings are often in 2-3 areas of the store – you are likely looking for a section of ethnic spices and sauces). Avocado, mango, and iceberg lettuce have become increasingly available in recent years, even in smaller and discount shops.

Corn and hard shell tortillas can be harder to find, as can be spicy salsa. All these things will be more difficult to find outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow – but often not impossible.

Some things that you are not likely to find in Russia:

  • Chili and Chili con carne (even most restaurants won’t have this)
  • Refried beans and bean dip (although it’s not hard to make your own)
  • Cumin (the spice – but try the rynok)
  • Spanish Rice (also rarely occurs in even the most authentic of Mexican restaurants)

 

2. Comfort Foods

Many foods that we grew up loving are those we may particularly miss when abroad. These include foods associated with Thanksgiving – which, it turns out, are quite specific in many cases to American tastes. These include:

  • Mac and cheese
  • Baked beans
  • Stove Top
  • Yams and sweet potatoes (canned or fresh)
  • Pumpkin (canned)
  • Corned beef hash

 

3. Easy, Pre-fabricated Foods

Related to the above, many of us grew up with meals from cans, freezers, and boxes. Some many, these can be comfort foods and, as they are mass-produced, consumers of these things tend to be brand-sensitive. Most of these are not available in Russia (and Russians often find them strange and/or gross.

  • TV dinners
  • SPAM
  • Canned pastas (Chef Boy-ar-dee; Franco-American)
  • Betty Crocker and Jiffy mixes
  • Frozen burritos (but are you seriously missing those?)

However, there are many replacement items available for those looking for quick and simple dinners. Check the freezer section of any Russian supermarket for frozen pelmeni or vareniki (dumplings), for instance. Drop them in boiling water and, once they float to the top, they are ready to eat. You can even find such delicacies as the frozen mini-cheburek (a meat-filled pastry). If you’ve not learned to cook, you are not likely to go hungry with these things available. You may even miss THEM when you go home.

 

4. The American Breakfast

Another comfort food genre for the homesick, the American breakfast is also something of a delicacy in Russia. One can often find an American-themed dinner in town that can get you a fix. See our guides for SRAS locations to find one near you.

For those hoping to make something for themselves, some ingredients are not likely to be found in grocery stores:

  • Bisquick (but scratch pancakes are super easy – treat yourself!)
  • You can't buy Mrs. Butterworth's in Russia! :( Syrup (Ashan now carries a general pancake syrup in the baking goods aisle and some high end stores will sometimes have fairly expensive all-natural maple syrup. Try some local jam if you need to improvise on toppings).
  • American breakfast sausage (or anything approximating it; bacon is pretty common now – but make sure you are getting the thin-sliced stuff if you like it crispy. A lot of bacon will be English style, which is thick).
  • Frozen hash browns (again, you’ll need to make your own)
  • Most American cereal brands Russians have traditionally eaten hot cereal for breakfast and cold cereal has never really caught on. Brands available tend to be fairly simple, such as the locally-produced Lyubyatovo lineup, which now includes corn flakes, multigrain flakes, and buckwheat balls. Several Nestle brands – such as Fitness and Cosmo Stars – are also available in most Russian groceries. Some bands you can find in Azbuka Vkusa groceries (imported Raisin Bran, Wheaties, Lucky Charms, and sometimes mini-variety packs). Some brands you are not likely to find at all – like Frosted Mini Wheats, Grape Nuts, Capitan Crunch, and Wheetabix. 

For a local breakfast replacement, treat yourself to blini or syrniki… and you’ll miss those when you go home.

 

5. Junk Food

While a few American candy bars are widely available – such as Snickers, Skittles, Twix, and Kit Kat – the Russians generally rely upon their own (very tasty) locally-produced candies (try especially Krasnyi Oktyabr, Rot Front, Babaevsky, and A. Kornikov).

However, candy assortments and packs are always an acceptable gift in Russia! Bringing candy unavailable in Russia but beloved to you will give you some unique opportunities to celebrate Russian holidays with gifts with personal flare! (Don’t give someone a single candy bar – give an assortment or box.)

A few brands that you will notice are missing from the shelves in Russia include:

  • Reese’s: Peanut Butter Cups and Pieces
  • Candy canes
  • Peppermint patties
  • Cadbury Eggs
  • Hershey: Chocolate Bars, Kisses, and Minis
  • O. Henry
  • Baby Ruth
  • Heath Toffee
  • Turtles
  • Peeps

 

Chips and cookies are also largely dominated by locally-produced or European brands. In fact, fairly few American brands have found fertile markets here (Lay’s is big and Oreos are now produced locally under contract by Mondeo). That said, this doesn’t always mean that things are purely “local” – one of the most prolific purveyors of crackers and cookies in Russia is Lyubyatovo – which was bought by Kellogg’s several years ago.

Some brands you won’t find in Russia:

  • Doritos Corn Chips (Made inroads as an import, then collapsed with sanctions.)
  • Fritos
  • Ritz: Crackers and Bitz
  • Chips Ahoy
  • Nutter Butters
  • Pop-Tarts
  • Triscuits
  • Rice Thins
  • Crispers
  • Cheez Whiz
  • Fig Newtons
  • Jello (The brand – but gelatin mix is widely available)

 

In drinks, the Russians also have some major brands (like Coke and Pepsi) and have their own very good brands (like Chernogolovka and Ochakovo).

Some drinks that you might find hard to find here include:
  • Dr. Pepper (Can be found at gas stations and some vending machines – but tends to be expensive.)
  • Mr. Pibb
  • Root Beer (Russians generally hate root beer).
  • Mountain Dew (Again, look in gas stations.)
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Malted milk mix

6. Aged Cheese

Cheese has gotten a lot of attention in reporting about Russia lately. As the Russian economy grew and matured, a range of European cheeses made inroads into Russia, partially displacing the soft, white, bland cheeses that were available in the USSR. With sanctions, however, many imported cheeses disappeared from shelves. Many quickly returned – procured from other sources: Switzerland, as a non-EU country, is not on the sanctions list, Tunisia apparently makes quite a number of cheeses, and Russia itself now produces many cheeses itself.

Thus, most common cheeses can be found in Russia. However, aged cheese is still absent from the shelves.

Blue cheese, camembert, and cream cheese have local production and are fairly widely available.

Some fairly bland Swiss and young cheddar can be found as imports from Switzerland. Look in larger Perekrestok location in the locked cases (you’ll need to ask for it).

  • Sharp cheddar does not exist in Russia.

 

7. Vegetarian and Vegan

Vegetarianism and veganism are spreading throughout Eurasia. Most major cities have a growing selection of groceries and cafes catering to those who chose to forgo meat.

Tofu and soy milk can generally be found in high end grocery stores. You can find better tofu at rynoks, however, and Asian specialty stores. Sparzha salad is very common in Russia (available at nearly all rynoks and most grocery delis). It is actually a vegan product made from soy. You can also find dehydrated sparzha sold in packages.

For other products such as soy milk, you’ll usually need a large or high-end store. Many cities also now have an increasingly number of health foods stores and stores catering to vegeterian and vegan lifestyles. Finding a store that specializes in organic or health foods can also help you find products such these.

For more information and advice, see the entries on vegetarianism on our Students Abroad site.

 

8. Other

Peanut butter is probably one of most talked about “missing foods” in Russia among foreigners. However, once nonexistent in Russia, peanut butter has been making significant inroads and can generally be found in health food stores, larger supermarkets, and high end supermarkets. Look for it in the snack food aisle.

BBQ sauce was also one a rarity – but is now fairly commonly available in larger and high end supermarkets. Even most cheaper groceries will now carry Heinz BBQ.

A few additional things that you are not likely to find abroad in Russia include:

  • Corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Marshmallow cream
  • Marmite
  • Miracle Whip
  • HP Sauce
  • A1 Steak Sauce

 

AND WHAT DO RUSSIANS CRAVE WHEN ABROAD?

When we polled Russians on this issue, it is interesting to note that almost no one responded by citing brand names, although 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 Buckwheat (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)

 

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
  • Shashlyk – this is similar to barbeque, but different. Barbeque usually uses sweet marinades and cooks the meat slowly. Shashlyk uses sour marinades and cooks the meat quickly.

 

Traditional Medicines

Many Russians prefer herbal and non-traditional medicines to professional health care.

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

 

Drinks

  • Baltika 9 – a Russian beer with 9% alcohol (Available in specialty 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 tarragon leaves

 

Other

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

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