Four years ago, when I was a still learning the basics of Russian, our professor Tatiana brought in a menu from a Moscow fast food chain called “Mu-Mu.” She passed it around the classroom and patiently tried to explain the items on the menu. Most were fairly intuitive—we had an idea what borsch was, for example, and plov actually sounded pretty good. We learned about how expensive Moscow could be and absolutely refused to believe Tatiana’s claims that salo—a spread made from pig’s lard—was better than peanut butter.
I finally made it to Mu-Mu (think cows) this last Thursday. Tatiana did not lie to us—there was borsch, there was plov, and there were kitschy bovine decorations. Salo, unfortunately, was not to be found. The layout and system of every Mu-Mu—there are 24 scattered around Moscow—is very similar to Grabli. Upon entering, you grab a tray and pick out what you want to eat. The main difference between Grabli and Mu-Mu comes down to quality and quantity—Grabli is more spacious, has a wider selection of food that tends to be of better quality and served in slightly more generous portions. Grabli is is also slightly more expensive.
I’m not a particularly picky eater, however, and I was perfectly satisfied with my meal. Coming in from the sub-zero cold, my friends and I gravitated first towards the soups—I had a thick split pea soup while my friends, Nelson from California and Fritz from Italy, had a delicious creamy cheese soup with croutons (they let me try some). For a little crunch I added a beet salad that turned out to be slightly bland. For the main course I chose a breaded chicken cutlet with cheese and mushrooms, which I combined with a side of rice and vegetables. The chicken and mushrooms were mixed together, resulting in a slightly odd texture, but overall it was pleasantly creamy without relying too much on any one ingredient. The rice was not dry and even slightly aromatic. With two pieces of bread and a cup of tea my total came to 288.50. Not quite as much food as at Grabli, but still a full meal by anyone’s definition and a very decent price. A smaller meal of just the chicken, rice, and vegetables—which would still fulfill the requirements of cheap eats for nutritional diversity, would come to just 131 rubles (a bit over $4). Adding a drink would bring the total to about $5.50. I also noticed that the staff at Mu-Mu was friendlier—it was almost as if they wanted you to patronize the establishment, which is not a quality often found in Moscow’s local help. They must have received some training in customer service.
In summary, Grabli is basically a slightly more upscale version of Mu-Mu, which itself is a better version of the university stolovaya. The next edition of “Cheap Eats,” hopefully, will be more exotic, and will not require the use of trays. I promise.
For groups and faculty-led tours, MuMu can be great. Basically, so long as you tell you group that everyone can have one salad, one main course, a side dish, and a drink, the average bill will almost always come out to about 300 rubles ($10) or less. Plus, everyone can see what they are ordering before they order it, and even folks who can’t speak Russian can just point and grunt and get what they like. While cheaper than Grabli, MuMu locations tend to be smaller and busier, which can make them slightly less convenient for groups.