Food Stands/Киоски с едой
City-Wide (Most often found in the city center)
Hours: About 9 or 10 am – Sunset
Meals from $2.50
In my search for “cheap eats,” I usually scour the city with a keen eye for business lunch offerings or somewhat out-of-the-way, backroads establishments that seem to be offering up a plethora of food at a decent price in order to stay afloat. However, it hit me this month that I have been having a bit of tunnel vision in my manner of selection. How else could I have neglected street food, one of the most fun aspects of Russian food culture?!
Like the food to be found in restaurants, street food in Russia varies from city to city, and trying the different cart offerings in different places is a big part of the fun. Eating street food is also the ultimate game of chance! Who knows if a particular cart/stand will have the world’s greatest шашлик (shashlik; a meat kabob, usually pork if bought from a stand) or the hardest, most disgusting variant that you’ve ever tasted? It is as if one were playing the tables in Vegas, for the rewards can be exhilarating, but the defeats equally as heartbreaking. And again, just as with many card games, learning where and what to eat in terms of street food becomes more and more a game of skill and reason (and less one of chance) as you begin to master it. Yet another plus of street food is that it is quick, fast, and to-the-point. All of the dishes that are served are simple and often self-contained, and can be eaten standing right in front of the kiosk on the street. Thus, if you happen to get famished in the middle of a shopping run, or just don’t have time for a nice sit-down meal, you can grab a bite on the run and be completely satisfied, and even quite happy, with your meal (if you know how to play the street food game, that is!).
For this excursion, I chose a cart right in the center of Vladivostok, at Плошадь Семеновская (Ploshad’ Semionovskaia; Semionovskaia Square). It seemed a fairly safe bet, as it is one of the most frequently visited food-cart areas (the square serves as a huge bus stop) and all of the carts in the surrounding area looked pristine. I also chose the only cart that had a line at the time I popped over to take a look, as I figured it a positive indicator of food quality. I was not disappointed in my expectations. I ordered a пян-се (pian-se; a huge steamed dumpling comprised of cabbage and ground pork/beef), a беляш (bieliash; a fried dough cake stuffed with ground pork/beef, sauce, and onions) and an iced tea, all for 120 rubles. The пян-се was actually delicious – greasy, flavorful, and piping hot. About three-quarters of the way through it, I was already full. The беляш was not as stand-out as the пян-се; it was pretty much all dough and the onions inside were rather overpowering, but then again perhaps this is because I was already full. For 120 rubles, though, you can’t beat the meal! And it took all of 10 minutes!
As a disclaimer, I will say that there are varied opinions about street food among even Russians themselves, so this form of cost-savvy cuisine is not for everyone. Also as general rule, try to check out the place you’re buying from before making a purchase; if there is obvious dirt and grime, or there are really suspect smells emanating from the stand, common sense should tell you to take a pass.
For groups and faculty-led tours, I would not recommend the “way of the cart.” Standing out in the elements while ingesting food of uncertain quality is certainly not conducive to a community vibe.