Me eating a Stardog!s 'French Hotdog'
I come from a world where fast food equals mega restaurant chains, such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King. In Moscow things are entirely different, and I have experience to speak from - I’ve simply eaten on the go all too many times! Although I can’t speak for megalopolises in the United States, in suburban and rural America fast food is dominated by popular restaurant chains who deliver quick and affordable meals to eat in your car, at home, or inside the restaurant. In Moscow, on the other hand, fast food takes the form of the hundreds of street vendors, ready to serve up a quick meal to the famished passers-by. If it’s not a street vendor, then it’s one of the countless walk-through windows offering plenty of snacks and beverages for the go.
Interestingly enough, in order to compete in Moscow, restaurants such as Papa John's and Burger King have evolved into a somewhat more classy (and expensive) experience. A meal at McDonald’s can easily cost ten U.S. dollars, whereas a meal at a more exclusive American fast food place can take up to an hour to complete. That simply doesn’t sound like a real fast food experience to me! Whereas I find it a chore to make my way to a McDonald’s in Moscow (especially because of the excruciatingly long wait), the ever present street vendors are always at hand to provide a warm meal that is not only tasty and portable, but more than affordable! (I think I’ve got a new business slogan in the works there...)
One of the amazing things about street food in Moscow is the variety of items you can purchase, ensuring that you never get bored of eating the same thing. From unmarked stands to big brands, there is a wide range to choose from. Kroshka Kartoshka, Teremok, ‘Stardog!s’, and the American classic Subway - these are only a few of the names from the Russian fast food universe. Places like Subway offer an almost endless variety to your typical sub, while ‘Stardog!s’ presents the Russian take to the popular American hot dog stand. Teremok specializes in making “blini” (or Russian pancakes), whereas at Kroshka Kartoshka you can stuff a huge potato however you like!
Bliny and borscht at Teremok. Source: Kommersant
Yet, despite the great choices offered by these chains, their food doesn't really compare to the unmarked street vendors in variety and taste. Their food is delicious and cheap, typically being a combination of flour products with fruit, sugar, meat, cabbage or potatoes. From the ever delicious “Shaurma” (a Middle-Eastern treat filled with pork, vegetables, and sauces) to the one of hundreds of pirozhki (baked dough filled with a variety of stuffings), you are guaranteed to find something to fill you up until it’s time to sit down for a meal. If this doesn’t suit your taste, then you can always select from the Russian pierogi (boiled and then fried, these small dumplings are often filled with meat or sauerkraut), syrniki (thick Russian pancakes), vatrushka (similar to a Danish), blini, Shashlik (shish kebab), sausage meat rolls, and more.
The opportunities are endless, but even more impressive is the sheer number of vendors. On almost every street, near every bus stop, at every metro station, beside every apartment complex... you can find them anywhere. You never have to go out of your way to get food; after a simple wait of no longer than a minute, you are on your way with food and drink in hand. This is real Russian fast food! The variety, the price, the speed, the convenience... these are the things that impress me so much about Moscow’s fast food business. This diversity and convenience is what makes the Russian food market so different from that in the U.S.
In a world where McDonald’s isn't my fast food of choice, I've learned to appreciate a place at a table with a good cheeseburger and large coke sitting in front of me. But, no matter how much I miss that taste of home, my time is precious - and Moscow knows how to cater to that. The Russian capital takes the cake when it comes to fast food, and it does it in a delicious way!
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