Chanoy Honeymoon: Moscow, December 2015

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

There’s 99.99999% of Russia that I’ve yet to see – as one of our free tour guides said, she’s taken train trips through Russia that have lasted for five days. It’s a very large country and to think that you’ve ‘seen it’ after only visiting two cities in the west of the country is incredibly arrogant. Still, I’m going to be outrageous and pick a favourite – I prefer St Petersburg to Moscow. There, I said it.

As I mentioned earlier, St Petersburg has everything I love in vast, extremely cheap quantities. Tickets to events like the ballet and opera are exceedingly cheap even when compared to similar events in Moscow which were easily three to four times the price. Food seemed a bit cheaper as well, and the whole city is smaller and more manageable with a smaller population. The crush of people in Moscow is truly overwhelming, as you can see from this video I posted on Instagram!

However, Moscow has its own attractions. If you’re particularly interested in the history of the Soviet Union, Moscow is the place to be. We went to see Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body in his mausoleum, which I thought didn’t quite compare to the embalmed bodies of Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh which we’d seen on previous holidays. On a side note, if we ever get to North Korea to see the embalmed bodies of the Kims, we’ll have seen the embalmed bodies of all the dead Communist leaders!

There are other Soviet-era museums and monuments scattered throughout the city. K particularly enjoyed visiting the Cosmonautics museum, showcasing the golden era of Soviet space travel. We also did a self-guided day tour of the extensive Moscow metro system, where stations are lavishly decorated with beautifully coloured mosaics and majestic statues and friezes depicting the glories of the Soviet years. In case you’re not up to navigating the confusing metro system yourself, there are also paid guided tours, but they can be very pricey by Russian standards!

Speaking of guided tours, we joined a free walking tour of Moscow which concentrated primarily on Red Square and the Kremlin. I felt as though there’s a lot outside of the Red Square worth seeing, so to have the tour limited to such a small area as a bit disappointing. That’s Moscow though – it’s not as walkable as St Petersburg and you really have to make the effort to get outside of the tourist area to see other parts of the city.

We stayed a little bit out of the centre at the Novotel, a change from our usual Airbnb apartments. This meant that we ate out a lot more than we normally would, and ended up having meals at Teremok, at a number of Russian cafeterias, at a Vietnamese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Georgian restaurant, and a traditional Russian restaurant. There were snacks along the way of course, including some traditional Russian doughnuts as seen in the gallery below.

All in all, I’m not sure if Moscow would be on the top of my list for the next trip we take to Russia. I’d love to do something like the Trans-Siberian Railway to see more of the country, or even a guided tour that takes you through the famous ‘Golden Circle’ route…but Moscow itself? It’s not quite my cup of tea…or shot of vodka!

Review: Dzhon Dzholi, Moscow Russia

Did you know that Georgian cuisine is the next big thing in Russia? Note – I’m not talking about Southern American cuisine, I’m talking about the country that bridges Europe and Asia! On the free walking tours we attended in both St Petersburg and Moscow, there were other travellers asking the guides to recommend a Georgian restaurant for them to visit. Apparently they’d done some reading and found that that Georgian food was the next big thing!

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Well we weren’t going to be left out of this new trend, so we did our research and decided to visit Dzhon Dzholi in Moscow. It’s located conveniently close to a metro line, and is also close to the Russian Cosmonautics Museum which made K very happy as he’s a bit of a space geek. Being located a little bit further out from the centre of Moscow also meant that we were the only tourists in the restaurant on the day that we visited, but there were plenty of locals dining there with many office workers ordering the set lunch.

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With the set menu written entirely in Cyrillic characters however, I simply didn’t have the energy to decipher it! I resorted to ordering from the main menu, which came conveniently with pictures of each item for non-Russian speakers to refer to. But first some drinks!

K had a Lemonade, and I had an Iced Tea. Unfortunately the lemonade was actually a lime syrup drink which proved to be much too sweet, but my iced tea was very fruity and refreshing which proved to be particularly helpful as some of the dishes we ordered were quite heavy.

Chicken noodle soup (part of a 470 Rubles lunch deal)
Chicken noodle soup (part of a 470 Rubles lunch deal)

K was a bit braver than me and ordered blindly from the set lunch menu rather than relying on pictures. The soup was a lucky choice – a simple Chicken Noodle Soup (for the soul), garnished liberally with fresh dill. This was pretty tasty as far as chicken noodle soups go, but I suspect that there was a bit of help from Maggi Chicken Stock as the soup was a suspiciously bright yellow shade.

Ajapsandal eggplant , paprika, potato, red onion stewed with tomato sauce, 340 Rubles
Ajapsandal eggplant, paprika, potato, red onion stewed with tomato sauce, 340 Rubles

The first dish I ordered was the Ajapsandal eggplant, a delicious tomato-based vegetable stew. It was only a small serve, suitable as a starter, but what there was of it really did pack a flavour punch – rich, savoury, smoky, and intense. The eggplant in particular was cooked to perfection – while it seemed firm to the touch, it almost disintegrated as soon as you put it in your mouth, literally melting on the tongue.

Kutabs with lamb, 260 Rubles
Kutabs with lamb, 260 Rubles

I also ordered the Kutabs with lamb, a flatbread stuffed with minced meat not unlike a Turkish gozleme, which makes sense given Georgia’s geographical location relative to Turkey. The flatbread was a little bit oily, but I loved the taste of the savoury spiced lamb mince which was perfectly complimented by the yoghurt dip.

Lamb Kebab (part of a 470 Rubles lunch deal)
Lamb Kebab (part of a 470 Rubles lunch deal)

K’s set lunch menu was a Lamb Kebab, served a little bit differently than a lamb kebab in Australia! For one thing, it’s served with a thin piece of dry crispy flatbread which means that you can’t really roll up your kebab in bread – you have to awkwardly try to spear a bit of lamb, a bit of flatbread, a bit of tomato and a bit of onion to have in a single bite. It’s a task easier said than done, especially considering how crisp the flatbread is! It’s a messy meal, but well worth the effort – the lamb is delicious. It’s not as savoury or strong as my lamb kutabs, which makes it much more edible in this larger quantity. The slightly spicy dipping sauce was a delight as well.

Khinkali (large Georgian dumplings, 90 Rubles each
Khinkali (large Georgian dumplings, 90 Rubles each

To finish our meal, we decided to share some Khinkali, large Georgian dumplings that resemble Shanghainese xiao long bao, but at four times the size! These are very difficult to eat – too large for a single mouthful but as soon as you cut into the dumpling, its soup juices spill out onto the plate. It’s a pity as the filling (three varieties – pork, beef or lamb) is delicious, but it’s let down by the clumsy dumpling wrapping.

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I thought our meal at Dzhon Dzholi was a bit hit and miss – I wasn’t a fan of the dumplings, some of the drinks seem a bit average, and oil is used quite liberally which may be off-putting for those who prefer to maintain a cleaner and healthier palate. Yet there were some standout dishes – the stewed vegetables were delicious, and I’d love to go back to try some different fillings in the kutab flatbreads. I think this is the type of restaurant where you have to pick and choose your meal carefully – take note of what locals around you are eating and follow their lead!

Dzhon Dzholi is located at 20 Tverskaya Ulitsa, Moscow.

Review: Viet Cafe, Afimall, Moscow Russia

I’m not going to lie, I had been having the most intense cravings for Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese food throughout our entire trip through Europe. Having Spanish tapas and duck cassoulet is all well and good, but sometimes you just crave what you always eat at home.

We’re lucky enough in Australia that we have access to top-range food from all different parts of Asia. With the exception of one decent meal at Udon Kobo Ishin in Berlin, we’d found it difficult to locate genuine Asian food like we would eat at home.

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By the time we got to Moscow, my cravings had become too intense and I needed a hit of ramen, dumplings or pho! Luckily we were staying at the Novotel Moscow City located right next to a large shopping mall with a number of restaurants…Viet Cafe was one of them. We inspected the menu before entering and decided that it looked genuine enough – the restaurant owners hadn’t mixed in food from other regions (sushi, donburi, dumplings, bibimbap…) into the all-Vietnamese menu, which was a good sign!

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Dau Phu Sot (Tofu with tomato sauce and coriander, served with steamed rice), 320 Rubles

I eat a lot of tofu at home – fried, silken, puffs, bean curd, any which way, and hadn’t been able to find it in supermarkets across Europe throughout our stay. No doubt there are specialist supermarkets that carry it, but I hadn’t been lucky enough to come across one. I had to order the Dau Phu Sot to get my fill of tofu, though I was a little bit doubtful of the “cooked in tomato sauce” addendum…that’s not how I normally cook tofu! Still it was surprisingly tasty, especially with the addition of fresh coriander which I’d also been missing. It’s not a herb that you can readily find across Europe!

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Banh Bao (pork, prawns, black mushrooms, glass noodles), 90 Rubles

Also craving soft steamed buns, we ordered the Banh Bao with a pork and prawn filling. While I thought the filling lacked a certain something (Texture using more wood ear mushrooms? Flavour with more spiced pork?), the soft squishy steamed bun was everything that I’d been hoping for and more.

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Mirinda and Vietnamese lemonade (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

The drinks we ordered didn’t get delivered to the table until halfway through the meal which I found interesting – surely getting a bottle of Mirinda and making a Vietnamese lemonade shouldn’t take that long? I think it highlights the slightly erratic service that we experienced all night, with the waitresses taking just a little bit too long to acknowledge you as you walked in, to seat you, to bring you a menu, to take your order…everything was just slightly off. It certainly doesn’t match the brisk efficiency you’ll find in Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, but I wonder whether it’s just the Russian way.

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Beef Pho (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

We ordered their special ‘Vietnamese Dinner’ set which was comprised of a bowl of Pho Bo and some Nem Ga (next photo). I was expecting the Aussie-standard bowl of pho, and was very surprised when this tiny child-sized bowl was delivered to our table. I’d have to eat two of these bowls to consider it a full meal! Still, I liked the healthy serving of fresh herbs on the bowl, and the noodles were cooked well. Unfortunately the beef wasn’t sliced as thinly as it really should be, and the broth was tasty but lacked a depth of flavour. It’s not an award-winning bowl of pho, but I expect that it’s about as good as it gets in Russia!

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Nem Ga (part of 650 Rubles Vietnamese Dinner)

Our last dish was the Nem Ga which came with the Vietnamese Dinner. These were surprisingly the highlight of the whole meal, with a crisp crunchy skin, and extremely flavourful spiced chicken and vegetable filling. Served with a typical Nuoc Cham dipping sauce (heavenly, I put some on the rice because I’d missed it so much!), these ‘spring rolls’ were as good as any I’d had in Australia – and even as good as those I’d had in Vietnam two years ago!

The Vietnamese fare at Viet Cafe is about as good as it gets in Russia – if you’ve been on the road for a few months as we had, it’s a great place to stop in for a feed to satiate your cravings. The prices are reasonable by Australian standards, if a bit high by Russian standards especially considering the smaller serving size of all dishes. Worth a visit if you’re craving Vietnamese food!

Viet Cafe is located in Afimall at 2 Presnenskaya emb. in Moscow.