Following the precedent I set with Alex Mercouris – why should I write a post on something myself, when one of the commentators has already done something better? – I present this article on Russia’s recent gastronomic revolution by Ivan Golov:
I can assure you that Russia has been going through a mass gastronomic and retail revolution in the last 5 years, and of course I am not just talking about Moscow, but even cities which one might call isolated and remote. Your expectations seem somewhat unrealistic, because you cannot develop an advanced consumer and food-quality sentitive culture over a short time period and especially in a society that is still recovering from the soviet restrictions in this regard. It is more than evident that Russia is very quickly learning to appreciate good food and service at an affordable price.
Just a quick note – I am a repatriated Russian living in Izhevsk (not my home city, and not the first choice for most who come back to Russia seeking a place to settle). I have watched the impressive transformation of the local retail and food landscape during my frequent visits to the city over the last 7 years. I have been living here for almost a year now. What you mention about the quality food and price of wines seems very bizzare. I am not ruling out that Moscow is very different, but if that is the case then you are totally out of touch with the rest of the country and should not generalize here on behalf of Russians living elsewhere.
Some specific non made up or theoretical examples of decent food at affordable prices: at work, we regularly go to a chinese cuisine restaraunt for lunch. Its a 15 minute walk or 5 minute drive to get there. This restaurant opened just a few months ago and the lunch offers they have are very cheap and tasty indeed. Last time (just a few days ago) for lunch I had pork soup, a generous serving of Gong Bao chicken with rice, chinese bread and tea. All in all cost me around 140 roubles, which in my opinion is extremely cheap. The lunch menu is cheaper of course than what you would pay in the evening, but I wont complain about that )) My colleagues don’t have any problems affording this kind of meal :) I could give you many more examples, but I think a simple link will be sufficient. This is one of several local restaurant holdings – they control a number of restaurants throughout Izhevsk and you can find the menu and prices here http://welcome-group.ru/. Wine may be more expensive overall, but I will write a separate paragraph about that
When it comes to beer, you have only yourself to blame if you go for the expensive imported beers. I don’t see the point because there are some excellent local beers to be enjoyed. To substantiate my claim – on Friday I enjoyed a few beers at a local summer cafe where they offered a decent locally brewed beer which cost only 90 RUR per 0.5 L. Is that expensive by your standards? At the shop I purchase 1L of fresh Zhigulevsky keg beer brewed locally for 100 RUR to accompany me while watching football (sadly, not so much anymore since the awful performance of our team yesterday)
You cannot possible complain about the wine. I remember 5 years ago I was not aware of a single store specializing in wines in Izhevsk, and the wines on offer were either CIS-origin suspicious red mixtures or were ridiculously overprices with disregard to quality. Today you have absolutely incredible variety (in comparison) and much more affordable prices. Today, the big chains and independent importers are much more sensitive towards quality and can import large quantities of good wines and other booze. Growing competition means that they will sell these imported goods at prices which the market will accept. If you get ripped of in Moscow, then perhaps you should move to a smaller city, you may also find that there are a lot less traffic jams.
I would argue that american-style steak houses are somewhat exotic in Russia at this point. They are expensive because the meat is imported from USA or Australia and there is little local beef of sufficient quality being produced today. However, this will change very quickly because there are several gigantic agricultural projects happening in Russia at the moment. One of them in Bryansk involves investing billions into angus meat breeds that will be fed with quality Russian grain to produce the same quality meat that is being imported today. Then Onishenko will do his magic, and voila! :) If we are talking about meat in general, then why don’t you settle for decent Russian or Caucasian shashlyk? It is affordable and delicious! Check out the prices in Izhevsk http://www.pazelinka.ru/
Retail is absolutely booming, if you are primarily talking about food products then there is sufficient variety and quality in Izhevsk. That said, my main complaint would be that there is not enough Russian fruit and vegetables being sold, a lot seems to be imported from other countries. I would contribute this to the risky and long invesment cycle (much like the beef situation described above), but I also predict that it will change significantly over the years. In the past 5 years I saw at least a dozen of large shopping malls and retail chain superstores opening in Izhevsk. Many of the federal retailers have showed up here and there are also strong local players which seem to be able to compete against them
Btw. from my knowledge many western countries, especially the ones in northern europe with a historic lack of sensitivity towards food quality, all went through a very similar gastronomical transformation fairly recently as society became more rich and open to the outside world. Norway or the UK would be prime examples of this