How Not to be a Stranger in Russia

From dietary preferences to decoding basic Russian, here’s your guide to navigating the country.  
Photo by Katsiaryna Pleshakova/Shutterstock.
Photo by Katsiaryna Pleshakova/Shutterstock.

Vegetarian? Don’t lose heart, or appetite

Russian cuisine may not be the friendliest to vegetarians. Still, there is plenty to eat. If you can tolerate eggs, go for blini (crepes), especially those stuffed with mushrooms or potatoes. Another option is pelmeni (dumplings) with cheese, potatoes, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, and cherries (perfect for dessert). Chains such as Varenichnaya, Mari Vanna, and Teremok rustle up some good vegetarian fare. Avoid soups though, as they tend to be based on chicken or beef stock. If all else fails, stick to the staple pastas and pizzas served in the many European restaurants.

The following sentences, translated in Russian, should help you get by.

I am a vegetarian

Ya vegetarianets (for men)/vegetarianka (for women)

We are vegetarians (for groups)

Mi vegetariantsi

I/We do not eat eggs/fish/meat
Ya/Mi ne em/edim… yaitsa/ribu/myaso

Bon Appétit
Priyatnovo apetita

 

Got a beef with pork?

There is a lot of beef in traditional Russian, Tatar (Kazan), and Mordovian (Saransk) cuisines, and a fair amount of pork is used in Russian and Mordovian kitchens. If you don’t eat beef or pork, ask for the chicken, lamb or fish variants.

Here is what to say:

I do not eat beef/pork.
Ya ne em govyadinu/svininu.

Do you have something with chicken/lamb/fish?
U vaas est shto-nibud s kuritsei/baraninei/riboi?

 

Stumped by Cyrillic? Learn the basics

Forget the adage that taught you that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In Russia, a little knowledge of the Cyrillic script, on which the Russian alphabet is based, and a few Russian words will go a long way. Many letters are from Greek so jog your memory to recall all those Greek symbols you learned in physics class. Watch out for false friends that look like English letters but sound completely different. For example: В is V, Н is N, and Р is R. For smooth sailing, you might need to learn a few of the unique Cyrillic letters like Ж (zh), У (oo), Х (kh) and Ч (ch). Let the World Cup host cities help you. If you learn how to read the following names in Russian, you should be able to decode enough Cyrillic to get by.

Moscow: MOSKVA – МОСКВА

Saint Petersburg: SANKT PETERBURG – САНКТ ПЕТЕРБУРГ

Kazan: KAZAN – КАЗАНЬ (Ignore the last letter in the Russian spelling; unless you plan to learn the language, just skip it whenever you see it.)

Sochi: SOCHI – СОЧИ

Yekaterinburg: YEKATERINBURG – ЕКАТЕРИНБУРГ

Nizhny Novgorod: NIZHNY NOVGOROD – НИЖНИЙ НОВГОРОД (The Й is a short i. Feel free to skip it.)

Kaliningrad: KALININGRAD – КАЛИНИНГРАД

Volgograd: VOLGOGRAD – ВОЛГОГРАД

Samara: SAMARA – САМАРА

Saransk: SARANSK – САРАНСК

Rostov-on-Don: ROSTOV-NA-DONU – РОСТОВ-НА-ДОНУ

It may be worth investing in a Russian phrasebook or building some language skills on free apps like Duolingo. Buy a good data pack so you can also turn to Google Translate for help. You can always buy a Russian SIM card to avoid international roaming charges. Удачи! (Good luck!)

 

Wondering what to wear where?

Dress modestly for both Russian Orthodox churches and mosques. Skirts or shorts are not entertained. Also, do carry a scarf to cover your head. Most churches and mosques do keep scarves that you can borrow but you may end up waiting in a line during busy summer months.

 

To explore more of Russia, see our FIFA World Cup 2018 guide to the country here.

  • Aanchal Anand is a travel addict who has been to over 50 countries across 5 continents. When she isn't travelling, she is typically coaxing her two cats off the laptop keyboard so she can get some writing done.

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