Russian cuisine derives its rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavourful soups and stews centred on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. This wholly native food remained the staples for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century. Lying on the northern reaches of the ancient Silk Road, as well as Russia's proximity to the Caucasus, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire has provided an inescapable Eastern character to its cooking methods not so much in European Russia but distinguishable in the North Caucasus. Russia's renowned caviar is easily obtained, however prices can exceed the expenses of your entire trip. Dishes such as beef Stroganov and chicken kiev, from the pre-revolutionary era are available but mainly aimed at tourists as they lost their status and visibility during Soviet times. Russian specialities include:

Pelmeni meat-filled dumplings, especially popular in Ural and Siberian regions

Blini thin, savoury buckwheat pancakes

Black bread rye bread, somewhat similar to one used by North American delis and not as dense as German variety

Piroshki small pies or buns with sweet or savoury filling

Golubtsy Cabbage rolls

Ikra Baklazhanaya aubergine spread

Okroshka Cold soups based on kvass or sour milk

Schi cabbage soup and Green schi sorrel soup, may be served cold

Borsch beet and garlic soup

Vinegret salad of boiled beets, potato, carrots and other vegetables with vinegar

Olivier russian version of potato salad

Shashlyk various kebabs from the Caucasus republics of the former Soviet Union

Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated, world class dining and a wide variety of cuisines including Japanese, Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to sample some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union e.g., Georgian and Uzbek. It is also possible to eat well and cheaply there without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened up. Russians have their own versions of fast food restaurants which range from cafeteria style serving comfort foods to streetside kiosks cooking up blinis or stuffed potatos. Although their menus may not be in English, it is fairly easy to point to what is wanted — or at a picture of it, not unlike at western fast food restaurants. A small Russian dictionary will be useful at non- touristy restaurants offering table service where staff members will not speak English and the menus will be entirely in Cyrillic, but prices are very reasonable. Russian meat soups and meat pies are excellent.

It is better not to drink the tap water in Russia and to avoid using ice in drinks, however bottled water and Coca Cola are available everywhere food is served. Tap water may contain e-coli, metals and parasites. St Petersburg has the most dangerous tap water because the system is ancient.

Stylish cafes serving cappuccino, espresso, toasted sandwiches, rich cakes and pastries are popping up all over Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Some do double duty as wine bars, others are also internet cafes.

Unlike Europe, cafes in Russia кафе do not serve only drinks, but also a full range of meals typically cooked in advance—unlike restaurants where part or whole cooking cycle is performed after you make an order.

tipping in restaurants

Tipping is still encouraged, even if it is not common among the locals, however whether to tip and how much is eventually always to the client's discretion. A tip of 10% of the total bill, usually paid by rounding up the invoice amount, would be reasonably generous. Don't tip in cafeteria-like settings, where you travel along the counter with a tray and pay at the cash register. Throw a couple of RUB10 notes into the tip jar for baristas. There is no way to leave a tip on your credit card so keep enough small bills in your wallet to hand to the staff.