November 01, 2005

Food on the Run

Americans are not the only ones who seek out fast food. The Russians also like to eat on the run. City streets were once filled with hawkers who sang out colorful descriptions of their goods. You could buy sbiten, a hot spiced honey drink, from the sbitenshchiki carrying urns on their backs, or fresh milk from molochnitsy, whose shoulders sagged under heavy buckets suspended on a yoke. Pirozhniki sold piping hot pirozhki for kopeks apiece. Although itinerant vendors no longer contribute to Russia’s urban fabric, a quick bite is still part of the typical Russian day.

Most Russian cities boast a zakusochnaya or two (from the verb zakusit, to have a bite) where you can order food quickly. A popular zakusochnaya chain is Kroshka-kartoshka, which specializes in stuffed baked potatoes.  If you don’t feel like eating their famous “potatoes in a jacket,” you can order Georgian chicken stew (chakhokhbili) or Ukrainian dumplings (vareniki) and wash it all down with Nestea or Poweraid – surely a sign of the times.

Other Russian fast-food franchises have sprung up to compete with McDonald’s. Rostik’s specializes in roasted chicken, while Kombi’s offers sandwiches and Oreo milkshakes. If you want less generic food, you can go to Yolki-palki or Mumu, two informal restaurant chains that offer home-style Russian dishes like borshch and cutlets. But if you are really in a rush, seek out a zabegalka, another type of snack bar whose name comes from the verb zabegat – to drop in. And that’s just what you must do, since there is not a chair in sight. Patrons at zabegalki eat standing up at tall, round tables, a design guaranteed to increase dining speed, since there is nowhere to sit down and relax.

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