Sunday, 13 September 2009

Fast Food Nation

Since arriving here in Moscow many moons ago to work professionally (rather than farting around as a hapless student or sightseeing prior to that), I've taken my first ever vacation. More of a stay-cation to be exact, but a holiday all the same. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain in the ass to do so, as the Russian system of actually taking a holiday (regardless of company - they all have to conform to Russia's Трудовой Кодекс Trudovoi Codex, lit. Work Codex) involves running between various offices, signing different forms, then returning a few weeks later to sign yet another form. By that point you wonder whether or not it's all worth the effort in doing so. But it is, to some extent, because you get to go and stuff your face with food from Moscow's street stalls more than you would were you at work.

Moscow possesses some of the most brilliant fast food outlets I've ever had the pleasure of frequenting. Before coming to Moscow I lived in Glasgow, which is known for its deep-frying of anything remotely edible (Mars bars, pizzas, ice cream) and, while tasty, you wouldn't really want to live off it for an extended period of time. But not in Moscow. So, in no particular order, I shall expose some of them to you:

Крошка Картошка (Kroshka Kartoshka - something along the lines of 'Munchkin Potato')

Let me go on the record now by saying this: I fucking love Kroshka Kartoshka. I'd have a picture of me hugging one of these things, were it not for the fact that my mobile phone has a very poor camera, and convincing a Muscovite passerby to photograph me doing so isn't an option either. So why's it so fucking good? They sell baked potatoes. I know of only one other outlet in the world that does the same, and that's Spud's on Bradbury Place in Belfast, which is a rather dingy little establishment and one that is especially grimey on a Saturday night.

The potatoes are gorgeous, mostly due to the fact that they've been baking for a couple of hours already and they then slather them with butter and cheese, but it doesn't end there. Like some perverted ice cream stand, they have tubs of various ingredients that you can add as toppings (and they actually use the ice cream scoop things, bizarrely). It ranges from simply extra cheese, various salads, and bits of fried bacon and onion, to incomprehensible additions like salmon and downright revolting crabmeat mayonnaise. They serve toasties too, which are yum as well, but the potato is enough on its own.

The Kroshka stands are all over the place in Moscow, as well as in the major department stores.

Теремок (Teremok, the name is taken from терем some sort of reference to a traditional boyar type of raised household in the countryside which people lived in many moons ago)

Teremok, contrary to Kroshka, deals with pancakes (or blinis, to be accurate). Much like with Kroshka, there are a variety of toppings. I'm a ham n' cheese man, but you can stick in chocolate and banana, or red caviar and cream if you're of the crabmeat mayonnaise mindset. They sell their own brand of квас (Kvass - a drink made from fermented rye bread. Ever-so-slightly alcoholic, but you'd have to pound away about 3 litres of the stuff to get the same buzz as a pint), which also goes down well.

Шаурма (Shwarma - a type of kebab, moreorless)

Not a chain of food stands per se, nor to my taste either, but it's a staple of Moscow so it merits attention. Shwarma is essentially a donner kebab, but wrapped up in an unleavened bread thing to resemble a sausage roll. Not sure of the meat's origins, which is why I tend to stray from them. Like with kebabs, however, you only eat them when you're hammered.

I've drawn a blank right now. There used to be a lot more of these food kiosks a few years ago. For example Rickshaw Ivan's, which was pre-prepared faux Chinese gunk heated up from frozen in a microwave, and Cono-Pizza, which was essentially pizza in an ice cream cone (and surprisingly tasty). I assume the economic crisis has played its part, or because nutjob Mayor Luzhkov - who, allegedly, has also put forward plans to stop snow from falling in Moscow this winter through cloud dispersal, which is mind-boggingly insane and I'm hoping he's finally kicked out of office - cleared a lot of them off the streets because they didn't pay the necessary gratuity to line his pockets with ivory or something, and it's only recently that I have seen some Kroshkas and Teremoks reappearing near to their old haunts.

There is a Kroshka wannabee, called Чудо Картошка (Chudo Kartoshka - lit. Wonder Potato), that appeared, but their quality is inferior and they're not so widespread. In addition to those, there are plenty of general kiosks that sell basic stuff (fags, booze, chewing gum, candy, fruit n' veg and so forth, though not all in one), but they blend into the Moscow scenery, rather than stick out obnoxiously like Kroshka and Teremok.


In other news, I joined the wandering prat brigade by carrying around a large teddybear inside a cardboard 'house' that I bought from a store called "Build a Bear" (I think it's just the same as the Bear Factory in the UK) for my friend to whom I had lost a bet three years ago. It's alright being stared at by folk on the metro, not so much when it's grotty children who smell really bad, trying to sidle as close as possible to me to get a look at what I'm carrying.


  1. Fascinating as always, but I'm surprised you've not heard of Spud U Like.

  2. I was equally excited when I first had a spud - prety much like our Kroshka-kartoshka.