I'm really excited to introduce you to Victoria Logunova! She lives in Moscow, Russia, where she runs a vegan food blog and a pop-up vegan café. Apart from a couple of long and unpleasant layovers in the Moscow airport, I've not yet had the chance to go to Russia myself. I've been really curious about what it would be like to travel there as a vegan, so when I came across Victoria's blog I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask her all about the vegan movement in Russia. Here's what she had to say!
Q: What is it like to be a vegan in Russia in 2015?
A: I would say it’s quite challenging. Russian society is not responsive to new ideas, and sometimes you feel like an alien. Most people in Russia think that veganism is something dangerous for your health. Or that if you are vegan, you are a member of some kind of cult. As a result, usually parents don’t support their children to go vegetarian or especially vegan. And this leads to conflicts and misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s not easy. But hey, we are the first generation of vegans in Russia, and we can see the positive changes every day. I think it’s amazing!
Q: Have you noticed any changes in recent years, like more vegetarian restaurants opening up or more vegan products becoming available?
A: The vegan movement in Russia is still very young, but it's growing really fast. In the beginning of 2013, the China Study book was published in the Russian language and made lots of people reconsider their eating habits in favour of a plant-based diet. These days more and more people realize that eating vegan is healthy and natural. I can say that in the last couple of years, the number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Moscow has almost doubled. And yes, more locally-produced vegan products (like plant milks, cheese, nut butters etc.) have become available too. This summer the first (and very successful) vegan festival and several vegetarian food markets were held in Moscow. For comparison, last year there weren't any. Animal rights activism is also developing pretty well.
"Traditionally, Russian cuisine is very vegan friendly." ~ @vegelicacy
Q: Can you recommend any Russian dishes that are naturally vegan or can be easily veganized?
A: Well, traditionally Russian cuisine is very vegan friendly. In the past, Russian peasants were mostly plant eaters, as they could not afford to eat meat often. Instead, they ate lots of grains, root vegetables, mushrooms, fruits and berries. But the Soviet times changed many traditions, including the cuisine. After the Second World War, the Soviet leaders followed the idea that people should eat meat every day to be strong and healthy, and tried to catch up with the US in meat consumption. The meat-eating propaganda was very powerful, and it’s still working.
To answer the question, yes, most Russian dishes can be easily veganized. You can check out my blog post with Russian vegan recipes.
Q: I've read that, during fasting periods established by the Russian Orthodox Church, some believers abstain from certain animal products. Can you tell us more about that? Would you recommend that vegan travellers time their visit to coincide with fasting periods?
A: That’s true. During the fasting periods Orthodox Christians should avoid eating all animal products; however, on some days fish is allowed. In fact, there are more than 130 days of the year when believers should observe various fasts. For example, every Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day. But in practice there is only one fasting period which is observed by the majority of religious people. It’s the longest 40-day fast before Easter. It’s usually observed in the beginning of spring; the exact dates should be checked with the Orthodox fasting calendar.
During this period, most regular restaurants have a special menu for those who keep the fast (постное меню, pronounced as postno-ye me-nyu). So, it becomes quite easy to find vegan food. You just need to make sure that the dish is free of fish and other seafood of animal origin. Travelling to Russia during the fast makes sense if you plan to visit smaller cities besides Moscow and St. Petersburg. If not, then don’t worry, you will not go hungry.
Q: There is a commonly-believed stereotype about Russia that people who work in the service industry there are not very friendly or helpful. In your experience, are restaurant staff willing to accommodate vegan diners' needs?
A: Yes, unfortunately it’s true. It’s a part of Soviet heritage. These days the situation is slowly changing. Restaurant owners are trying to train their staff to be friendlier and more customer-oriented. Not always successfully though. However, in my experience people in vegetarian places are usually attentive and nice.
I am afraid that in a regular restaurant it will be very difficult to explain your dietary needs if you don’t speak Russian. And even if you do, in most cases you will be suggested to eat a salad. So, just find a vegetarian restaurant, all of them have vegan options.
Q: For travellers who want to self-cater, what types of food can they expect to find in a typical supermarket?
Well, of course in the supermarkets you will easily find lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and legumes. Here are the staples: potato, carrot, cabbage, beetroot, roasted buckwheat, barley, salted cucumbers, sauerkraut and all kinds of jams. Rye bread is always vegan. Such vegan food as tofu, non-dairy milk and mock meat is not very common.
Here are some vegan foods you can buy in Russian supermarkets:
- Кабачковая Икра [kabach-kovaya ikra] - delicious squash puree, always vegan. It can be found in any food store. Search for vibrant orange-color paste in a jar. It's very good on a slice of bread for breakfast.
- Квас [kvas] – a Russian fermented rye bread drink. Sometimes it’s called Russian Cola, but it's much healthier than Cola. I highly recommend that you try it.
- In the section with semi-prepared food you may find vegan вареники [va-reniki] dumplings with fruits and vegetables and veggie patties. You should look for the word “Постный” on the packaging.
- Chocolate candies Мишка косолапый [Mishka Koso-lapyi] are very popular in Russia. They are 100% vegan. These sweets can be found in most supermarkets and duty free shops as well.
Q: Can you give us a few helpful words and phrases in Russian for vegan travellers?
Useful Words and Phrases
Do you speak English?
Говорите ли вы по английски?
govo-ritye li vi po-ang-liyski?
Да / Нет
da / nyet
I would like to see the menu, please.
Можно мне меню, пожалуйста
moʐno mnye mye-nyo, po-ʐalooysta
We are vegans.
I don’t eat any meat, milk, cheese, cream, sourcream, butter, eggs or honey
я не ем мясо, молоко, сыр, сливки, сметану, сливочное масло, яйца и мед
ya nye yem myaso, molo-ko, sir, slivki, sme-tanu, slivochnoe maslo, yatsa i myod
Do you have vegan options?
у вас есть что-нибудь для веганов?
u vas est chto ni-bud dlya veganof?
Can you point out which dishes are vegan (no eggs, milk, cheese or honey)?
Покажите, пожалуйста, какие блюда подходят для веганов (без яиц, молока, сыра и меда)?
Poka-ʐitye, po-ʐalooysta, ka-kiye blyuda pod-khodyat dlya vyeganov (byez ya-itz, molo-ka, sira i myoda)?
I don't eat meat.
Я не ем мяса.
ya nye yem myasa
We don't eat meat.
Мы не едим мяса.
mi nye ye-dim myasa
I don't eat eggs.
Я не ем яйца.
ya nye yem yaytza
I don't drink milk.
Мне нельзя молоко.
mnye nyel-zya molo-ko
I don't eat cheese.
Я не ем сыр.
ya nye yem sir
I don't eat honey.
Я не ем мед.
ya nye yem myod
without milk, butter/cream or cheese.
Без молока, сливок, сливочного масла и сыра
byez molo-ka, slivok, slivochnogo masla i sira
I would like...
Я бы хотел…
ya bi kho-tyel…
The food is delicious!
The bill, please.
Note: The word веган (vegan) will be understood by staff in vegetarian restaurants, but not necessarily by the wider public.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell vegans who are thinking about visiting Russia?
A: Russian people look gloomy and unfriendly, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Russians love foreigners, and even if they don’t speak English, they will do their best to help you. Try your luck with young people; they are more likely to speak English. If you come to Moscow, check out my Moscow vegetarian & vegan guide. Also, feel free to contact me; I will be happy to answer any questions.
Photo credits (all used under CC license):
Matryoshka dolls, Moscow, by Neiljs
Kazan temple and Historical muzeum, by Andrey
St. Basil’s Cathedral, by Steve Jurvetson
Morning in Saint Petersburg, The Hermitage, by Ninara
About the Author
My name is Victoria Logunova, I am a food blogger from Russia. I live in Moscow together with my beloved husband. We are both ethical vegans, nature lovers and ecologically-minded people. We believe in a bright future and do our best to promote veganism in Russia. Besides running a vegan blog, we also participate in various festivals and events as a pop up vegan café called “Dr. Shpinato”. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook.