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How to Be Vegan in Russia
This article was originally published in September 2015 as an interview with Victoria Logunova, a vegan Russian food blogger, about what it's like to be a vegan in Russia.
Back then, vegetarian food in any form was an oddity in Russia, not to mention vegan food. But I’m pleased to report that a lot has changed in the past few years!
I’ve left my interview with Victoria here for you to read, as it includes some insights and useful tips that still apply today.
But be sure to keep reading to the bottom of the page, where I’ve added my own tips and recommendations based on my experience traveling across Russia on the Trans-Mongolian railway as a vegan in 2019. Spoiler alert: it was much easier and tastier than I expected!
Interview with a Vegan Russian Food Blogger (2015)
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.
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 Russian 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 fish
Я не ем рыбу.
ya nye yem ribu
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.
If you want to learn lots more useful words and phrases in Russian, I highly recommend the uTalk app! It's a great resource for learning some survival Russian before your trip.
And you can also use it as an electronic phrasebook to quickly look up the phrase you need at any given moment. Click on the image below to get a 20% discount on Russian or any other language pack!
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.
Where to Eat Vegan in St. Petersburg
Out of all the cities in Russia, St. Petersburg is the one with the strongest vegan movement of all. You can have quite a range of vegan dining experiences here, from punk burger stands to cozy cafés.
And more vegan restaurants keep popping up all the time. I’ve just checked HappyCow, and I see that several new places have opened since my visit just a few months ago! St. Petersburg now has a fully vegan Mexican eatery and a fully vegan Georgian restaurant, in addition to sushi, Indian, Russian and other cuisines.
The raw food movement is very popular in Russia, so you will often find quite a few raw options in Russian vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
In the future, I hope to publish separate posts on vegan food in St. Petersburg and vegan food in Moscow. But for now, here are a few of my favorite vegan and vegan-friendly eateries in the city.
Delicious and creative sushi, and it’s 100% vegan! No English menu, but the staff can help translate, and it’s very affordable. Try the Philadelphia, California and Udzumaki rolls.
A mix of Russian and international dishes, all of which have been veganized. A bit hard to find, but worth seeking out. The menu is in English, even though the sign outside is not.
Vegetarian café with oversized swings that you can sit in while you eat. The food is good, though portions run on the small side. Check the weight of the dish, which is listed on the menu in grams.
This vegetarian restaurant offers lots of vegan and raw food options. It’s the best place to come for veganized versions of traditional Russian dishes.
Another one that’s hard to find (a recurring theme in Russia), this is quite literally a hole in the wall inside the Etazhi Loft Project cultural center. The burgers here are awesome, and you can choose a patty made from falafel, tofu, seitan or tempeh.
Where to Eat Vegan in Moscow
While St. Petersburg has been spearheading the Russian vegan scene for a while now, Moscow is quickly catching up.
At last count, both cities had roughly the same number of fully vegan eateries (about 20 each). Of course, Moscow is more than twice the size of St. Petersburg, so per capita it still has fewer options.
An excellent vegetarian restaurant with vegan and raw options marked on the menu. Good range of Russian and international dishes, and a pleasant outdoor seating area.
The focus here is on healthy food, with lots of bowls and salads, although they also do burgers. Most menu items are vegan or can be veganized, although the labeling on the menu is not so clear.
When Victoria Logunova was interviewed for the original version of this article in 2015, she was primarily known as a vegan food blogger. Since then, she and her husband have opened this fully vegan falafel joint!
In addition to their falafel wraps, which come in creative flavors, they also serve burgers, sandwiches, milkshakes and desserts. And don’t miss their sweet potato fries!
This was among the best of the Georgian restaurants we tried during our Russia trip. It serves lots of vegan Georgian classic dishes like lobio and pkhali, as well as something called Mushroom Chashushuli (Чашушули из грибов), which was amazing!
This fully vegan eatery is located inside a funky, artsy complex that’s filled with aviator-themed street art. It’s a bit tricky to find, as there’s no sign, just a door covered in a street art mural.
It’s a quirky local place that’s worth visiting just for the experience, even if the food can be hit or miss. I enjoyed the lasagna, which was very meaty, but avoid the “nachos”, which are just tortilla chips with ketchup and mustard.
This place has a vibe similar to that of Veganga and is also located inside an alternative artsy complex. If you’re on a tight budget and looking for a fully vegan eatery, either of these local punkish places could be good options.
But don’t be fooled by the “crazy shake”. Underneath all the whipped cream and chocolate sauce, it’s not a shake but a hot coffee with milk!
This vegetarian restaurant has a large menu with plenty of vegan and raw food options. The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was very pleasant.
I recommend the vegetables baked in foil and the fried eggplant dish with tofu and tomato sauce. Good homemade lemonades too.
Flora no Fauna
This is a fully vegan food court stall inside the central market. It offers tasty, healthy dishes such as baked sweet potatoes and a superfood salad.
Vegan Russia Travel Tips
So we’ve established that Moscow and St. Petersburg have plenty of vegan options, but what about elsewhere in Russia? The truth is, traveling in Russia as a vegan was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Here are my top tips for finding vegan food no matter where you are in Russia.
Find Restaurants Via HappyCow + Apple Maps
Even in second-tier or third-tier Russian cities, you will often find at least one vegetarian or vegan restaurant.
Be sure to download the HappyCow app if you haven’t already. It’s the best global directory of vegan restaurants, vegetarian restaurants and veg-friendly restaurants, and it’s how I discovered more than half of the places where I ate during my month-long Russia trip.
Be aware, though, that the maps in HappyCow are powered by Google Maps, which tends to be unreliable in Russia. Even though Google is not blocked here like it is in China, most Russians don’t use it.
Instead, they use Yandex, a local company that’s like Google, Uber, Uber Eats and much more all rolled into one. Apple Maps has some kind of collaboration with Yandex and therefore tends to be more accurate than Google.
If you don’t have an Apple device, you could tryinstead, but I haven’t personally used it in Russia.
Here are a few examples of veg and veg-friendly restaurants I found in Russia thanks to HappyCow and Apple Maps:
Veggie Bro, a small and inexpensive vegan restaurant specializing in burgers, they also have a changing daily menu
Noot Falafel Café, a mostly vegetarian eatery with vegan options clearly marked. The falafel with fried eggplant is great! Ask for the English menu.
Салют (Salyut), a burger place that has a vegan burger made of tofu, which you can eat while sitting on the patio facing the park. The ordering system is a bit confusing, but the burger and fries are worth it!
Kazan has a great selection of vegan-friendly eateries, including fully vegan cafés, a Georgian restaurant, a doner and falafel restaurant, and a traditional Russian stolovoaya (canteen) that’s fully vegetarian.
For in-depth reviews of these places, see my guide to the Kazan Kremlin and other things to do in Kazan.
Rada Café is a vegetarian restaurant that’s set up as a stolovaya but is much more pleasant than most eateries of this type.
Lyublyu e Blagodaryu is run by the same owner as Rada Café and has a similar setup, but an even more upscale ambience. Some menu items are the same as at Rada, but the hot dishes are different.
Khmeli Suneli is a beautifully decorated Georgian restaurant with an English menu. Try the tarragon lemonade!
Viet Mon is a fast casual Vietnamese chain with more than one location in Yekaterinburg. There’s no English menu, but there's a marked vegan section near the front of the menu with five or six dishes, mostly tofu based.
Fitoterapia is one of the best vegan restaurants in all of Russia! It’s also one of the cheapest. The extensive menu is written in English and includes burgers, pizza and milkshakes as well as healthier options.
Khinkalnaya is a Georgian restaurant in the 130 Kvartel complex. The food is quite good, though the prices are on the high end.
The only city in Russia we visited where the dining options were pretty disappointing was Ulan Ude. There were no veggie restaurants, and the one Georgian restaurant was pretty far away.
Just as we were leaving town, a local expat told us about an Indian restaurant called Delhi that has marked vegan options on the menu. If only we’d known!
Eat at Georgian Restaurants
Have you ever tried Georgian cuisine before? I’m talking about Georgia the country, not the southern state in the US. It’s one of the most underrated cuisines in the world, and so far the Russians seem to be the only ones who have discovered it.
Georgian cuisine is also much more vegan-friendly than Russian cuisine by nature. So, if you can’t find a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, your next option should be to look for a Georgian restaurant.
There will be plenty of meat on the menu, but you’re also sure to find some delicious vegan options. I’ll be publishing a full guide to vegan Georgian food in the coming weeks, so watch this space!
In the meantime, a few vegan dishes to look for are adjapsandali, lobio and pkhali.
In Russian Restaurants, Order Side Dishes
To be honest, traditional Russian restaurants are not very vegan-friendly, so you’re usually better off in a restaurant that serves a different ethnic cuisine.
But if you do end up in a Russian restaurant, you can probably make a meal out of some side dishes in a pinch.
Common side dishes in Russian restaurants include grilled vegetables (Овощи-гриль) and fried potatoes with mushrooms (Картофель, жареный с грибами). You might get lucky and find a soup option too.
Self-Catering as a Vegan in Russia
As you can probably tell from the long list of restaurants recommended above, we ate out for most of our meals while traveling in Russia. The two places where we self-catered were in Suzdal, a small town on the Golden Ring circuit, and in a couple of villages on Lake Baikal.
If you want to cook your own meals, you can get basic supplies like pasta, oats, nuts, crackers and canned beans at mainstream supermarket chains like Магнит.
Also look for the Кабачковая Икра squash spread that Victoria mentioned above, and the eggplant version, called Икра Баклажанная. We were surprised to find that many supermarkets even have hummus!
And a Russian brand of oat milk, called не молоко (“not milk”), has recently come onto the market and is often sold in regular supermarkets in addition to health food stores.
If traveling to rural areas, I recommend stocking up in a larger city before you head out if possible. The Slata supermarket in Irkutsk is a good place to stock up before hiking around Lake Baikal, for example.
We also self-catered on long train journeys, which is what most Russians do when traveling by train. There’s a dining car on the trains, but the food is overpriced and not that good, and you definitely shouldn’t rely on it for vegan options.
Each train carriage has a hot water boiler, so instant noodles are a popular option. If you can’t find any vegan noodles, good alternatives for instant hot meals are couscous and oatmeal, but remember to bring your own tupperware to prepare it in.
Single-serving oatmeal packets are sold in most Russian supermarkets. Some of them have milk powder added, though, so check the ingredients first.
In larger cities, health food stores sell more specialty vegan items, including vegan meats and cheeses. Vkusvill (Вкусвилл) is a chain of health stores with many branches around the country, including in Moscow, Vladimir, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod.
And Moscow and St. Petersburg even have exclusively vegan shops. For more on the specific brands and products available in Russia, see this guest post about hidden vegan treats in Eastern Europe.
Falafel and Hummus Is Surprisingly Widespread
If you’re vegan, there’s a good chance you already love falafel and hummus. In which case, you’re in luck in Russia!
Hummus (хумус in Russian) is often available even in mainstream supermarkets. Look for it in tubs in the refrigerated section.
And falafel is by far the most common menu item in vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Russia. To be honest, I got a bit tired of falafel after a while and was craving something different.
But it’s a good fallback option to have when there’s nothing else. You can sometimes find omnivore Middle Eastern eateries that will also serve falafel and hummus.
If you're planning a trip to Russia, be sure to apply for your visa well in advance! Requirements vary from one consulate to the next, but most of them need at least 10 days to issue a tourist visa.
The first document you will need is an invitation letter, which you can get in just 30 minutes by applying online through ivisa.com.
For more tips on traveling in Russia in general, see my article on things you need to know about Russia.