Despite recent moves by Moscow officials to get rid of the less tasteful food establishments in the city and a worsening economic situation, a new study shows that, in the centre, the number of cafés and restaurants almost doubled in the last year. Coupled with food sanctions that prompted the birth of restaurants dedicated to local cuisine, the culinary scene in Moscow is, it seems, better than ever.
It was probably not the popular uprising most opposition politicians had in mind, but it achieved results: when the head of Moscow’s department of trade and services said in an interview to popular tabloid Komsolskaya Pravda that the city would disband all kebab kiosks, Muscovites took to social media to voice their outrage. After a brief but intense online campaign during which Russians mocked and criticized the incoming “Shawarmageddon”, officials backed off, saying the whole thing had been a simple misunderstanding. Two months earlier, the destruction of about a hundred convenience stores and food kiosks, ordered by the local authorities, had already sparked outrage among the population.
But while kebab stands and other low-cost food kiosks are under growing pressure from the city, a study by consulting agency Colliers International shows an unprecedented rise in the number of cafés and restaurants in the capital’s centre, Russian outlet RBC reported.
The number of catering establishments in the city centre almost doubled in a year, from 23 in 2015 to 40 in the beginning of 2016. Particularly popular are meat restaurants, gastropubs (bars serving high-quality food) and craft beer establishments, echoing a renewed interest in the country’s big cities for locally-brewed beers. According to the author’s report cited by RBC, the growth of restaurants in Moscow’s centre should last, thanks to “favourable business conditions” and vacant space.
It’s not just craft beer and meat restaurants: despite the effects of Russia’s “imported substitution” policy being hotly debated, it seems the ban on importing fruits, cheese, meat or vegetables from western countries, combined with a rising patriotism, lead to a renewed interest for Russian cuisine. Maybe for the first time in decades, Russian food is “fashionable”, says British journalist Shaun Walker, with fine-dining establishments serving plates made with cheese from the Altai Mountains or seaweed from the Murmansk region.
Not everything is rosy in the capital, however, with a worsening economy taking its toll on food establishments. A report published by RBC in January showed the number of restaurants and cafés in the city as a whole (and not only the centre) had slightly declined for the first time in two years: after quickly rising from 2486 in January 2013 to 2824 in November 2015, it went down to 2778 in January 2016. Experts point out the tough economic situation that makes going out a rarer event for many Russians: in December 2015, a Levada Center poll showed that, because of the crisis, 58% of Russians were planning to spend less on food, and 36% on entertainment.
With a stagnation in the number of restaurants but more successful original formulas like craft beer and Russian traditional food, Moscow’s culinary scene is undergoing a transformation. But it remains to be seen how the evolving economic and geopolitical situation will affect this. Lifting the sanctions (and therefore, the food embargo) could make foreign products plentiful and affordable again, endangering Moscow’s new love for Russian cuisine.