How to Eat Out Cheaply in Moscow
You probably think that Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And that’s possibly true, if you consider the price of real estate in the centre, or the cost of a meal in a 5 star restaurant, in relation to the average salary.
Even going to an ‘expat bar’ can see you pay above average prices. Because we all know that expats are rich, right?
Well, maybe if they’re working in the oil and gas industry, or banking and finance. Those guys often come here for the high salary. Although there are a lot less of them here now since the financial crisis hit. Not to mention the sanctions against Russia. It’s not so much fun here now for those guys (and not only for them!).
English teachers, on the other hand, are low-paid workers compared with their expat ‘cousins’.
Teachers’ salaries are enough to live on, if you don’t have expensive tastes. English teachers’ salaries in Moscow may not be as high as they are in our home countries, but we’re well paid compared to a lot of Russians’ salaries. And most of us are not here for the money anyway. We’re here for other reasons. We’re here for the experience. Well, I am anyway.
There are a lot of people in Moscow earning a lot less than an English teacher, and they manage to get by.
Of course, you have to make some concessions. You have to live within your means, not beyond them. So, let’s have a look at how we can eat cheaply while living in Moscow on a teacher’s salary.
Olivier and I eat out often, and we can afford to do that because we usually stay away from the more expensive restaurants and cafes. We often go to very cheap ones. Of course, we splash out and spend a bit more on something a little more upmarket from time to time. But it’s really not a necessity, and the cheaper options are often more than acceptable.
(For your convenience, you can check out currency conversions here, or at the bottom of the page you’ll see a currency conversion chart for AUD, USD and EUR)
Where to eat out cheaply in Moscow?
There are many choices for eating out cheaply in Moscow.
Let’s first look at what could be known as street food, or fast food – the shawarma/shaurma. This is also known as doner/kebab. Basically, it’s meat (or something like it) wrapped in a sheet of flat bread with some salad, and usually with a sauce like garlic or tomato sauce. You’ll pay about 120 roubles for a shaurma in Moscow. They can be quite good on your way home late at night after drinking. At all other times I recommend you stay away from them because they’re usually not so great unless you’ve had a few drinks. Yes, they’re cheap, but generally not great.
There’s also Star Dogs, which is a hotdog place, although they have some versions of burgers and some other fast food as well, mostly based around a sausage. Some people refuse to eat there (for hygiene reasons), but hey, when you’re hungry and it’s late, sometimes you don’t have much of a choice. Star Dogs hotdog prices start from just under 200 roubles, burgers are about 300 roubles, a bit more expensive than a shaurma, but if you’re hungry it’s a great choice if it’s on the way home and nothing else is open.
In Russia there are wonderful places called ‘Cheburechnaya’. Sometimes there’s no seating, you just stand at high tables, or sometimes there are stools for seating, or sometimes there are tables and chairs just like in a café. Traditionally you go there to eat a cheburek (a kind of deep fried pastry with meat and spices or cheese filling) for about 70-80 roubles each, and drink some beer or vodka.
But some of them are much more like a cafeteria, or a diner, and you can eat other things as well as chebureks. You always have to order at the counter, there’s no table service.
After ordering, you take a seat at a table (or wait at the counter) and wait until your number, or what you ordered, is called out. They are always cheap and the food isn’t bad. The portions are usually quite small, so you can easily eat a salad or soup, some bread, main dish and, possibly a desert, with a tea, beer or vodka. You can sometimes get wine, but it’s less common.
A lot of them are decorated in Soviet style, sometimes featuring old Soviet films and film stars, or old things like TVs, radios, toys etc. It can feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and I’m sure that for a lot of older Russian people it provokes wonderful feelings of nostalgia.
Some cheburechnayas are well known, like Cheburechnaya Druzhba. This one only sells chebureks and drinks, and there’s no seating. We’ve been there a few times; it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss if you visit Moscow.
The workers’ cafe
There are also small ‘cafés’ in various places which function principally as a cheap food option for a certain group of workers – although everybody is welcome to eat there.
One such place is located at our metro station. You have to go through the barrier to get to it. That is, you have to pay for a metro ticket to be able to eat in the café!
It’s really, really cheap. A tea with sugar is 5 roubles (without sugar – 4 roubles!). A hot dish like fish or some chicken, with potato or rice, can be 60 or 70 roubles. A small salad is 40 roubles. It’s not the kind of place where you linger over a coffee – it’s eat and get out so there’s room for the next person. There are only 5 tables. It’s often full, and people share tables with strangers if there are no free tables.
We like to eat there because the food is usually quite good (think grandma’s home-style cooking, but much smaller portions). The menu changes regularly (I don’t know if it changes daily or weekly, we don’t go that often to find out!), so there’s always something new to try. It’s convenient because we can stop there for a quick meal when we’re either going somewhere or coming back from somewhere, because it’s right in the metro station!
Another such ‘café’ is near a bus transfer station not far from where we live. Inside, there’s a table reserved especially for the bus drivers, with a kettle for hot water and a fridge if they want to keep something in there for later.
It’s not as cheap as the metro café, but it’s really good, basic food and there’s a bigger choice of dishes here. And the portion sizes are slightly bigger. And, one thing I love about this place, they make really great napkin displays.
The chain cafes
Then there are the chain cafés like Shokolodnitsa and Coffee House, which aren’t really so cheap anymore, but they are a more modern option. A main dish is from about 300-450 roubles. They have less home style food and a bit more ‘trendy’ type food – burgers, club sandwiches, sushi etc. with fancy presentation. The portion sizes are bigger than the previous cafés mentioned above – probably what most people consider ‘normal’ portions. These places are extremely popular with younger people.
As for restaurants, once again it’s not necessary to break your budget to have dinner out in Moscow. There are a lot of nice restaurants which are reasonably priced.
A lot of Georgian restaurants have excellent food, and unless they’re one of the well-known places, or especially for tourists, they’re not really expensive. This is especially true as you go out of the centre (although there are cheap restaurant options in the centre too). A main dish will cost you between 450 and 600 roubles – and it will be good! Most Georgian restaurants we’ve tried have been amazing, even the cheaper ones.
If you like traditional Russian food, or would like to try it, you can eat at Varenichnaya No.1.
It’s a chain restaurant and it’s quite good for a traditional Russian dining experience. And it’s not only for tourists – Russians eat there too. The prices are reasonable but heading into the mid-range price level. A first course salad will be about 250 roubles, and a main dish, depending on what you choose, will set you back about 300-500 roubles. They also do home delivery.
Look around, and you’re sure to find some good restaurants with low prices and tasty food. Don’t know if you want to eat at a certain restaurant? Just go inside, sit down at a table and look at the menu. If you don’t like the prices or the menu choice, you can leave. It’s quite acceptable here to do that, and it’s a good way to know if a place has the right prices for you without being obliged to spend your money there.
The business lunch
And, if you’re really broke, make lunch your main meal of the day and find any café offering ‘business lunch’. No, it’s not what you think – it’s not a group of overweight middle-age men sitting around a table in a restaurant over-eating and drinking wine and other alcohol on their company’s expense account.
It’s not that at all.
It’s a wonderful chance to eat a balanced meal, for a cheap price. Business lunches are usually available between 12.00 and 16.00, but can sometimes be found outside these times. Have a look for a sign or notice board outside the cafés you’re walking past, you’ll see what they have to offer.
Usually, a business lunch is either a fixed menu for the day, or you have a choice of about 3 different things for each category – soup, salad, main course. Some places give you a choice of two or three courses at different prices. A drink is often included and can be a cold drink like Mors ( drink made from berries) or compot (a drink made from fruit), or hot or cold tea, depending on the season.
A business lunch is usually smaller portions of the same foods from the main menu. It’s a convenient way to eat if you don’t have a lot of time, or money. It’s usually filling enough and the price can be very reasonable. A business lunch, depending on the café or restaurant, and location, can be as little as 300 roubles.
And finally, here’s a guide to help you understand how much this all is in your currency (as of 19th December 2018).
It’s good to know that in a big city like Moscow, there are many cheaper eating options available to you if:
- you don’t have a big salary, or
- you’re trying to save but still want to eat out occasionally, or
- you just prefer to live simply.
Do you know any great, cheap places for food shopping, or eating out in Moscow? Let us know in the comments, or join us in our Facebook group and we can talk about it there.