Where to buy fresh ingredients in Moscow?
The Moscovore household breaks down along very sectarian lines in terms of sourcing foodstuffs. HRH, my “Horrible Russian Husband” will swing by Azbukha Vkusa after work, fill a small metal basket with six or seven items, most of them from the prepared food case. These fill two plastic bags and cost a small-sized fortune. I take the same amount each week and head for the one of Moscow’s colorful farmers markets, where fresh produce, meat, poultry, spices, herbs, cheese, dairy products, and flowers abound year round. Russian food markets offer a colorful alternative, a wide range of fresher, and better quality ingredients in stark contrast to the historically tedious, time-consuming, and less than congenial experience of Russian grocery shopping. In addition, like the bonus lemon a favorite stand owner often throws in a favored client’s shopping basket, Russian markets also serve up a highly entertaining, noisy, and lively multi-cultural show from their salespeople.
If you are feeling a little shy about attempting the markets – don’t! Surly Slavic service is absent here, and sales people often speak enough English (or French, Spanish, Italian, or German) to make themselves understood. If not, they are adept at using fingers and smiles to conduct negotiations. Bring along The Moscovore bi-lingual shopping lists to help you with the more esoteric ingredient names.
Market Dos and Don’ts:
Cash is King!
Markets accept only cash in local currency (rubles). Preparing for your visit with smaller bills will make your transactions smoother and reduce the very unlikely possibility of you getting ripped off.
It’s not fair and as a food writer, it drives me up the wall, but you can only take pictures by going to the Director of the market and getting a permit to do so, and in that case, you are shepherded around by the security guards. Any attempts to document the very picturesque people and their wares will attract the immediate and unpleasant attentions of the security team.
When to Go:
The best time to go is in the morning on Monday – Thursday. Things get busier and more expensive on Fridays and Saturdays.
The big markets are well regulated and patrolled vigilantly by police, but you should always check your purchases to ensure that what you’ve asked for is what is put in your bag. Check for freshness, and wherever possible, choose your pieces of fruit and vegetables yourself. Check bottled and packaged items carefully as well. There is a world of difference between Japanese “Kikomann” soy sauce and a nearly identical bottle of South Korean “Kekomann”soy sauce. If you are unsure where to go, employ one of the young porters to help you navigate. For a small tip of 100-200 rubles, they will carry your purchases and help you find your way around.
There are literally hundreds of smaller markets all over Moscow – there may well be one near your house — but the primary food markets are: Leningradskiy (under partial renovation), Dorogomilovskiy, Danilovskiy, and Rizhkiy (see below for maps). They are open from early in the morning every day except major public holidays. Each one has grown and developed organically over decades, and in some cases centuries, around a central location or transport lynchpin; and each one has its own special character and clientele, and discerning Muscovites and seasoned gourmands know which to visit for their particular needs.
Rizhkiy Market developed on the square opposite one of Moscow’s nine railway stations, where trains from the dairy-rich Baltic States arrived. Rizhkiy today is the decidedly “down and dirty” of the five, a legacy of the wild 1990s, when Russia’s fledgling capitalists set up their first kiosks around Rizhkiy Market and took their first risky steps towards supplying the insatiable Russian demand. A warren of small kiosks, which sell everything from electronics to knock-off cosmetics, surrounds the traditional food market complex. These are increasingly being squeezed out by larger, slicker, more consolidated concerns to say nothing of the sprawling adjacent “Golden Babylon,” shopping mall, once the largest in Europe, and the latest testimony to Rizhkiy Square’s enduring mercantile character. Pricing at Rizhkiy is competitive, vigorous haggling (almost a prerequisite) can bring the prices down, but locals caution first time visitors to keep an eagle eye on what vendors do behind the counter, as well as exercising a healthy skepticism about the quality of goods for sale.
In stark contrast, Cheremushkinskiy Market, nestled in the respectable southern middle-class residential enclaves around Profsoyuznaya and Universitet metro stations, is more sedate and civilized, with less haggling, and a more logical layout. Muscovites maintain that Cheremushkinskiy, is the best one-stop shopping for everything one needs for a trip to the banya (“sauna”) particularly the supply of dried fish snacks Russians enjoy with beer, as well as a good range of veniki, the all-important bunches of birch and eucalyptus branches used at the banya by habitués to beat one another, raising the temperature and encouraging the toxins to exit the pores.
Pricier Danilovskiy Market, adjacent to the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate at Danilovskiy Monastery, at Metro Tul’skaya is perhaps the oldest of the five, dating back to the 13th Century. Danilovskiy specializes in exotic, hard-to-find items and is known for its extensive range of dried and candied fruits. When I first came to Moscow, Leningradskiy in the Northwest of the city was a seven-minute walk from our flat and I took my daughter Velvet there each week in her stroller, where she became a great favorite with the wizened old women from Baku who sold fresh herbs. Each week as I chose marjoram, tarragon, dill, parsley, cilantro, and scallions, they peeled and carefully washed a tangerine, apple, or apricot for Velvet, crooning endearments and blessings to her. One June, I asked them if they could find green basil, instead of the ubiquitous purple basil. A hasty summit was convened in Azeri. There was a good deal of throwing up of hands, vigorous shaking of heads, flashing of gold teeth, and massive shrugging of shoulders, but eventually, they agreed to provide me with two flats of green basil, enough to fill fifty baby food jars with fresh pesto to last us through winter.
My years trawling the stands of Leningradskiy Market with Velvet are what turned me into a very confident and creative cook. Pesto was only one example of learning to follow the excellent Russian tradition of buying and preserving the bounty of the season. Since many of the ingredients traditionally used in Western European Cuisine were not available, I learned to substitute. Our move to downtown Moscow in 2007 coincided with the lengthy closure of Leningradskiy Market for repairs, so I set out to make my name as a regular at Moscow’s largest, and to many, most serious market, Dorogomilovskiy, behind the Kiev Railway Station. This was a daunting prospect, much like starting a new school or job, and I did not approach it lightly. Dorogomilovskiy is where the pros shop: early in the morning, the parking lot is jammed with restaurant vans, and you can see many of Moscow’s celebrity chefs sniffing the fish, arguing over cuts of veal, and poking eggplants.
What look like derelict holes-in-the-wall kiosks behind the main building of the market turn out to specialize in a treasure trove of hard-to-find ingredients sold by knowledgeable professionals: fine Belgian baking chocolate, Italian olive oil, Indian spices, Asian ingredients, and beautiful beef tenderloins. Explore them, and note the number of the kiosk so you can find it again. You can also score hard-to-find equipment here – squeeze into tiny narrow shops selling professional chef’s supplies such as oversized parchment paper, cocktail spears, and round molds Moscow markets have become very cosmopolitan in many respects, offering small stands specializing in Spanish, Italian, and Thai ingredients, but there is still a strong tradition of buying what is in season. It’s nice to know you can get a fennel bulb at Danilovskiy any time of the year, but Muscovites feel a bigger sense of occasion at the arrival of the first cherries in early summer, fresh berries and the high summer glut of cucumbers ready for pickling, and the dusky abundance of late summer eggplant and plum tomatoes in September. As a taste for travel abroad becomes the norm rather than the exception for Russia’s population, so too has the appreciation for good food and quality ingredients, international flavors, as well as superbly executed traditional Russian fare. Moscow’s markets have learned to keep pace with it all!
Danilovsky Rynok, Ulitsa Mytnaya (Metro Tulskaya)
Dorogomilovsky Market Ulitsa Mozhaiskiy Val, 10 (Metro Kievskaya)
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Koptevskaya Farmers’ Market, Ulitsa Koptevskaya, 24