Two Euro Challenge

PHOTO by Egor Aleev / TASS
Can one sate their hunger in Moscow with only 2€ in their pocket?

Two euros doesn’t sound like much. However, according to the Head of Moscow’s Tourism Department, Alexander Bandurin, foreign guests visiting the Russian capital for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup will be able to dine out perfectly well for €2 in Moscow cafes and restaurants, which already have dishes in this price range on their menus. MOSLENTA took a walk around central Moscow to check the facts.

A two-euro hot meal seems an unrealistic expectation – especially in Moscow, where a business lunch will normally leave you €4 worse off if you rely on special offers and €7 if you don’t.

А two-course meal with a glass of beer or wine generally costs upwards of €9. With this in mind, finding a place to eat for 138 roubles (the current equivalent of two euros) seemed like a mission impossible from the outset. Nevertheless, we hoped against hope for a miracle.

Out of Place

The touristy Tverskaya Street is not very helpful to a customer with only two euros in their pocket. The Khinkali café, Khleb Nasushchny, 2 Chopsticks, Planet Sushi, Upside Down Cake and other centrally located foodie hotspots provide great menus and nice hot drinks – as long as you have €7-11 to spare. The average bill in the numerous bars and restaurants in Kamergersky Pereulok adjacent to Tverskaya or in the hip locations around the Patriarch Ponds, Kuznetsky Most and Kitay Gorod generally exceeded our budget limit by 4-5 times.

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However, if you look hard enough, some economy-class eating facilities can still be found. Varenichnaya №1, an eatery popular with expats and visitors from the Russian provinces, offers affordable side dishes like mashed potatoes, potato wedges or rice with vegetables at €1.40 per 150 grams and milk at €0.40 per 30 ml. Boiled buckwheat with mushrooms is more expensive at €2.20.

Quite unexpectedly, our two-euro budget didn't stretch to the Shokoladnitsa and Coffee House chains which sell relatively cheap business lunches.

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“I’m afraid we won’t be able to offer you anything at that price. Our lunches start from €3.70. You know what, you can buy a cookie for €1.40, then you will even have some change left. Or why don’t you have Russian-style coffee at €1.80?” suggested the Shokoladnitsa manager helpfully.

Although the Coffee House menu doesn't have very many cheap food deals, its thriftier customers can still choose from three types of lunch boxes. However, the only option which could fit our budget was the €1.40 croissant and coffee/tea combo. €2.90 will get you a chicken or tuna tortilla and a hot drink; if you are ready to splash out €4.30, your lunch will come with noodles. Not too filling, perhaps, but at least it makes a passable snack.

A sympathetic waitress in one of the restaurants near Patriarch Ponds advised us to try the budget-friendly KFC. “They offer Twisters at €0.70. There will even be some money left for a drink,” she added considerately.

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By Fast Food Alone

It soon became clear that the kind-hearted waitress was right: we wouldn’t get far without fast food. We decided to start with the “Mu-Mu” chain, where the menu isn't limited to boring burgers and chicken nuggets.

Our hopes for a substantial lunch were dashed right at the entrance when we read a bright-coloured poster advertising special offers for sushi lovers. The cheapest options were cucumber rolls at €1.30 for 6 pieces, followed by 8 piece sets of hot herring rolls and hot omelette rolls at €1.60 and €1.70, respectively. None of these left any room for drinks as Mu-Mu’s prices for tea or coffee started at €0.80 and sparkling mineral water cost a whopping €2.40 a bottle.

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Having delved further into the menu, we realised we couldn’t afford any soup with our €2 limit. The budget meals included cabbage salad or spicy beetroot salad with garlic (€0.90). Side dishes, most of them rice or potato-based, were available at the same price. The cheapest hot dish was cottage cheese pancakes at €0.80, while blini with meat or a cottage cheese filling cost €1. You'll have to fork out €1.30 for fried pelmeni and €1.70 for chicken patties. Ok, we can't complain. Eventually, we went for salads and meat blini for a total of €1.90 per head.

Next, our quest took us to the Tri Pravila cafe, which offers a cup of tea or coffee plus a hot pie at an affordable €0.80. There were also some cheap main dishes to choose from, although the selection was fairly limited. Lunch menus like potato croquettes with sour cream sauce, juicy rissoles or chicken breasts with vegetables were available at €1.30 and up.

The chicken curry and rice at €1.70 looked especially appetizing; however, it left no money for tea or coffee. If you stretch the budget slightly, Tri Pravila will serve you a €2.10 business lunch with hot soup, salad and tea, even if the portions are somewhat modest.

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The Teremok chain of blini cafes was a bit of a disappointment: an “economy” lunch including soup, blini with butter, and tea will lighten your purse by €3.80, with nothing available for €2.

The Prime chain of cafes gave us a pleasant surprise though. Along with sandwiches costing upwards of €2.10, the menu contained some more affordable options. We were lucky to snatch the last portion of boiled buckwheat with vegetables (€1.40 for 185 grammes). The drinks are expensive; but, you can pay 20 cents for a paper cup and ask for some hot water, which is available for free. Total: €1.60 – well under our limit.

Eat 8

As we were getting hungrier and more desperate, we realized that two-euro-lunchers can’t be choosers, so our next stop was McDonald’s. The choice was stress-free: a €0.70 hamburger, small fries at €0.60, a carton of apple juice at €0.70 and no sauce came to a grand total of €2 – jackpot!

The fast-food restaurant KFC, recommended by our angel of a waitress from Patriarch Ponds, certainly met our expectations. A selection of (moderately-sized) dishes was available at just €0.70 thanks to KFC’s current “Eat a Lot, Pay a Little” deal. We ordered tea at €0.80 per cup and a Longer Julienne at €0.71. The final amount: €1.51 – cheap and cheerful! We could have thrown in a chicken drumstick for an extra €0.71, but decided not to go over budget.

Eat 9

Any Changes Ahead?

Moscow has plenty of high-end restaurants with sophisticated and inventive menus, but none that can be called cheap. Customers on tighter budgets will generally be able to pick up some unfussy fare if they are mentally prepared for small helpings and food which tastes like cardboard. Notwithstanding the reassuring statement by Moscow’s top administrator, we failed to locate any eateries in central Moscow that provided satisfying meals at two euros – and it wasn’t for the lack of trying.

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On second thoughts, maybe our government officials know better. If, despite all the promises to keep inflation under control, the euro exchange rate jumps from 68 roubles to 150, this would certainly do the trick…

But let’s stay optimistic. Let’s hope that the Moscow administration will be able to create affordable public food infrastructure in time for the upcoming sporting events. Maybe Muscovites and guests of Russia’s capital will be able to benefit from delicious meals without risking their health – or their wallets!

Author: Daria Filatova