Things You Can NOT Buy In Russia

When the sanctions hit, I panicked and ran down to our local supermarket and quickly bought the last ten jars of peanut butter.  Then I realized I don’t eat peanut butter really, so hopefully the amount I bought would outlast the political sparring of our day.

At the same time, with sanctions aside, together with their shockingly small effect on the local market’s shelves, there are certain items that you can NOT buy in Russia.  Okay, maybe you can, but I can’t, because I have no idea where they are sold.  So, if you see I listed something that you CAN buy in Russia, be sure to gloat/teach in the comments.  This list is getting smaller and smaller with time as the revelation of various marvelous inventions of the West will all eventually make their way to our shores, such as Twinkies. – Learn Russian with Free Podcasts

In any case, the items on this list are either not in Russia OR extremely difficult to find in Moscow.  So, keep in mind that you can find (almost) anything in Moscow, but once you’re outside of the capital city, good luck with any of these items.

I’m sure you will read the list and wonder how I survive here, together with my fellow 140 million residents.  But somehow we carve out our hardscrabble existence even without these basic staples.

Without further ado, “Top 8 Things You Can NOT Buy In Russia”:

8.  Round Bobbers:  To be fair, you can buy them, but at the fishing store, they said, “Round bobbers?”  “Those run about 180 rubles apiece and are Chinese made, always breaking, so we just don’t keep them in stock.”  I had a whole list of questions related to that particular statement, but since they weren’t in stock, I decided to leave the rhetorical aside and simply go with the practical: a purchase of the more oblong variation with pointy ends that requires more threading and knotting than my weak sailing background can afford.
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7.  Mike & Ike’s:  I never recall eating a Mike & Ike’s anywhere ever while living in the land of purple mountain majesty above the fruity plain.  But somehow, whenever anyone writes us and says “I’m coming over, can I bring anything”, the first thing my life partner, my lawful wife, my soulmate, if you will, writes back is, “Can you bring us some Mike & Ike’s?”.  And here we are, eating something we can’t buy at the store here, sort of feeling we beat the system.  Also, no Jolly Ranchers, which explains the lack of smiling on the streets among the local cow herders.

6.  Chocolate:  Hershey’s.  There’s none of that here*.  Also, no Butterfingers, Heath bars, or 3 Musketeers.  One time I was in checkout at a Wal-Mart (in America) with a Russian friend and bought them a Hershey’s and then watched them take their first bite with a huge amount of expectancy that they would burst out with the chorus of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.  But instead, they flatly inquired, “Hm, what do you like about that chocolate?”.  Also, it pains me to say this, but I don’t remember what a 3 Musketeers tastes/looks like.   But then I get over it because I remember that most of the chocolate here is pretty much better than anything they sell over there.

5.  Beef Jerky:  They don’t sell that here.  Instead, they let the fish dry up, salt it, and then sell it whole, head and all, inside a plastic bag in the beer aisle.  It’s empty eye sockets straining, as you push your cart by.  Because that’s sort of like beef jerky, except it’s fish, not beef.  Well, and I guess the part that beef jerky is not the entire cow dried and salted in an enormous plastic bag.

Russia’s version of beef jerky

4.  Root Beer:  We don’t have root beer, but we do have kvass, which is nothing like root beer.  My dear wife makes root beer from a concentrate that she mixes with bubbly water.  It tastes like root beer until it gets warm and loses all the bubbles, towards the end of the party, and that’s when I usually get to try a cup.  I guess I’m usually disappointed because I’m hoping to somehow relive my childhood through each and every cup of root beer, and somehow it never happens.  Sad, really.

3. Netflix, Hulu, etc.:  Not available here.  Except I hear from a friend that perhaps there is a way to get it here.  UPDATE:  Netflix is now in Russia.

2.  Stove Top Stuffing and Ranch Dressing:  Basically what I’m saying is that we can’t celebrate anything.  And we have nothing to dip our pizza in.  Until (LIFEHACK ALERT) my wife breaks out her secret stash of ranch dressing mix that she hand-carried in and the fiesta begins.

1.  Marshmallows:  Yup, that’s right kids.  Less s’more’s here.  There is the laughable charade of marshmallows, known as zefir, which is kind of like if you took a marshmallow and it was a petrified marshmallow.  If you roll the word “marshmallow” around in your mouth a few times, you will intuitively understand that the victual in question must also be soft, not crunchy, like zefir usually is. As a matter of fact, roll the word “zefir” around in your mouth a few times.  Now you have experienced both its consistency and flavor.

Honorable Mention:  Not for sale, but basically nonexistent:  drinking fountains.  I thought they didn’t exist, but then I saw one the other day, so I took a picture:

Yup, gone are the days when you had to pack your TP and shampoo before flying on over.  As a matter of fact, I feel a post coming on about “Things you can buy in Russia but NOT in America”.  Because that list will be much longer.

*Was just informed that you can, in fact, purchase Hershey’s at a certain overpriced specialty store.  So, whatever.  Also, same store offers overpriced root beer.  So, again.  Whatever.  But to be clear, it’s a couple stores in Moscow, but if you plan to go to the part of Russia that is not Moscow, then good luck.

8 thoughts on “Things You Can NOT Buy In Russia

  1. I’m going to Russia in a week and staying with local people (friends of a friend, and an actual friend). I want to get them things they will enjoy that are from the USA. I don’t want to bring something that is already in the import foods section or sold at every little shop already. I am thinking ranch packets would be nice since they’re light and mix well with smetana. Are the items you mentioned above still contraband? Any tips would be helpful! Thanks.

  2. Well “hardscrabble life” is my new favorite term so although the list may have aged poorly there are some timeless tidbits in the piece.

    • Haha. Well, it’s almost impossible to think of anything that’s not available in Moscow… except for maybe Mike & Ike’s. 🙂 Much of the rest of Russia can be a bit of a different story. Peanut butter is available on supermarket shelves of most major cities, so Americans won’t die, so that’s good.

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