The end of this blog post will have a scene where my 14 year old son compares the North Korean restaurant we are sitting in to McDonald’s.
But it all started with me asking my 16 year old daughter and 14 year old son, Hannah and Charlie, what they would like to do over the New Year’s break.
I suggested normal winter break things- like skiing. They listened patiently, then said, “we want you to take us to weird restaurants”.
There was plenty of great advice from the Moscow Expats group such as:
- “V Temnote”, a restaurant in the dark, with blind waiters and waitresses. I’m pretty sure we need to go there at some point.
- Funny Cabany, a restaurant where they let you hang out with small (live) pigs. I’ve had lunch there a few times. And it is with no small amount of bitterness that I now tell you that no (live) pigs were involved.
- A Cat Cafe, where you get to be surrounded by crowds of cats while eating. Although that sounds like
purgatoryit could be fantastic, Hannah had already enjoyed the pleasure of dining there.
But somehow I interpreted my teenagers’ request of “weird” to mean they wanted a taste of something different, namely a taste of the kitchens of the world. With that, we were armed with 3 fantastic suggestions: An Indian restaurant, an Uzbek restaurant, and a North Korean restaurant. No chain restaurants, nothing trendy. Just real food served by the people of the nations that the restaurants represent.
WARNING: You will need to travel outside Moscow’s Garden Ring for at least two of these options.
For 295 rubles it’s pretty difficult to go wrong. And with this, it’s lots of food. My only piece of advice is if you are looking for a huge dose of Indian spice it’s best to not order the business lunch, but order from the main menu.
Cash only at Aromass, no credit cards. Pretty authentic all around with Indian wait staff and food that certainly reminds me of time I spent in the Maharashtra region.
Sadly, I don’t know the name of any of the food I ate. I just said “three business lunches” and the guy asked “chicken?” and I said “yes”. But I like the fact that there are lots of little dishes of food that you have no idea what they are (except the rice), whether they will be sweet or spicy, until you take a bite. That’s my kind of lunch.
Do the wait staff speak English? It seems so. Do they speak Russian? I also think so. I spoke a mix of the two with them and we got everything we asked for: Three Business Lunches With Chicken.
This was Hannah’s favorite restaurant. She says, “The food was really good and the service was nice as well”. Hannah, Charlie, and I are no experts, you see. But we know what we like.
With this one, I’m a bit confused as they have several restaurants it seems. We went to the one at Paveletskaya. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as we walked in. Not because of the carved wooden interior, but because there was quite a hustle and bustle of patrons vying for tables. My teenagers might have rolled their eyes and asked for KFC which made me even more thrilled that we were definitely staying.
I had been promised really bad service in the Facebook forum, so was a bit disappointed that we were seated in 7 minutes as promised by the Aiva maitre d’ and after that the service continued to be quite satisfactory.
Charlie and I enjoyed some lagman and Hannah ordered plov. Once they started eating, they both begrudgingly began to admit that the food was “pretty good”. Some shashlik arrived later, that for reasons that are beyond my comprehension, the meat on skewers wasn’t their favorite part. I thought it was fantastic.
Aiva has incredibly great prices. All of this food in the photo above plus the shashlik was under 1300 rubles.
Aiva is a halal restaurant, and as such, serves no alcoholic beverages. It also seemed to be frequented overwhelmingly by clients from Central Asia, with a few Russians mixed in, who all seemed to look equally pleased that they had discovered this hidden gem of Central Asian cuisine.
This was Charlie’s favorite restaurant. Charlie says, “The food was tasty, the service was good and the food came quickly. Only downside was that the place was so crowded and we had to wait for seats”. It seems Charlie normally frequents eating establishments where you pay first and then eat. Not the other way around.
They had me at “North Korean restaurant”. I love Korean food, but was curious if the North Korean variety was any different from what I had enjoyed in South Korea.
They also offer kimchi pancakes, which I will definitely order the next time I go.
If you are reading this and can shed any light on the Korean carrot situation, please do. If you’ve been in Russia for long, you will know that there are these grated slightly spicy carrots for sale in the local markets known as “Korean carrots”. I’m pretty sure my history is correct that they are just something that Koreans started making when they moved to the USSR during Soviet times, but are not actually a Korean dish. I think they offered them with the business lunch because they think that’s what Russians expect(?), not because it’s actually a Korean dish.
The “business lunch” at Koryo is 530 rubles. I ordered it because I wanted to try several different things. And, as you now know, I always order the business lunch. The main dishes on the main menu cost roughly the same amount. So, uh, not sure if the fine folks back in Pyongyang got the memo about what a business lunch in Moscow is all about. I will probably take the radical step of just ordering off the main menu the next time that I go.
Charlie said, “the food is good, but it’s a little stuffy in here”. He was right, but I will tell you this place is fabulous, and I’m going to eat at Koryo all the time now. Yes, it’s a little stuffy, perhaps because it’s in a basement. But the food is marvelous, and there is a video looping in the background with marching soldiers, followed by grand concerts, followed by marching soldiers.
Also, when we were walking out, I think I saw a banquet hall. I tried to peek in, but the wait staff seemed concerned. In any case, I’m trying to think of an important life event, so that I can host it there.
And as we sat there in the North Korean Restaurant “Koryo” I asked Hannah and Charlie what they thought of our mini-tour of “weird” restaurants. Charlie answered, “Basically, it seems you like cheap restaurants that aren’t McDonald’s”.
Couldn’t argue with the man. But they then readily agreed that we would need to continue this tour of fantastic fare in the future.
Taking my own advice, Hannah, Charlie and I visited a couple of art galleries over the winter break, that we chose randomly off a list that we found on the internet. Since these galleries were free during the holiday break, we saved up to 100 rubles per ticket:
Any other ideas where to take teenagers either in Moscow or around Russia? Let me know your ideas, and as for the teenagers… they will learn to enjoy it.
EXTRA BONUS CONTENT (For Russian speakers): Here’s another fun family activity that Hannah, Charlie and I did together over break. Hannah joins in at the 2:01:40 mark, Charlie at 4:21:00 and Hannah again at 6:16:00.
Good sports those kids are.