Living and travelling gluten free in the UK, Australia & around the world!

Russia – gluten free not so easy…

In May 2013 we took a week long tour to Moscow and St Petersburg – mainly due to my husband’s desire to visit St Petersburg (a bucket list place for him!)

matryoshkas dolls_opt

The tour itself was great, but it did mean less choice for meals and made my gluten free experience harder than it would have been if we had been travelling independently.   But, travelling independently would have had other problems as we had no knowledge of Russian language and, apart from the airport, did not see signs in English.  Russia has been my hardest gluten free travel experience to date and I was very grateful for my many emergency snacks that I took!

My gluten free research on Russia didn’t flag up many options, and although there is a Coeliac Society, their list was minimal.   We did not get to choose the hotels on the tour, but looking on glutenfreehotelsguide.com there are some hotels that can cater for gluten free and I also read a great review on TripAdvisor for Moscow’s Marriott Tverskaya.

Moscow Radisson dinner_optWe arrived in Moscow in the evening and were free to eat outside the hotel, but we were not in central Moscow and it was mainly residential so we felt it was easier to stay in the hotel (a Raddison).  Armed with my translation card, the only option in the hotel restaurant was salmon with aubergine (eggplant) and courgette (zucchini). This was pretty bland and cost around £25!!  Did I mention Russia is expensive?

Moscow Radisson breakfast_optBreakfast in both hotels was a buffet and this was always the easiest meal of the day (and many days was my only proper meal).  I learned to eat as much as I could fit into my stomach as I never knew if there would be another meal coming for the rest of the day!

From the buffet, you could get boiled eggs, cheese, cooked tomato and cold veggies such as red peppers and cucumber.  I was so grateful I had taken DS cornbread crackers as I used these most days with cream cheese and smoked salmon.  There was also ham, which I did have once, even though I could not be 100% sure it was gluten free as I was just desperate to fill my plate.

But the food problems would be forgiven when we saw iconic images of Moscow such as Red Square and St Basil’s cathedral!

St Basils_opt

One our first day we were taken to the Gum department store, which has a buffet style restaurant.  I had read a review on TripAdvisor that someone had a good experience there so I had high hopes, but it looked like the only possible option for me was fruit salad or coleslaw, but then the mayonnaise may not have been safe.  Neither appealed to me so I just ate some emergency snacks.  I probably could have asked, but it is daunting when I don’t speak any Russian and there were long queues.   I can’t think now why I didn’t ask the tour guide to help me before she left us!

That night we decided to have room service as we just didn’t feel like venturing out after a long day.  I asked some questions over the phone, but it got too complicated trying to explain gluten free, so I had to go downstairs to reception and someone from the restaurant came to speak to me – lots of translating happened between the chap on reception (who spoke pretty good English) and the chef.  We decided the chicken without sauce was the only option and I added a buffalo mozzarello & tomato salad, but unfortunately this came with bread (how often does this happen after all the discussions about bread etc!?) and I had to throw out some tomato that had been touching the bread.  Again, quite bland and painful knowing how much it had cost!

Moscow Food Court_optOn day two, we had a free hour to find some lunch near the Kremlin.  We found a shopping centre food court where I got some rice with a little bit of mushroom and onion.  I added a Greek salad for some protein but got two tiny squares!   Not exactly a filling lunch and I probably could have had something more satisfying if we had a Russian speaker with us to ask questions.

Meanwhile my husband got Burger King and it was taking some self control not to have some myself.  In the UK I would have done this without the bun, but I had no idea how to ask for it without the bun in Russian, or whether the burgers were gluten free in Russia anyway.   If you are not familiar with what the Russian language looks like, below is the Burger King receipt!

Moscow BK_opt

Any trip to Moscow is not complete without visiting some of the amazing underground stations.  I thought some of the London underground station were quite nicely done, but can you imagine going through stations like these each day for your work commute?

Moscow metro_opt

That evening we again didn’t feel like venturing out, but as I knew room service would be the same option as last night, my dinner was a bag of popcorn, some corn snacks and an apple from my food rations!

For lunch the next day, we again had a free hour, but I could not find anything that looked safe enough to bother asking about gluten free, so lunch was a large fries from McDonalds (again, not 100% sure, but it was worth the risk as likely to be safe and I was tired of being hungry).   That afternoon we got a train from Moscow to St Petersburg and I used some of my food rations to top up my “lunch”.

St Petersburg is a beautiful city with a river, canals and beautiful old buildings, including some amazing churches.

church of spilled blood_opt

The above pattern of food did continue in St Petersburg (snacks for both lunch & dinner – including a tour group stop to a pie shop where obviously there was nothing gluten free to eat), but I did get a couple of meals there – hoorah!  One was a lovely dinner at an Indian restaurant called Tandoor (10 Admiralteysky Prospect) where the Indian manager spoke better English than Russian, so he was pleased to have the English translation of my gluten free card.  There were lots of options and it was a pleasure to actually have a meal, and a meal that I knew would be safe.

As our final day was free time and we were not under the short timeframe of a tour break to quickly find food, we went to a nice restaurant for lunch called 1913, near St Isaacs, that I had seen someone review on TripAdvisor.  The menus are in English and the staff spoke some English and the meal was very tasty.  It was quite a formal restaurant and not that busy at lunchtime, but it was a relief to have a normal meal!

St Petersburg - 1913_opt

Overall I’m really glad I visited Russia as we saw some amazing sights and I was educated on some Russian history, but I’m glad it wasn’t longer than a week from a food point of view.

Just a word of warning if you are planning a visit – the visa process for Russia is very time consuming, so you can’t just decide to head off for a weekend at a whim. The visa for a week’s visit in Russia required more work than applying for citizenship in both the UK and Australia (for me and my husband respectively).  I think it took me a week just to list every country I had visited in the last ten years (including dates!).

My top tips are:

Take DS Crispbread crackers (great with smoked salmon and creme cheese) or some bread to supplement your breakfast.

Take plenty of snacks to have with you during the day in case lunch is tricky and for food on train trips.

Take some chilli flakes to liven up a bland meal.

If possible, have a Russian speaker with you!

 

Please comment below if you have had any experiences travelling in Moscow or St Petersburg as a coeliac!

 

For more ideas on  gluten free travelling, please check the following links:

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About the Author

About the Author: Caroline was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in 2006 and likes to share her gluten free finds around the UK, Australia and the rest of the world! See more on her in the 'About' page. .

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Irene mackay says:

    I was recently for a few weeks and came back feeling healthier than I have done for years. I was self catering so took one small loaf with me plus one pack of biscuits. I discovered Dr Korners rice cake, GF. They were great and have flavours. Shop assistants were not aware that they had anything GF. Between the rice cakes, fruit bought in the street and and a small cooked ham which I sliced each day, eggs, and chicken I had more than enough. Restaurants had great potato products. Hand made chips! It is not difficult.

  2. Andrea says:

    Hi people, right now Im in Moscow! And let me tell you that it has been very hard to get some food!! In the supermarkets you don’t have a GF sector, only a couple of products have a symbol, it is quite hard to ask people as not many speak English or Spanish (I am from Argentina) and the ones that speak only know basic words so up to now it has been impossible to explain the risks of not being understood when ordering. I recommend you to take a lot of snacks with you. Anyway we have enjoyed a lot this awesome city.

  3. Mark J says:

    Thanks for this. I am Canadian and will be visiting Moscow in September. I will take this as very useful advice!!

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