The Russian Diet: Russian Borsch and Clad Cabbage Soup

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“I’m starving!” I said as the Russian waitress brings out the menu with the usual cold grimace on her face. I eagerly open up the menu so that I can find something to eat, my eyes focus on the words and then it hits my brain; I have no idea what this menu says.

The only food word I know in Russian is borsch; but I’ve eaten borsch for the last 2 days – I can‘t face another bowl of scantily clad cabbage soup. I decide to be daring; I will play menu Russian Roulette. I turn a couple of pages of the menu, shut my eyes and point as if I’m pinning a tail on a donkey.

Living out of a car for 5 weeks poses some eating challenges. On top of it we were traveling through countries where there was very little tourism and English. My diet went to hell for the last 5 weeks, virtually no vegetables (except for the occasional shred of cabbage in borsch), and very heavy on junk food and carbs. During the 5 weeks all of the skin started peeling off of my fingertips and hands; I blamed it on my awful diet and poor nutrition.

We had run out of McDonalds and friends so we started to our camping portion of the trip. Dave and Deb had great supplies for cooking. With a small, ultra light burner for cooking, 2 pots, and some sporks an outdoor feast was created! The markets were quite limited in Central Asia, but we would stop at grocery stores and purchase pastas and sauce, rice dishes, canned meat (which pretty much smelled like cat food…but when you are hungry – you eat it.), eggs, oatmeal, bread, tomatoes, and spreadable cheese. While in Kazakhstan of all places we even found peanut butter – which provided weeks of sandwiches and sanity for us! At this point though the only vegetables we were getting were tomatoes and an occasional jar of mushrooms. We had virtually no dairy except Happy Cow spreadable cheese. However while camping in Mongolia we experienced local hospitality quite often when local herder families would bring us hard goat cheese that could crack teeth. One morning a young boy brought us a bottle of fermented mares milk. There’s nothing quite like drinking fermented mare’s milk at 9AM. It certainly adds some zip to your cereal.

On the Go

We ate in the car and on the car. Tomato and cheese on bread was the most common ‘meal’. However, most days we never stopped for lunch. Instead we would eat horrible junk food that we could buy at gas stations. I consumed more chips and candy bars in 5 weeks than I have in my entire adulthood! Chip flavors are always interesting in other parts of the world – we became chip flavor critics. For the record we don’t recommend the fish egg flavor! Suckers also saved my life most days. They helped deal with the boredom, dry climate, and dust. Sitting on our asses in a car for 8 to 10 hours a day and eating chips, suckers, and Snickers bars probably isn’t the best life choice – but it kept us from having low blood sugar melt downs in the car.


We actually ate at very few restaurants – mainly because it was so difficult to order once we reached Russia and Central Asia. There were only 3 times we actually had English on a menu – Barnaul Russia, Atrau Kazakhstan, and Kostanai Kazakhstan. We also found a German restaurant in Kazakhstan where we attempted to order sausage by miming the word sausage (use your imagination), and we received boiled hot dogs. There were virtually no restaurants in Mongolia along our route. However we did find a Seoul restaurant in the little village of Altai which had pictures on their menu. They served Korean food and sushi – yes sushi in the Gobi desert – talk about daring. But the waitress looked at us like we were insane when we asked for soy sauce!

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