The French, each of them being professional hedonists and «art de vivre» experts, taught me that breakfast sets the course of the entire day. A French city breakfast consisting of a croissant and coffee gets you ready for a fast-paced and frantic day in the neighborhoods of Paris with a very early lunch that’s usually a little later than noon.
In Russia, breakfast is hearty and nutritious. It forebodes a winter day and perhaps a long and dangerous road through a blizzard. The breakfast of a Soviet worker, like that of a pre-revolutionary peasant, prepares you for physical labor. Today, the modern post-Soviet breakfast in Russia, especially in the countryside, remains just as substantial. I know a lot of families who start their day with meat borscht and two dozen pelmeni (dumplings) fried in melted lard.
Hotels and guest houses in Russia try to please everyone. Breakfast buffets will often include yogurt, pastries, and coffee (for foreigners), as well as sausages and buckwheat kasha with meat (for Russians).
When the pleasure-seeking French, while initiating me into their gastronomic religion, were talking about the importance of breakfast, they did not only have in mind coral-colored pieces of salmon and various colors of preserves, but also the morning light, the feel of the linen tablecloth, fresh garden flowers on the table, and the main component of breakfast—the view from the window. This article is my personal rating of the best places for breakfast in Russia that combine Russian gastronomy with the most impressive views.
Moscow: Dr. Zhivago restaurant
The restaurant’s founders most certainly knew about foreigners’ love for the movie Doctor Zhivago, almost unknown in Russia, starring Omar Sharif, in which the hero lives in a house with cupolas covered with fake snow. The author of Doctor Zhivago, the novel on which the film was based, Boris Pasternak, was most likely never in the restaurant, but the legendary Hotel National is a landmark in the capital and there’s no point in listing everyone who has stayed here.
Russian noble cuisine reigns in this restaurant, which features delicacies like smoked northern fish, cultured milk foods, and the imperial favorite—Guryev kasha made with cream. It is the breakfasts here that are offered for surprisingly moderate prices—no more than 10-15 euros per person. The main thing here is the picture postcard view of the Kremlin and the Hotel Moskva, which is easily recognized by the older generation in Russia and other countries from the labels on Stolichnaya vodka bottles.
Plyos, the Golden Ring: breakfast overlooking the Volga River
On the Russian plain, where the landscape’s main features are fields and strips of forest, Plyos stands out thanks to its terrain. The bank rises over the Volga by a mere 50 meters but it provides amazing views ten kilometers into the distance beyond the Volga. Nowadays, just like in the past, the journey from the capitals to Plyos takes a long time. It is almost equally remote from both Moscow and Saint Petersburg (400 km). Before the revolution, artists and writers were attracted here by the Volga landscapes, the distance from big cities, and the possibility of affordably renting a summer dacha (cottage). Today, as in bygone days, the happy cottage dwellers in Plyos most certainly eat breakfast on an open veranda overlooking the Volga.
Suzdal, the Golden Ring: a visit to Vera’s place
Photographs taken by Professor Prokudin-Gorsky one hundred years ago serve as evidence of how little Suzdal has changed over the past century. However, one thousand years after the city was founded, an important change took place here: the Nerl River and its tributary, the Kamenka, have become shallow. Now it’s hard to imagine that the Old Russian princes and merchants traveled by boat along these small rivers to other fortified cities. Located along the banks of the Nerl River at Kideksha is a princely residence with the Church of Saints Boris and Gleb that was built in the 12th century. Further on, there are several picturesque villages with 19th century rural churches such as Abakumlevo, Gorelovo, etc. Go for a stroll along the Nerl and make a stop at Vera’s place for blinis (pancakes) and tea. The hostess lays out a nice breakfast on a little table in the garden of her two-hundred-year-old house and speaks French with a delightful accent. This is the most informal breakfast on my list, but it’s the most touching and warm-hearted.
The terem in Astashovo, Kostroma region: a fairy-tale house in the midst of the taiga
Located 500 kilometers to the north of Moscow, Astashovo is a one night’s train journey along the old route of the Trans-Siberian Railway and then a 1.5 hour bumpy car ride along a forest road. The road to the terem immediately gives you the sense of a true Russian place. Breakfasts in the terem are usually served in the lower room with an old-fashioned Russian stove, but if there are two or four of you, ask the hosts to set up a table for you on the veranda with stained-glass windows. On a warm and sunny day, open the windows with a view straight into the tranquility of a wild birch forest.
In the dining car of the «Russia» train on the Trans-Siberian Railway
The week-long journey between Moscow and Vladivostok is conducive to excessive contemplation and reading Russian novels; it goes without saying that on the famous Trans-Siberian Express both these activities will draw you closer to the enigmatic Russian soul. However, when you’re aboard the Trans-Siberian—I mean the passenger train, not the tourist train—besides nourishing your soul, you must also feed your body the entire time. You can take something with you, buy some products in the little stores at the stations along the route, and sometimes pay a visit to the dining car. For breakfast, you will be offered tea in the iron tea glasses that are traditional for Russian trains, the usual blini (pancakes) and syrniki (curd cheese fritters). You will choose your own view from the window. Study the schedule in order to pick the best time to go for breakfast: while the train traverses the epic Siberian landscapes, you will see such natural wonders as the mighty Yenisey River or Lake Baikal.
Kamchatka: caviar and volcanoes
The last breakfast in the rating is also the furthest geographically speaking: the Kamchatka Peninsula is located in the easternmost part of Russia. The peninsula’s rivers and lakes are the largest salmon spawning grounds in the world. Our cooks stock up on several types of smoked salmon and caviar prior to setting off on the route with the tourists. You can taste a great variety of fish here, but only an ichthyologist (fish scientist) will be able to classify them: sockeye salmon, coho salmon, humpback salmon, chinook salmon, etc.
Your cook will serve up several types of caviar and salmon for breakfast, the best place for which is a folding table in the midst of the mountain tundra with a view of the volcanoes. Don’t forget that in Kamchatka, food waste must always be taken away with you. If you don’t do this, brown bears will enter the campground and there are very many of them.