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Fans are sure to sample delicious food in Russia at the Confederations Cup, but chances are it’ll be from Georgia. It’s not southern soul food, though. The Georgia in question is an ex-Soviet country of just under 4 million people in the Caucasus region whose rich and hearty food and wine has conquered the hearts of many Russians.
Traditional dishes like khachapuri cheese-stuffed bread and juicy khinkali dumplings are longstanding Russian favorites. The fruity, full-bodied wines have cemented Georgian cuisine’s status as Russia’s go-to foreign food, like Chinese and Mexican dishes in the U.S. or Indian food in Britain.
“It’s very rich in taste and varied,” says Mirza Ormosadze, who runs a newly-opened restaurant on one of Moscow’s broad central avenues. “It’s all about the spices, which we bring in specially from Georgia.”
Georgian restaurants are everywhere in Russia’s four Confederations Cup cities, but you might struggle to find traditional Russian soups and stews.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian cuisine suddenly faced a legion of then-exotic foreign rivals. It’s largely been a losing battle. Pizza, shawarma and sushi have all carved out slices of the market.
Russian food is now mostly found in cafeterias serving the bland fare that became standard amid the shortages of the Soviet era, plus a few upscale restaurants experimenting with old traditions and local ingredients. Russia’s tangled history as a Czarist empire and a Soviet superpower reflects in its food, too.
You may think borscht beetroot soup is Russian, but the best-known version originates in Ukraine. Russian families love to munch on a plov dish of meat and rice, but that comes from Central Asia.
For Georgian chefs, the rest of the world is now on the menu. Ormosadze says he has one friend opening a restaurant in Poland and another trying to sell New York on khachapuri. The pitch is short and sweet. “It’s tasty and you get big portions.”