With the eXile's infallible instinct for the scoop, Yasha and I were hanging out at Cherkizovsky Rynok the day before a couple of xenophobic fanatics blew it up. That's right, last Sunday, Yasha and I headed to the rynkok's Novaya Evrazia section to get a taste of the best Asian food in Moscow.
Novaya Evrazia might ring a bell to any Moscow Times reader - the MT mistakenly announced that the bomb exploded in that section. But I'm happy to announce that my friend Mohammad the murse-merchant told me that Novaya Evrazia was untouched. The cafes I'm about to talk about didn't even think to close in the aftermath of the attacks.
Lest I get sidetracked by politics, I want to bring it back to the food. Yasha and I stumbled on it when murse-hunting, and ate so well that we couldn't stay away. Just one look at the clientele is enough to know it's the real thing. The Vietnamese cafe we tried first doesn't even have a menu. It exists only to feed the dozens of Vietnamese sweatshop workers packed in by twos and threes into their 3 by 5 foot cubbyholes. And they don't even pay: free food is the only perk in their job. You, like them, have a choice of pho or beef. The soup's for the workers and the beef's for the slave masters. For 300 rubles, we sprung for a worker's meal and each got a giant bowl of pho and a Baltika. No doubt they thought they were gouging us.
Like all simple peasant food, the key to a great tasting pho is freshness. There's nothing terribly complex about it. All it takes is sprouts, chives, basil, lime, some beef scraps, hoisin sauce and spicy red peppers. They got the broth and noodles all prepared, so all they have to do is throw the veggies in and, voila, the meal's ready. Yasha decided to change his order about a minute after the Vietnamese slave disappeared into the kitchen. Nope, too slow. 30 seconds later, the food was ready. Not so hard, right? Yet in Moscow, you have to go out to a Vietnamese slave market to get it. Go figure.
There's also killer Chinese in Novaya Evrazia that we chowed on last Sunday. As far as we could tell, the Chinese place has no name, but if you ask around you'll get pointed to it.
Our first dish here was the "pelmeni" (R100). When they brought them out, I was ready to be disappointed, as they looked just like real pelmeni. I thought they were trying to pass off Smak as dumplings. It also looked like the language barrier would be a problem. Even getting soy sauce was an ordeal. The only staff that spoke any Russian was our 17-year-old Armenian waitress. But she didn't speak Chinese, so she was as hopeless as we were in communicating our desires to the kitchen.
But one bite of the pelmeni allayed our fears. These were real juicy pork wontons. After that, a parade of delicious dishes came out: fried tofu and veggies (ask them to make it spicy) for R100, beef on a skillet for R280, a noodle soup for R80. Granted, the meat in the noodle soup was all cartilage, but the noodles were homemade and flavor unbeatable. Everything was great except the Chinese vodka we were drinking. We'd even splurged by going one step up from the vodka that came in a plastic bag, but it still had a samogon edge to it. At R20 a shot, we should've known.
For R700 we ate and drank enough for four people. No way that the occasional bombing is enough to keep us from going back. Other than Starlite and Silvers, it's just about the only ethnic food in Moscow that's both by the people and for the people.