Europe, Russia

Gluten-Free in Russia

My gluten-free friend, Kathleen Davis, recently traveled to Russia with her husband. I asked her if she wanted to contribute some feedback about her trip to this site and she was excited at the opportunity. I love learning about how other people prepare for their gluten-free travels. It was also interesting to see that in Russia, as I experienced in the Czech Republic, people eat vegetables for breakfast. Maybe Americans should follow in their worldly neighbors’ friendly footsteps. Please enjoy Kathleen’s contribution about her travels in Russia. 

без клейковины = Gluten-Free

Russia – beautiful, sparse, opulent, speaks a different sounding language from many other countries we traveled. Russia is part Asia, part Europe. Could I eat safely in Russia as a celiac who has “issues,” I wondered? YES. Gluten-free is only another aspect of travel, the way we look at it.

May 2011, my husband and I traveled with Trafalgar Tours to Saint Petersburg, Novgorod and Moscow, 3 of the 10 largest cities in Russia. We have enjoyed many European countries and cities in our previous adventures. Russia seemed a bit more foreign, exotic, and more different than Asia or Europe for some reason. Perhaps my apprehension was due to its cold history, tales of poverty, severe conditions, and safety. I was not familiar with this country spanning 11 time zones. I know only a few people who have been to Russia and I was not very familiar with its food, language or customs. Like all our trips, once we commit, we plan to fully appreciate the entire adventure. Russia would be no different.

Ground rules issues – A few health concerns are that I am:

1 – Celiac; my husband is not. Holidays do not mean skipping on diet as I feel and function so much better when I don’t intake poison. That’s my take on gluten. nails diet as “a particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease.” Diet is health empowerment, not a deprivation. Gluten-free allows me to put the fuel in my body needed to perform best. Maintaining an ardent gluten-free diet is essential to well-being.

2 – Lactose intolerant. A lactase pill works when needed.

3 – Vigilant to avoid foods causing GERD – gastoesophageal reflux disease. No fried foods, fatty foods, onions, garlic, acidic or citrus, caffeine, alcohol, mints, heavy spicy (this does not mean no herbs nor spices), carbonated beverages, or chocolate. Shyly I disclose I have been known to indulge in an occasional really good dark chocolate bar.

4 – Vegetarian. I simply feel my best not eating meat but I will have a small amount of fish or chicken protein if no choices are available and I would go without food otherwise.

I researched online the cities where we stay for celiac groups – Saint Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow. Saint Petersburg support group’s site was reassuring, loaded with information – I emailed Irena Romanovskaya, president of Saint-Petersburg coeliac society – irena.romanovska (at) gmail (dot) com. Erin Smith’s Gluten-Free Globetrotter lists Saint Petersburg’s site for Russia. In Russia, I learned, they interpret a few food terms differently than in the US, such as pasta, and meatless. Irena’s site was most helpful, knowing this upfront. This site has Russian and English gluten-free explanations to hand out to explain gluten-free needs to servers. Gluten-free is expressed as not including “… «mooka, psheneetsa, khleb, sukharee» which means «wheat, bread and flour» in Russian.”

I used translation sites and our Trafalgar guide Alla wrote out Russian words for vegetables and other terms I needed to explain my diet. This was easy. Simply put, I put under YES/DA what I wanted and under NO/NET what I didn’t. I said Thank you very much/Spaseebo balshoye often

I printed my own version diet cards so all concerns were on one compact form. There are a number of excellent online gluten-free (and others) handouts that are most useful and easy to locate by searching for gluten-free cards or your avoidance of choice.

When traveling, I pack individual envelopes of water packed tuna, some energy bars, granola (which doubles for breakfast and snacks), nuts, decaffeinated teas and grits. I carry 2 protein, teabags and 2 snacks each day to augment meals on the go. One never knows what might be available to eat or drink when or where the tour coach stops, when you’re hungry, in the air, or airport, or anywhere in between. I made a small dent in my travel stash as food was abundant and with my primitive art ability (or lack thereof), communication was even easier.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Moskovskye Vorota in St. Petersburg. The breakfast buffet was lovely and copious. Show the GF card always. Having emailed the 3 hotels prior to our arrival, I wasn’t expecting much as their responses said they don’t have “gluten-free stations.” Holiday Inn emailed reply said I would have a choice of vegetables and that they offered nothing [noted as] gluten-free or lactose free. Veggies for breakfast? Yes, and a huge variety of the prettiest vegetables and fruits anyone could expect. Carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, olives, a selection of greens, peppers of all kinds and yards of fresh foods, cabbages, onions, cheeses, meats, eggs prepared to order, oatmeal, cereals, breads, prunes, apricots, raisins, sliced fresh fruits, juices and more. I indulged in a vegetarian breakfast, avoiding gluten and left fully satisfied each day.

Novgorod’s Park Inn was sparser but adequate. I chose carefully from their buffet after showing my cards to the dining host and receiving the okay that I could dine safely. Moscow’s Marriott Tverskaya, on the central thoroughfare Tverskaya Ulitsa, in town up from the Kremlin and Red Square, treated me like a Russian empress. Marriott was indeed grand style, spoiling me for breakfasts with gluten-free cakes, breads, cookies, cereal, decaffeinated teas and coffees, fruits, cheeses, and crisp vegetables. Gluten-free at dinner was beautiful and tasteful. They impressed us and were most pleased to hear our compliments on how well each one did. We’d be safe dining here again with pleasure.

These Russian cities and those along our travel route overall did not seem to be familiar with gluten-free preparation, serving, and procedures but they were willing to serve vegetarian. In several places they shrugged their shoulders indicating they could not oblige. These were the minority fortunately. Armed with my dining cards, a smile, a charming positive attitude and the tour guide’s upfront intervention to explain my diet when we dined en masse, I fared as well as everyone else, maybe even better. Mostly, when places we visited learned I was gluten intolerant and vegetarian, they offered to serve only rice with the minutest smattering of vegetables, or potato. It took a bit of effort to enhance the plate but it was worth the effort. For a few meals on our own, we selected foods at the nearby market, tapas style. Delicious. Market servers and supervisors appeared most curious to help us with our selections. They nodded approval, checked contents and smiled as we pointed out our choices and showed the card. The risotto at a small restaurant near our hotel in Saint Petersburg was generous and the best I’ve had. Gum’s department store in Moscow has a fabulous cafeteria at very reasonable prices and with great variety. Neither of us was disappointed.

Advice? Don’t be afraid to be creative. In my small notebook I drew pictures at one restaurant in order to have mushrooms and cheese added. I found if you don’t expect bread, gluten-free selections are abundant. In all cases, I showed my diet cards to the head person and to our servers and asked questions until I was satisfied. Each time, they cleared the procedure with serving staff and chef before seating us. Isn’t Life fun when you get what you want and need?

We’re booked for Iceland next year. That should be fun!

Kathleen Davis©
“Diagnosed October 2006 and living all the better for it”

18 thoughts on “Gluten-Free in Russia”

  1. Great to hear Kathleen had such a great trip to Russia!

    I used to live in Russia and was at that point vegetarian. I really struggled, mainly since my usual menu option was a tomato and cucumber salad, and I hate cucumber! My favourite dish was mushrooms cooked in smetana. This was usually cooked in a small pot with a long handle and grilled with some cheese on top. Truly delish!

    I’m genuinely amazed that the Moscow Marriott was able to offer gluten-free cakes, breads, cookies and cereal since this is so rarely the case in any hotel in the world, let alone one in Russia.

    I should say that the translation at the start of the blog piece “Клейковины бесплатно = Gluten-Free” is not correct.

    “бесплатно” does mean “free” but it means “free” as in “free of charge” A better translation would be;

    без клейковины – without gluten
    у меня аллергия на клейковину – I have an allergy to gluten (I know this is not correct as Coeliac is not an allergy but sometimes this conveys the seriousness more effectively in countries where Coeliac disease is not well known or understood)

    I guess this shows the dangers of using an online translation tool – Sometimes it doesn’t quite get it right! I would recommend travelling with the free to download Coeliac Travel cards. These are great because they come in around 50 languages and clearly explain what cannot as well as can be eaten. I think it’s important to say what you can eat since so many people are not sure whether rice and potatoes are gluten free.

  2. Thank you so much for these comments as well as for the translations. I will pass this link along to Kathleen!

    I know what you mean about saying “allergy” but sometimes that is the only way to get your point across.

    Thanks again!

    1. Thank you so much for the clarification and info from your Russian viewpoint, Mrs. D. I want to be accurate and you help. Our visit was marvelous. Eating gluten-free safely was we traveled throughout the areas from St. Petersburg to Moscow was not without obstacles. Well worth the effort to see your country. Thanks, Erin, for passing comments on to me. KD

    2. Thanks for Your Post, dear Erin. For other readers – GF or GlutenFree = is the widely used in US formula for going w/o mainly WHEAT (+other: rye, barley) GLEADINE – protein they are (we are) ALLERGIC to. So GF – is CORRECT way to put it. Not to be literal, by the dictionary russish use of it. Sorry.

  3. Thank you Kathleen, this was all very helpful and reassuring because I had no idea of what to expect.
    I just returned from a two week motorcycle tour from Moscow to St Petersburg, July 2012.
    You are right about the breakfast in the large hotels. I stayed at the Hotel Budapest and even without gf breads the breakfast was wonderful, having all of the items that you wrote about. In the smaller hotels there were fewer choices for breakfast but the rice porrege was very good.
    Although my palate was somewhat limited, I had no problem with finding plentiful and delicious food. All meat and fish could be either grilled or pan fried. The spicy tomato sauce served with pork was delicious. Most of the vegtables were grilled or boiled. A green salad with tuna or a thin slice of chicken coated with an egg/cheese mixture and pan fried was a nice choice for lunch..finished with ice cream with fruit sauce for dessert. I stayed away from the soups and also Asian restaurants because they all use soy sauce.
    The large supermarkets have a few items like cookies and crackers but I didn’t feel the need for them. I opted for a delicious smoothie instead. This was adjacent to the Dostoevsky Hotel in St Petersburg.
    I was surprised to find Lay’s potato chips and M&M bars at the petrol stations.
    The Beer Garden in Moscow near Red Square sells a wonderful gf,beer from the UK called St. Peters. My drink in the evening was wine or light rum with freshly squeezed oj.
    I searched out some of the restaurants in Gum’s but was quicly discourange because there are so many and now I read that it’s the cafeteria.
    In Moscow, DoDo’s (like the bird) has a young English speaking staff and the food was great.
    I was fortunate in having a Russian guide who ordered all of the food on the road but even on my own, wth a translation card I was successful at finding something. I was a bit surprised that in Russain the translation for “flour” is not easily understood.
    Amazingly, i never experience any Celiac symptoms in Russia, and not so in the US. I am very sensitve.
    Thanks was a wonderful trip!

    1. Erin, you reach others who want to travel safely and soothe their worries. Thanks for telling me about Paula’s motorcycle trip in Russia. I’m so happy I helped another celiac to travel safely and be better prepared.

      Thank you, Paula LaLime, for sharing your positive, gluten-free experiences in Russia. Wonderful hearing you had a great time, and on motorcycle! We are proof that, with a little preplanning, any person can travel by any means almost anywhere, but certainly in Russia. Since contacts with the places we were staying was made before we left stateside, we found Russian breakfast is the least bothersome and very tasty meal. Vegetables & cheeses are more common morning foods in Europe than US. I never went hungry, especially starting our days. Between us both, we’d have greatly limited options but it’s rewarding to hear there is wide range to satisfy a celiac when looking … carefully. Sorry you missed dining at Gum’s cafeteria as their food was fresh & delicious. Gum is a slighter nicer dining area where you serve yourself. But it’s in Moscow, on Red Square! I had to ask about their foods to be satisfied they were safe. I don’t speak Russian but the cards are lifesavers, aren’t they? And I guess I gesture well, evidently as I often seem to make myself understood wherever we go.

      I wonder if the past year brought GF beer to the Beer Garden. We always have excellent experiences with locals, like you had. The people of a country always make a difference. Visiting Russia, from St. Petersburg along to Moscow, was an excellent adventure. We love it too. Wonderful trip. Hope others follow.


  4. I was happy to find someone had done GF in Russia recently. I am just starting to prepare for a trip in another year. But I must also avoid diary and all the “GF” alternative grains such as sorghum and millet. I can only have rice and potatoes and tapioca. No corn, or legumes either!
    I hope that those foreign language dining cards can cover all my issues!

    1. I recommend modifying a card so all your diet listed in one card. Have several to show host, server, chef each time you eat. Rice and potato were main offerings when we were there as I recall. Try to learn pronunciation of what you can eat. The cards are wonderful and serve us well. Enjoy your traveling.

      1. Shouldn’t called herself a vegetarian then. This is how misunderstandings about vegetarians are made – it’s the same as when people claim they have coeliac but then eat normal cake or drink normal beer because “they are not that sensitive”.

  5. I disagree. Vegetarian is a life choice. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that requires a completely gluten-free diet. If she chooses to eat tuna, that is up to her. She explains that she eats a little bit of fish in her original post. Comparing a vegetarian lifestyle to celiac disease is irresponsible.

    1. Thank you, Erin. Your response is spot on. Celiac DISEASE is autoimmune and allows no variance if many of us want to not damage ourselves. Dairy INTOLERANT is clear. GERD diet takes more off the plate. One risks being ill if ingesting dairy or those items listed with GERD diet. Vegetarian is a CHOICE one makes voluntarily. “… if NO choices are available and I would go without food otherwise.” On tour, one’s time, location, and dining choices can be limited. It’s better to eat and maintain than to pass out or go hungry. I am not a strict vegetarian but I do eat mainly fruits and vegetables, those that fit my multi-diets. One stands out enough for accommodation with medically necessary diet choices. There often is no gain standing firm on preference.

  6. I am in St Petersburg and have had such a horrible time 😩 (this is just a copy of a post I put in a Coeliac UK website

    Heya all!
    Just wanted to inform/vent on here a second and I think it may be useful for some of you!

    So I am an exchange student in Finland, and have gone on a trip to St Petersburg from Wednesday until Sunday.
    I spoke to the travel company a month before the trip saying I am a Coeliac with a bit intolerance and asked if in Russia they have any gluten free food and if not I will bring some pasta or something. The agency replied saying they are not 100% sure but there should be some gluten free choices in restaurants and in stores.

    I stupidly had a lot of faith and I also did some research on blogs where people found some gluten free food.

    Anyways, I did bring a box of gluten free cereal and some snacks from Finland and assumed I could just buy some meals in Russia. Boy was I wrong lmao.

    I ask the tour guide and hotel as instructed by the agency of some gluten free food in stores and places to eat. The tour guide said they do not have any gluten free products and in Russia they do not label any allergens. Then for the breakfast included in my stay I was told they will not have any food but if the manager feels like it they may make some plain chicken for me (this morning I asked and the manager said she didn’t want to make any). So all I had was some cucumber and egg which I had to risk from an open buffet (which as you are aware there is a high risk of CC).

    I cried so much yesterday lol because I had to go 24 hours without a proper meal and when I tried to explain and talk to the staff they blamed it on me. This made me feel really alienated and I started to hate myself that I’m the pain and have this disease. Im aware and have always felt this isn’t the worse thing to happen but I just didn’t expect my holiday to pan out like this.

    Luckily, the hotel I am staying at has a guest kitchen which I cleaned the best I could and I just bought some potatoes, carrots, onion and rice and have made a few meals so luckily I am fed.

    There is a Hard Rock Cafe next to my hotel and again allergens are not stated but I chose something from the menu I have had in Barcelona and I double checked with the staff member and he swore it was fine and I was a bit tipsy and was so hungry so I ate with caution. Luckily I wasn’t ill straight away and I had that food 12 hours ago and I’m only starting to get a bad tummy but not my usual gluten symptoms so I’m just lucky it wasn’t super bad.

    Also in St Petersburg it is notorious for pick pocketers, I myself had my bag opened and people tried to steal my money.

    I guess from my experience is I feel so lucky to have the regulations EU and the UK have in place and that there is things like Gluten free bread and gluten free pasta because as I said before in Russia it pretty much doesn’t exist.

    So far I’m tired and I cannot wait to get back to Joensuu where I can eat most things 😂

    Advice for going to Russia:
    Make sure the place you stay has a kitchen so you can cook your own meals
    Bring over gf food supplies such as pasta and stuff and only buy plain fruit, veg and rice here
    Vodka is dangerously cheap like £2.70 for half a litre (only stock up if you are okay with distilled wheat vodka as all vodka is made with wheat)
    Stay in a big group, look out for each other
    If you can make sure you do not have a bag with you
    We were advised to leave our passport in the hotel (you can give it to staff members)
    Im getting used to Russian people being quite cold towards me when they hear my accent (also when a cashier pulled a disgusted face when I had to show my British I.D.)

    I really hope I haven’t been glutened too badly but this is my last night here and I can’t wait to go home 😂😂😭

  7. St. Petersburg is gorgeous in parts but, gluten free it isn’t. Few comprehend the full concepts needed for glutenfreers. You brought food and snacks for yourself and I too hope you didn’t get sicker. Tour bookers are not knowledgeable. They want your booking. You’ll be happier when you return home. Sorry.

Leave a Reply