Food Training: Surviving the 90-hour Train from Moscow to Irkutsk

Melissa Chau May 19, 2014 1

Prior to taking the Trans-Mongolian Adventure tour I knew it was a trip I was looking forward to, but other than that, I did not know what to expect. Surprisingly, what became a stand out experience from my trip was how much fun it was to plan our meals for the journey on the route from Moscow to Irkutsk—and certainly something that I could not have expected in advance of being there.

It’s all about being prepared!

Before boarding the Trans-Siberian train, we were told to buy enough food to last for a couple days. At the grocery store before getting on, the group stocked up on breads, meats, Nutella, cheese (hard or spreadable), easy-to-peel fruits such as bananas, apples and oranges, dried fruit, nuts, packaged sausages and other non-perishables (cup noodles, cookies, biscuits, gherkins), and ample amounts of water for drinking and teeth-brushing. The only thing that would be accessible on the train was an ongoing supply of dispensable hot water and a Soviet-style podstakannik, a nickel-plated teacup that was available for borrowing during the duration of the train ride.

The podstakanniks, handed out to all passengers for the duration of the train ride.

The podstakanniks, handed out to all passengers for the duration of the train ride.

Life on board

Each cabin accommodated four people: two bunk beds with storage for our big packs under the bottom bunk, a compartment on the top for a daypack and food storage, and a communal table where the spread of meals, drinks and games unfolded. Surprisingly, there was a lot of sandwich and salad assembling on the train, due to the ease of cutting up vegetables and sharing them with the rest of the group. As the days went on with an accumulated intake of sugary snacks and sodium-infused carb-loading, these fruits and veggies were a welcome change.

lunch inside the train compartment

Preparing a hearty picnic of veggies, meats and cheese with your bunkmates.

The Russian dining cart served as a good change of scenery between the limited space we had in the cabins and the narrow corridor. One could opt to have a more ‘proper’ meal there, as there were cooked items available such as Russian borscht or salmon caviar on bread (I wanted to try the black caviar, but sturgeon was either hard to come by or very expensive). With the banquet seating, it was also a good setting to have a couple beers and socialize after an evening meal.

Crossing Eurasia you'll encounter Mongolian buzz: dumplings stuffed with none other than mutton.

Crossing Eurasia you’ll encounter Mongolian buzz: dumplings stuffed with none other than mutton.

a bottle of vodka in the dining car

Purchasing alcohol is cheaper when you bring your own on board.

A little drinking made its way into every cabin each evening. Beers were cheaper to get from the platform from babushkas (Russian grandmas) or even vendor stalls, as opposed to purchasing them from the dining cart. If you were lucky, you encountered babushkas selling 6-packs at a fraction of the price. They also sold things like delicious whole fried fish and bread-like stuffed dumplings with a potato mixture, called piroshki. Having already entered into Asia at one of the stops nearing Irkutsk, I was able to get my first taste of some Mongolian dumplings, called buuz. And not knowing when hunger would strike next, I also grabbed what seemed to be something similar to a hamburger. Both the meat from the dumplings and burger were mutton: juicy, rich and slightly gamey.

Feasting on delicious fried whole fish purchased from babushkas on the train platform.

Feasting on delicious fried whole fish purchased from babushkas on the train platform.

An adventure to remember

From getting to know our cabin-mates more intimately due to our close proximity to the sometimes uncertainty of when our next washroom break would be, coupled with the Soviet-style hospitality we received on the train, the journey was an adventure to remember. The ever-changing scenes from the windows of our cabin and the corridors transformed after every sleep. What went into our stomachs from foraging on and off the train and within each of our cabins also contributed to a creative and memorable food and drink experience unlike any other.


Getting There

Want to experience your own Trans Mongolian Adventure? G Adventures is thrilled at the prospect of taking you on this epic journey. Check out our small group trips to Russia, Mongolia and China here.

One Comment »

  1. C.Kartik May 23, 2014 at 4:02 am - Reply

    Hi,Since my childhood when we watched the BBC show,”GReat Train Journeys” ,I’ve been intrigued by this trip all across Eurasia from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.One of the things that’s NOT deterred me but have always felt becomes a bit of a nuisance is lack of vegetarian food.Being a vegetarian,is it possible to take this trip just by subsisting on fruits,cheese etc?
    Thank you.

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