What Fast Food Looks Like In Russia

To the uninitiated, Russian cuisine may seem to revolve heavily around beets, and in the case of anyone still seeing the country through the lens of its 20th-century troubles, breadlines. That's hardly the case today, though, as 21st-century Russia is a thoroughly modern country with an economy that ranks among the world's largest. More to our point, the Russians, like the rest of us, have quite an appetite for fast food.

Even going back to the 20th Century, the Russians had access to home-grown fast foods. Sure, back in the days of the old Soviet Union, much of it was sold as street food rather than in restaurants, but as Britannica defines it, fast food is anything mass-produced in a quick, efficient fashion so the two categories often overlap. 

Some street food (fast food) that have spanned decades and political regimes in Russia include stuffed potatoes, shashlik (similar to shish kebabs), meat pies called chebureki, and the dumplings known as pirozhki. These dumplings, which are similar to Polish pierogi, can be sweet as well as savory, as can the pancakes known as blini (butter, condensed milk, jam, sour cream, and meat are all possible fillings for these). In the dessert-only category are ice cream and the perennially popular powdered sugar donuts called ponchiki or pyshki.

The fast-food landscape in Russia looks a bit different these days

Up until 2022, Russia was home to hundreds, if not thousands, of fast food restaurants with familiar names, among them Burger King, KFC, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Taco Bell, and, of course, McDonald's. In fact, McDonald's was the first fast food chain to open in the waning days of the Soviet Union (January 1990) and was thus many Russian Gen X-ers' and Millennials' introduction to Western-style food. 

In response to the Ukraine war, most of these chains have all ceased their operations in Russia, although several franchises are now offering their services under a different name. Some former McDonald's restaurants are now doing business as Tasty And That's It, while KFCs have re-branded as Rostic's and Starbucks as Stars. Russian Burger Kings, however, have remained open as the group that operates them is partly owned by Russian investors who have not agreed to a shutdown.

Russia does, however, have a few home-grown chains as well. Kroshka-Kartoshka offers stuffed baked potatoes and sandwiches, while Teremok serves up millions and millions of blini at its more than 260 locations nationwide. Pomponchik and Nash Ponchik specialize in ponchiki (doughnuts), as their names might imply, while chebureki (meat pies) can be found at both Lepim I Zharim and Cheburechnaya Druzhba and piroshkies (dumplings) at Volkonsky and Karavaev Brothers.