What to Eat that I can't get in NY
I'm visiting St. Petersberg, Novgorod and Moscow for the 1st time (I'm doing a Trafalgar tour) and am really looking forward to it! Aside from breakfast and a single dinner we'll be on our own for most of the meals. (You should also know that my friend absolutely detests sitting down anywhere for lunch- we've gotten into arguments the last time we travled so I just gave up)
I'm not asking so much for specific places to go, as we tend to do things spur of the moment when traveling. However, I would like to ask what types of food to be on the look-out for, especially:
1. "Fast" food for lunch- Anything typically Russian would fit the bill!
2. Anything to be had for dinner that is inexpensive and not too common in the US. For example I've been told that Russia is a great place to try authentic Georgian food but I wouldn't know what to look for.
Georgian food would be my big recommendation. There are numerous Georgian restaurants in Moscow, although unfortunately many of them have lost staff and offerings since Russia imposed an embargo on all things/people Georgian (no wine, no immigrants, for example). But definitely go and try lots of things. It is a very strong Georgian tradition to get a whole bunch of dishes, like mezes, and pick among them for the first hour or so--then you get soup, then the hot stuff, like stews and meat on skewers. Do not miss a chance to get khachapuri, the Georgian flatbread with cheese (there is an Abkhazian version that also includes a sort of fried egg on top). There are a lot of cold starters including things like cilantro, walnuts, garlic, beets, spinach, sheep cheeses, eggplant, beans, and so on. The meats tend to be delicious, grilled or roasted, and then there is a long tradition of eating soups (for instance kharcho, a spicy beef soup with vegetables). Back in the day, Georgian food was the absolute tastiest thing you could get in Moscow.
If you run across Uzbek food, that's also worth trying. It is very hard to find that stuff in the US.
It sounds like you and your friend might enjoy piroshki (Pir-uh-SHKI, definitely not Americanized Peer-ROSH-ki) as a quick hand-held snack or lunch. They're "little pies" that are basically baked or fried bread pockets filled with all sorts of goodness. You might have tried them in New York, but the ones in Russia will likely beat the pants off of anything you've sampled in the States. (Especially those damn microwavable ones that the delis and convenience stores around San Francisco need to carry. I never knew cardboard could be so greasy.)
A few of the most common types of piroshki (marked for stress):
Potato: pirozhok s'karTOshky
Mushroom: pirozhok s'griBAmy
Meat: pirozhok s'MYAsom
*pirozhok ("pir-uh-ZHOK") is singular
Sorry, that spinach and cheddar cheese pirozhok you find in the States really isn't that common in Russia. But I have had some piroshki with apples (pirozhok c'yablokamy) and those are really tasty if you can find them.
You can get piroshki from various vendors, but if you want to be really Russian, go to a cafeteria (stolovaya) for lunch. They're relatively quick and much cheaper than any Western or wannabe Western fast food joint. You can see the food and point to whatever you want. I'm not going to claim the cafeterias are all that good, but then privation and frustration are part of the Russian experience.
Speaking of frustration, here's one tip that will likely help you out: vendors and cafeteria ladies like exact change. If something costs 57 rubles and you don't have exact change, don't just hand over a large bank note and expect them not to make a fuss. Try giving 107 so that they can give you 50 back. Obviously, as a foreigner you'll be given some slack, but if you can see/understand the price of the food, it's a good custom to abide by.
Other things to try:
tvorog -- farmers' cheese (often found at breakfast)
grechka -- kasha (often found at breakfast with milk or at lunch with meat/veg)
blini (sometimes called diminutive "blinchiki") with anything
p'elmeni -- meat dumplings in broth
vareniki -- dumplings filled with fruit or tvorog
goluptsy -- "little doves"; rice and meat wrapped in cabbage leaves
plov -- Uzbek style "pilaf"
pozy -- big Mongolian style dumplings (more common in Siberia)
schi -- cabbage soup
sushki -- a snack I always kept around; they look like little round breadsticks (the hard type that come in pairs and wrapped in plastic) and are good for when you need a holdover
It's a good idea to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before you go; seriously, you can do this on the plane over there and it will help you immensely.
Beyond that, learn to embrace the joy of tea with jam.