Lunch in a Russian Dining Car.

The recent posts about VIA Rail and the wonderful food offered on their premier train, The Canadian, started me thinking back to 2011 and my trip to Russia and quite a different dining experience. I went there to take a version of the trans-Siberian … meaning instead of the traditional route from Moscow to Vladivostok, our train took us from Moscow across Siberia to Mongolia, then south to Beijing. 


The first stop of my European itinerary—before heading to Russia—was a fascinating two-day visit to Berlin. My Russian train arrived at the platform on the upper of three levels at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station, and, spot on time, we were off on an overnight ride to Moscow. That, of course, meant there was a dining car on the train and that’s where I headed for lunch.

OK, so how would YOU describe the Russian dining car? Colorful? Festive? Garish? All of the above? There were two other couple having lunch when I entered and, as I slid into one of the booths, an attendant emerged from the tiny kitchen at the far end of the car. He was carrying two vinyl-covered menus.
Arriving at my table, he thumped himself on the chest. “Boris!” he said.
So—when in Rome—I thumped my own chest and said, “Jim!” He broke into a grin, rattled off something in Russian. Then, all business once again, he held up one of the menu binders and said, very distinctly, “Money!” Then held up the other binder and said, “No money!” OK, I got it. I would have to pay for anything I ordered from the first menu, but the items on the other menu were apparently included in my fare.
Mercifully, the “No-Money” menu was in English. I chose a pork chop and pointed to it. Boris said, “Da … OK!” I asked for a beer and off he went, into the little kitchen at the front of the dining car.
The meal was not gourmet, but not bad … hot and cooked right there on board. The beer was German and barely cold, but very good. I took a photo of my lunch before starting in on it and that brought Boris out from his little kitchen. He beckoned for my camera, backed up a step, then peered through the viewfinder and snapped my photo. He nodded, said “OK … good!” and headed back up to the end of the car.

I ate my lunch thinking, as I frequently do, that I don’t regret one dime that I’ve ever spent on travel. After all, here I was, eating a pork chop and having a beer on a Russian train crossing Germany, heading into Poland, and tomorrow I would be in Moscow standing in the middle of Red Square. How can you put a price tag on that?