SOCHI, Russia -- While some of the much-publicized problems plaguing the 2014 Winter Olympics may have been exaggerated, one aspect of the Sochi Games that has drawn an assortment of opinions is the dining options.
A recent video was posted on Instagram this week from American bobsledder Lolo Jones, showing a less than appetizing meal at the Olympic cafeteria. It sparked discussions in the U.S. over a topic that many in Sochi already knew: the food here is questionable.
Russian restaurants are rather scarce in North America, and therefore may be considered more exotic compared to the mainstream cuisine of countries like Italy, Mexico, India, China, Thailand, and Japan. In New York, a city with a Russian population of roughly 250,000, there are several Russian restaurants to choose from. But their presence is less visible than say Italian and Indian restaurants. Tatiana Restaurant, a Russian restaurant in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, has received strong reviews, but it’s a bit of a hike to get there from most parts of the city.
The U.S. has many cities with delicious food that can be purchased for no more than $5, and which are easily accessible. Many New Yorkers gravitate to pizza spots like Joe’s on Carmine Street, or Rocky’s on 14th Street or halal carts on many street corners, while Los Angeles residents often pride themselves on their Mexican food like Taco Chabelita on Western Avenue, as well as their hamburgers, like at chains such as In-N-Out and Fatburger. At sporting events, there are usually hot dogs, nachos, French fries, and pretzels, and all tend to do their job under the circumstances, though they usually cost about 20 percent more than they should.
There doesn’t seem to be a Russian equivalent of such food in Sochi. The general consensus is that the vendor food isn’t satisfactory, while the prices are too high. Most people seem to wait in line for entrees like hot dogs or pizza that are noticeably substandard, and cost more than one would pay at a pro sports stadium in North America.
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However, there are good options at sit-down restaurants. Russia offers some notable dishes such as beef Stroganov, shashlik (a Shish kebab), and borsch, just to name a few. All are capable of being very good, but finding these dishes can be hard to find.
These facts are not lost on the Sochi visitors. The overall opportunity to eat a solid, tasty meal has been somewhat limited, according to most tourists. Many who don't have much time to eat because they are hopping from one sporting to another, have no choice but to frequent the vendors, and they are not pleased with the results.
Some have been outspoken in their disdain for the food. One German resident working as a volunteer has described the food as “fit only for prison.”
France is famous for their cuisine, so French tourists may seem particularly bothered. When Frederic Uroz of Lyon was asked about the food in Sochi, he couldn’t help but chuckle. It was the type of laugh that suggested he was trying to say, “If you don't have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
After some prodding, Uroz responded.
“We have to eat,” he said, as diplomatically as possible. “[The food is] not very good.”
At the food court in the Main Media Center, the longest line is often at McDonald’s. The American fast-food chain at least offers a familiar meal and at just slightly more expensive prices to North America.
“McDonald’s has been a best friend, unfortunately, which I don’t eat at home,” said hockey fan Jason March of Vancouver.
March said he dropped more than $10,000 on his entire trip to the Olympics, and has been disappointed by food, which he described as “pretty bland.”
“It’s very different. I’ve seen beef tongue on every menu,” he added.
While the vendor food has been panned, even some restaurants have been subject to poor reviews.
One restaurant in the Olympic Park offers numerous entrees priced at about $30. Many of the exiting patrons did not feel that they got their money’s worth. A woman, who considered entering as she glanced at the menu, asked a man on his way out what he thought of his dinner.
“It wasn’t bad, but I would pass if I were you,” he said.
However, some have been exposed to quality food in Sochi, perhaps proving that the city is a mixed bag of good and bad restaurants.
Taylor Glenn, a resident of Jackson, Wyo., was far more forgiving of the Sochi cuisine.
“You know, I can’t say that we’ve had any mind-blowing culinary experiences, as of yet,” said Glenn. “I had a lot of beef Stroganov. It’s delicious. It’s not like the Hamburger Helper stuff, by the way. It’s much better here. But all and all, the food has been O.K., it’s nothing crazy.”
A Slovenian coach described the food, as “more or less fine.” He said he ate a spaghetti dish for lunch that was more than acceptable.
Meanwhile, Emanuel Viveiros, the head coach of Austria’s men’s hockey team, was full of praise.
“I’ve been in the Olympic Village the whole time, and the food has been very good. I have no complaints,” he said.
Viveiros has said that he has had “a lot of fish, salad and a little bit of pasta.”
On a personal note, I recently went to Kazachy Kuren restaurant in the Olympic Park and had a very good meal. I tried borsch, seafood Julienne, and a bowl of white rice, along with a shot of vodka. The bill came out to $26.
After multiple trips to McDonald’s myself over the past week, it was certainly worth it.