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Food in the restaurant car is plentiful in China, mutton-flavored in Mongolia, and what you get in Russia declined over the years to something that resembles Belgian army food of the early seventies. Bring enough of your own instant whatever. (See shopping list) Each carriage has its own samovar providing boiled water for free.
The Chinese dining car:
If you have waited to stock up on alcohol, there is still a chance to do so in the Chinese dining car. Somehow, the time they run out of beer is related to the number British and Australian tourists on the train J
A set meal in the Chinese restaurant wagon costs 30-50 RMB (you can pay in US$). A high price but quality and service are improving. There’s usually a brief English menu including some vegetable only dishes.
In Mongolian dining car:
If you are on train #3/4 or #23/24 travelling via Mongolia, you can pay for meals in the Mongolian dining car with small denomination US$, Chinese Yuan, or Mongolian Togrog. This dining-car is one of the best along the route with starched linen and an impressive menu in English. Service is very slow though so be patient. Meals are around US$5. The staff also sells souvenirs and will even mail your postcards.
The Russian dining car:
The Russian restaurant car has an impressive menu, but a limited supply. The crew is into all kinds of business and serving food can be a low priority for them. This business used to include selling part of the food stock at high prices on the Siberian black market but this is declining.
You will spend US$ 5-6 worth of Rubles on each meal. Champagne, caviar and other goodies are often available but usually reserved for those who have tipped the conductor.
Food (especially omul [Омул] fish) bought along the way from the 'grandmothers' or from stalls upon arrival in Moscow can cause stomach problems! Do as the locals and wash it down with a shot of medicinal vodka!
- Train #363/4 (Ulaanbaatar - Irkutsk - UB) has no dining car and #5/6 (UB - Moscow - UB) only on Russian territory.
- There’s no need to bring basic foods / drinks (noodles, water etc..) as these can be readily bought all along the route.
- It can be a good idea to bring a few treats such as wine, good coffee and tea, sweets etc.. Beijing and Moscow are good places to stock up on such luxuries!
- Each carriage has its own samovar constantly providing safe boiled water for free.
- People tend to spend between US$10 to US$20 per day on the train (largely dependent on alcohol consumption.