Trans-Siberian railway food – dining in 3 countries
The good news is that even if you travel the Trans-Siberian direct that you’ll still get to taste the food of whichever country you’re passing through. The train remains the same throughout your journey but the dining car is replaced at every border with one from that country.
The above photo shows a Chinese Trans-Mongolian train going from Moscow-Beijing but it has a Mongolian dining cart as the train has passed from Russia into Mongolia.
The direct train still stops up to ten times a day and one of these will be a longer stay at the station – around 30 minutes –where you can venture a little further than the platform to stock up at a kiosk, just don’t forget your passport.
These are often local grandmas with delicious homecooked treats or folks selling semi-recognizable snacks
You’ll find vendors at the shorter stops, too. These are often local grandmas with delicious homecooked treats or folks selling semi-recognizable snacks. Vendors are more abundant in the warmer months, especially in Siberia.
Travelling direct means you really to get the feel the rhythym of a long train journey but you definitely won’t miss out on the tastes of the countries you pass through.
Eating Siberian food on a train
The dining car is always run by the country in which the train is travelling in, so on International trains the dining carriage will be switched at each border crossing.
The dining car is a good place to meet other travellers, watch the locals and enjoy a beer. The dining carriage is not always open and during meal times the staff will expect you to leave your seat once your meal is finished.
Plan to eat from the dining car at least once a day and prepare your own meals at other times.
Do I need to bring basic food?
There’s no need to bring basic foods / drinks (noodles, water etc.) as these can be readily bought all along the route.
In China basic food item such as beer, noodles, snacks and sometimes fruit can be purchased from the platform kiosks, in Mongolia very little is available from the platforms and in Russia the range of food available varies depending on the time of year.
In Summer months and in Siberia, babushka’s (Russian grandmothers) often sell fresh produce such as smoked fish or potato stew home cooking. This is cheaper and invariably better than the dining car.
Just bring some wine or good coffee
It is 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!
Be prepared there is no dining car on the local train #305/306 (between Irkutsk/Ulan-Ude and Ulaanbaatar across the Russia/Mongolia border). This is 30 hour journey with one whole day on the train so stock up on some food to make sandwiches etc before boarding the train.
The International train #5/6 (UB – Moscow – UB) often misses a dining car the day you are travelling on Mongolian soil.
Use the Samovar!
Each carriage has its own samovar constantly providing safe boiled water for free. Perfect for making pot noodles, a cup of soup, coffee and for sterilising bottles etc.
Local’s will always pass round their food supplies, it saves embarrassment if you have some snacks (chocolate, nuts, etc) to offer back.
Cost of eating in Siberian train?
People tend to spend between US$10 to US$30 per day on the train – largely dependent on how many visits you make to the dining car and your alcohol consumption!
Food in the restaurant car is plentiful in China, “international” in Mongolia, and what you get in Russia has declined over the years to something that resembles Belgian army food of the early seventies.
The Chinese dining car
A set meal in the Chinese restaurant wagon costs 50-80 RMB (you can pay in US$). A high price but quality and service are improving. There’s usually a brief English menu including some vegetable only dishes. The Chinese dining car often has alcohol on board as well.
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$, Chinese Yuan, or Mongolian Tugrik.
This dining-car is one of the best along the route with starched linen and an impressive menu in English, although prices to foreigners are often inflated.
The Russian dining car
In Russia, the dining car on each train is privately run and as such service can vary widely. There is normally an impressive menu, but a limited supply. You will spend around US$ 15 worth of Roubles on each meal.