Many of us were curious about what to expect from the cafeteria food here. The IMOP building has two places to eat: the main cafeteria (known here as a canteen) and the somewhat more upscale café, located in an adjacent building.
Compared to American school lunches, the food is surprisingly…not bad at all. There are several options, but they don’t vary much. There are usually three or four meats (the most common being a kind of beef stew, roast chicken legs, and breaded fish) and then a side to go with it, either green beans, red beans, or one of several carbohydrate options (mashed potatoes, rice, pasta—all very buttery). You can then add more sides, like a soup, salad, or some bread. A meal like this is only about 100 rubles.
The only major disappointments are the salads—they come in bowls the size of teacups, and consist of tiny shavings of cabbage, beet, and carrot. Not really a meal in and of itself, like the massive chicken cesars you usually find in American cafeterias. The café is slightly more expensive, but worth it if you have the time between classes to walk over and try something different.
The biggest difference with Russian school lunches (and food in general) when compared to American ones is the level of processing. In the U.S., it is very difficult to make the connection between a chicken patty and an actual chicken, or between nacho “cheez” and a cow’s milk. Russia also uses real butter almost exclusively (I have yet to even see margarine here), whereas in America, margarine derived from vegetable oil is much more affordable as a result of federal corn subsidies. I’m actually tempted to say that the food I eat in the canteen here is healthier than what I ate as a third grader in a pretty decent American public school, but at the end of the day, cafeteria food is cafeteria food, and we will never know for certain.