baikaler meals
A stack of meals on the Baikaler. Fingers crossed they're nice

The provodnitsa knocked on our cabin door and then slung it open with a wide smile and a cheery nod. If anyone tells you that the Russians are a dour, gloomy people, give them a kick in the shins. You couldn’t hope to meet a friendlier, perkier nation rampaging around The Caucuses and stealing all the sun loungers in Turkey.

Our provodnitsa was explaining something to us in Russian. Being British, we nodded along and smiled, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that we could only understand every 50th word. She finished, fixed us with a beaming, open-faced grin and waited. We smiled politely back. She sighed.

‘English?’

‘Yes! Da!’

‘Chicken or fish?’

goody bag contents
So many condiments

We were on the Baikal, train number 10 on the Trans-Siberian network, and on our way to Irkutsk. We’d had to buy catered tickets for 1 of our journeys and I’d assured DJ and Leonard that was for journey number 3. So we’d gone to the Omsk Happy Shopper and loaded ourselves up with bread, salami, spreadable cheese, pastries and Russian champagne. But the provodnitsa’s question suggested that we were about to enjoy some in-cabin catering.

Our carrier bag picnic was kicked under a seat and we anticipated the joy of (not exactly) free food. Provodnitsa number 2, a curly-haired Mrs Overall with a mania for vacuuming, brought round black carrier goody bags and bottles of water to add to the 41/2 litres of mineral water we’d brought with us. The risk of drowning in our cabin was surprisingly high that night and if the train had suddenly put on the breaks, at least one of us would have been bludgeoned to death by a Bonaqua avalanche.

The black bag contained tea, coffee, creamer, sugar, salt, jam, butter and a small bar of coffee flavoured chocolate. A bit disappointing, but after our Rossiya dining car experience, how could the main course disappoint?

meal 1 baikaler1
Oh dear

DJ and I had opted for chicken. Leonard, who knows no fear, had gone for the unidentified fish. Our meal came in a styrofoam box – a bad sign. It contained rice (properly cooked, which is immediately better than rice you’d get on a British train), a greasy chicken portion, some dressing-strangled salad and gravel that had been mashed together to make bread. Leonard had exactly the same basics but with a glistening heap of warmed tinned salmon balanced on top of her rice.

Oh dear God, but it was bad. We were hungry, so we picked round it and then turned to the bottle of Russian champagne DJ had been cooling in a wet sock for consolation. The cooling method had actually worked and the wine was below body temperature, which was a plus. It smelt of petrol and tasted of sulphates, which was a negative.

russian champagne1
Russian champagne in a cup. It doesn't deserve a glass

The next morning, the provodnitsa pulled open our door, wrinkled her nose at us cutely and asked: ‘Yum yum?’ Why they hell not, we thought. The options were… chicken or fish. We all went for chicken.

I pride myself on being a strong-stomached sort of a person. Later in the holiday I proved this by chowing down on crickets and cicadas and even facing that Great Evil of the breakfast table, congee. But the greasy smell that accompanied the plastic boxes of chicken and rice had me crawling and writhing back under my bed sheets in pure physical horror. The chicken did not get eaten.

To add further insult, the nice coffee flavoured chocolate had been replaced by a Choco Pie, a travesty against both chocolate and pies for which someone deserves to have their fingers broken, their tongue split and their ears pulled off.

The meals were finally removed and I ate a delicious pastry filled with peanut caramel, which we’d bought in Omsk. The picnic we’d flung aside so joyfully was retrieved and deployed for lunch.

peanut pastry breakfast1
Peanut pastry, cup of tea, torrid novel. That's a good breakfast

You can imagine the joy we felt when the provodnitsa popped her head round the door that evening to ask if we were ready for our final round of Yum Yum. I had gone mad by this point, ordered the fish and ate most of it. Do not despise me for it – pity me.

The next morning, bread rolls and peanut pastries were happily eaten in place of chicken or fish and we arrived in Irkutsk in need of sleep, a shower and vegetable matter. We had a tour around Lake Baikal and beer instead.

Tagged with: BaikalIrkustkOmskRussiaTrans-Mongolian train tripTrans-Siberian
 

7 Responses to Train food on The Baikal, Train number 10, Omsk to Irkutsk

  1. How gleeful I am to read this post! We took the Trans Mongolian Express a couple of years ago all the way from Moscow to Beijing. During our stay in Moscow we had noticed a handy branch of the supermarket Seven Continents at the end of our street and had decided to go there on the morning of our departure to stock up on all the food (!) we’d need for the seven days.

    Except when we went, it was closed for renovations. And there was no other supermarket. Mercifully we found a dingy corner shop which sold us ramen noodles, bottled water and dates (!!) and we survived on those and the terrifying offerings of the food car until the noodles ran out and the nice English people in the next compartment shared their cous cous.

    Everyone in our carriage (we had bought 4x2nd class berths so as to have a compartment to ourselves, 1st class having been bought out by a large group of German ladies) was non-Russian/non-Chinese – we were all backpackers of various description and had a very jolly time, commiserating about the dining car and the cold/heat/sand/Customs.

    My god the food was bad. We were very grateful for our ramen noodles which we cooked in my teapot (what Irish girl doesn’t travel with her own teapot?) with hot water from our carriage samovar.

    I follow you on Twitter, btw, which is how I came to your post – I’m Passementerie there too.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      You brought you own teapot? That’s fantastic! We always had some picnic with us on all our train journeys, and local currency so we could buy food from the dining car and the people on the platforms.

      We’d learnt from some friends who did the journey in reverse and got on at Beijing with a few tangerines, 3 instant noodles and some Kwai to buy food. They hadn’t thought about what would happen when they crossed the border into Mongolia and Kwai would no longer be a currency anyone was interested in. They arrived in Russia a little thinner than when they got on the train.

  2. Helen says:

    Ha ha! Wow. Well done for forcing some of it down. I too have eaten a cricket and also pride myself on my strong stomach. It was fried and was basically like eating sawdust.

  3. Lizzie says:

    Irkutsk!? I thought that was just a place on the Risk board!

    That sounds (and looks) vile. I can’t believe you’d dare slag off congee (aka. wallpaper paste) though…

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      I try with congee, I really do. But it’s determined to outwit me. Jiaozi for breakfast, on the other hand, is a breakfast I can live with.

  4. Laurence Manly says:

    I took the train from Beijing to Moscow back in 1995.
    6 days as far as I remember. First class compartment to myself, apart from one day and night I had to share with an elderly lady.

    While travelling through China the food on the train was very good. Once in Russia it was inedible.
    Saw some sort of animal carcass being loaded into the restaurant car at a station once. Hidden under a tarpaulin.

    After my one experience in the Russian restaurant car, I mostly ate what I could buy from the old ladies at the stations.

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