Russian lunch is called “obed” (обед), which is often translated into English as “dinner”; however, “obed” is the mid-day meal in Russia and tends to be quite substantial as the translation suggests. Russians tend to eat lunch, just like Americans, anytime between 12 and 3 p.m. Lunch does not have to be a social affair; it is normal for Russians to eat lunch by themselves. However, it is also of course quite common for people, for example, co-workers, to eat lunch together.
Lunch at Work
Some Russian people bring their lunch to work, but this is not very common. Many Russian workplaces have cafeterias for workers which offer free or very affordable lunches. Those who do not have a cafeteria – or want a change of scenery – tend to go to a cafe or restaurant for a quick “business lunch”.
A “business lunch” is not just for businessmen, no matter what it may sound like. Designed for office workers on their lunch break, most restaurants offer this daily lunch special, a limited selection of foods for a two- or three- course meal at a very affordable price. You will be served quickly and expected not to linger over your meal; restaurants offer this meal at a discounted price because they depend on a high turnover during lunchtime. The menu is usually offered between 12 and 3 p.m. but the specific times will usually be listed outside.
You can expect two or three courses, a soup and/or salad course, and a main dish (usually meat-based) course.
Coffee or (black) tea will be served but you can order other drinks at a small additional cost. Good news for those on a budget: not only is a business lunch much cheaper than a regular restaurant meal in Russia, it is also usually not necessary to leave a tip during a business-lunch, unless you are at a particularly luxurious restaurant.
Typical Lunch Foods
There are usually at least three courses to a Russian lunch. As a first course, you can expect a heavy Russian “salad”; these usually have a base of potatoes and mayonnaise, such as the popular “Olivye”, made of potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, pickles, chicken or ham, and mayonnaise (it’s actually delicious, although it may not sound it!). The second course is usually soup, such as Borsch, served with sour cream. The third course is called “vtoroye bludo” (второе блюдо, “second main”); this is usually a meat dish consisting of a piece of meat (a “kotleta” (cutlet), chicken, or beef) with buckwheat porridge or mashed potatoes.
Tea or coffee are typically served with lunch; soft drinks and wine are rarely served. It is also quite common to see vodka being consumed with lunch; this is a Russian tradition that is still often upheld, even by business-people!
Going out for lunch
Think twice before asking a Russian person to meet you for lunch. Unless two co-workers happen to go to the same cafe or restaurants for a “business-lunch”, the concept of going out for lunch is not really well-understood in Russia. It’s uncommon to see friends getting together mid-day at a restaurant; most people will at most meet for a coffee.
This has to do with the fact that it’s still extremely uncommon in Russia to go out to restaurants at all; until fairly recently there were very few restaurants in Russia. Although now there are huge numbers of restaurants, especially in the main cities, many of them remain quite pricey – definitely too expensive for many Russian people, especially when budgeting for meals out has never been part of the culture.