The dawn of Russia’s era of mass restaurant outings – which began in the early 2000s, in line with an unprecedented expansion in Russian personal prosperity – was dominated by sushi.
But when I returned in 2016, it was already clear that era was in decline. Sure, there were – and are – still plenty of lower range Sushi Shops and Sushi Sets, and upper range Yakitoriyas and Tanukis. But they are no longer anywhere near as prominent as they once were.
A recent article in Kommersant confirmed this impression. The percentage of restaurants in Moscow and SPB offering sushi on their menu reached an all time peak in 2012, but has plummeted since. By 2018, only 3% of restaurants in Moscow were Japanese-themed.
What replaced them? BURGERS. As of today, every tenth restaurant order in Moscow – and every second fast food order – features that iconic American sandwich. This correlates with personal observations. As in the West, the mainstays are McDonald’s and Burger Kings – which, incidentally, tend to be nicer in Russia than in the US. But the streets are jam-packed with all sorts of Burger Heroes and Burger Brothers and Black Star Burgers (this latter one founded by the rapper Timati), in a wide variety of styles from cheese and meat filled monstrosities to ketogenic “fitness” burgers.
Does this mean sushi has vanished from Russia?
No, not really. Just within the slightly more than two years I have been here, there has been a massive boom in food home delivery. Young people with massive, rectangular backpacks with the logo of “Yandex Food” or “Delivery Club” are now a very common site in the metro, replacing the punks, emos, and goths that were previously associated with that age cohort in less straitlaced and work-oriented eras. Around 7% of the catering sector now accrues to food delivery (compared to 8% in China and 3% in the US), of which Internet orders account for 53%. In turn, sushi orders account for around half of all orders with Delivery Club.
So instead of going to eat sushi at a restaurant, it has become something that people order to their house, like pizza (or make themselves).
Otherwise, fast food is dominated by burgers (with Russian chains like Teremok or Kroshka Kartoshka playing a decidedly secondary role), while proper restaurants increasingly need to provide a more unique or compelling vision to stand out.