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© Photo The Moscow News / Joy Neumeyer

Lemongrass in little Hanoi

by Joy Neumeyer at 15/10/2012 19:49

Hidden on a distant side street in Marina Roshcha is one of Moscow’s most fascinating ethnic districts: the market, cafes and businesses that serve as home base for the Vietnamese diaspora. Large-scale Vietnamese immigration to Russia began in 1981, when the Soviet Union and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signed an agreement that sent around 100,000 Vietnamese people to Russia for work and study. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of them stayed.

Since the ’90s, Moscow’s Vietnamese community has been associated with trading at infamous markets like Cherkizon, but their ranks also comprise businessmen, students, factory workers, restaurant owners and many others. According to official statistics, a series of crackdowns last year reduced the number of Vietnamese immigrants in the capital to five or six thousand, but unofficial estimates place their numbers several times higher.

Take note: the broken-down Soviet hotel Rybak, where Marina Roshcha’s Vietnamese area is clustered, is associated with unsavory activity, and going after dark is not recommended. But a daytime visit reveals delicious native dishes, fresh tofu and greens and kind, welcoming people, most hailing from Vietnam’s northern region. A bonus is the nearby spreadable cheese factory that’s home to one of Moscow’s oddest sculptures.

To begin, ride the light green line to Marina Roshcha, then hop on any bus going north on Sheremetyevskaya Ulitsa (such as No. 12 or 24).

1. Rybak Hotel

The dilapidated Hotel Rybak forms the heart of the Vietnamese district

© Photo / The Moscow News / Joy Neumeyer

The dilapidated Hotel Rybak forms the heart of the Vietnamese district

11 17th Proyezd Marinoi Roshchi

Exit the bus at the “Poliklinika” stop, just before the bridge. Cross the street at the stoplight to reach 17th Proyezd Marinoi Roshchi, the follow it around the bend. At the Rybak Hotel, the light brick building with the faded retro sign, turn into the parking lot. Walk to the building’s left side; when you see the bright blue paint and Vietnamese signage, you’ll know you’ve arrived. The area begins with a beauty parlor and barber shop, along with a couple stands selling Russian souvenirs.

Vietnamese cafes

The first several doors along the blue row hold a series of hole-inthe- wall cafes. The silverware is communal and the toilets are holes in the ground—but anyone ready to roll with it is in for a cheap and delicious feast. It’s likely that no one around will speak Russian or English, so be prepared to use pointing and gestures to signal what you’d like to eat.

The cafe closest to the entrance, run by an older man, offers steaming bowls of pho and noodles. The one inside the fifth door down is operated by a friendly young couple, who mash mung beans and assemble banh chung (steamed rice, pork, beans and other treats wrapped in banana leaves) right in front of visitors. Items are conveniently wrapped up for takeaway. On a recent visit, the spread included banh cuon, fermented rice noodle rolls filled with ground pork, mushrooms and spices; banh sam, deep-fried sesame balls filled with sweetened mung paste; and rolls stuffed with jellied meat and pork fat. Perhaps the tastiest (and most popular) item is xoi, a street food based on steamed glutinous rice that can be made in innumerable preparations. Here it’s served with mung beans, ruoc (stringy, salty fried pork) and deep-fried shallots. Don’t miss the homemade rice vodka, which is available in plastic takeaway bottles.

Vietnamese market

Continue past the karaoke bars and up the stairs to the left to reach the market. While conditions may be less than sterile, it’s a vegetarian paradise, with mounds of fresh tofu and lemongrass available for purchase (not to mention noodles, chilies, sauces and other finds). Hours are erratic, but the odds of it being open are better in the afternoon.

2. Druzhba spreadable cheese monument

The Druzhba monument honors spreadable cheese

© Photo / The Moscow News / Joy Neumeyer

The Druzhba monument honors spreadable cheese

14 Ul. Rustaveli, bldg. 11

Continue down 17th Proyezd Marinoi Roshchi to where it meets Ogorodny Proezd. Turn left, walk for several minutes, then turn left again on Ulitsa Rustaveli. On the street’s left-hand side is the Karat spreadable cheese factory, which recently announced that it’s facing bankruptcy. In front of the factory’s main entrance is the Druzhba monument, a lovably bizarre homage to spreadable cheese. Installed in 2005, the statue features a hugging crow and fox holding a block of the stuff. The cheese block briefly went missing in 2008, but was found several weeks later in the courtyard of a neighboring apartment complex—leading to the hypothesis that the thieves buckled under the weight of the 200-kg block. Continue on Ul. Rustaveli and turn left on Dmitrovskoye Shosse to reach Dmitrovskaya metro station.

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