McDonald’s in Siberia

 Fast food is booming in Russia, with sales up 17% in 2011. And where there’s fast food, of course,The golden arches of mdDonald's discerning consumers can usually find the golden arches. McDonald’s has opened 324 outlets in the country since the late 1980s and has aggressive plans for expansion, primarily in airports and train stations. Up until recently, though, their restaurants have been confined to the Eastern part of Russia.

That’s about to change, since the company is eyeing Siberia as a new profit center. The region is not exactly virgin territory for fast food. KFC has been operating there since 2002 and is the area’s largest chain, although Subway is making inroads among calorie-conscious Siberians. Having solved supply and delivery problems, McDonald’s now plans on opening at least ten eateries there, including a mammoth restaurant in Krasnoyarsk, the largest city in Central Siberia.

Is this a good thing—a welcome change from an unrelenting diet of vodka and whale blubber? Or is it yet another inroad on a pristine outpost of local cuisine? I’ve never been there (although the Trans-Siberian Railroad ranks very high on my bucket list), so I decided to do some online research into the Siberian restaurant scene.

Trip Advisor reviews 195 restaurants in the Siberian District. Their #1 pick is a place called Figaro in Irkutsk, which garnered 33 glowing consumer reviews and a perfect five-star rating (The French Laundry, by comparison, has 4.5 out of 5). There are 91 restaurants in Krasnoyarsk alone. The top destination there is another Italian restaurant, Mama Roma, which also comes in at 4.5.

I found the website for Mama Roma and looked around a bit. The menu is comprehensive—close to encyclopedic, actually. There are 33 cocktails offered, ranging from Kir Royale to a B-52 and a Long Island Iced Tea. You can choose from more than 20 pasta dishes, including tagliatelle with shaved white truffles, dozens of seafood and meat entrees, and numerous salads (including the ubiquitous Caesar with grilled shrimp). The wine list would put some restaurants in Naples to shame. There’s even a children’s menu, complete with hamburgers and chicken nuggets—no Happy Meals yet, although you may be certain they’ll be forced to compete.

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