Meet Chinese Moscow

Lo mein and mu shu pork lovers instinctively gravitate toward Chinatown. In London, Sydney and New York, the din and glare of Chinese wares welcome visitors with open arches.

But make no mistake, although in Moscow there is Kitai-Gorod, this ain't no Chinatown. The word "kitai" might actually be rooted in the Tatar word for fortress -- not the Russian for China -- and the city government has denied requests by Chinese residents to create a niche.

Two hotspots for Chinese goods can be found in the Russian capital, however: the Druzhba shopping center and the Yevrazia market.

Some 163,050 Chinese migrants were registered in Moscow in the first half of 2006, the last period for which numbers were available, said Denis Soldatikov, a spokesman at the Federal Migration Service. Of them, more than 30,000 were working in construction and about 3,000 in markets and trade in general, he said. Meanwhile, unofficial figures for Moscow's Chinese population vary wildly, from 50,000 to 250,000.

Although formal social organizations exist, few of Moscow's Chinese participate in their activities or can even name them, preferring to gather at home or in restaurants with friends to eat or play mahjong. Chen Songlin, a cobbler in Yevrazia's line No. 1, said he didn't know of any formal groupings, except for one: the Moscow Chinese Christian Church, with 400 to 500 members.

Lunar New Year -- of the pig in 2007 -- begins Feb. 18 this year and ends March 3. Newspaper sellers at the market say it will be difficult in Moscow to purchase hongbao, those red envelopes older, married relatives fill with money to give to younger members of their families. And sadly, many of the city's vendors will be leaving ahead of an April 1 deadline under new migration laws. But there are still plenty of ways to celebrate with things Chinese.

Where to Go

In the uneven streets of Yevrazia market -- next to the popular Vernisazh souvenir market -- cobblers stoop fixing shoes, vendors sell cow intestines and live fish, and chefs sweat over cloudy pots of broth and noodles.

The highest concentration of Chinese goods is at line No. 1, and the main Chinese area stretches to 12, and includes the area preceding line No. 1, called Zhyolty Dom, or yellow house, possibly after the large, yellow residential building nearby housing Chinese and Vietnamese workers. The Chinese area is most easily reached from the Partizanskaya metro station, 10 minutes' walk away.

At the Druzhba shopping center, Chinese doctors dispense ingredients from small, square drawers in a dark wood medicinal cabinet, and glass shelves display tea leaves in blocks. The center is located right by the Novoslobodskaya metro station.

Where to Eat

Igor Tabakov / MT
The Druzhba restaurant is the place to go for authentic, spicy Sichuan cuisine.
The Druzhba restaurant (14 Novoslobodskaya Ul., bottom floor of the Druzhba shopping center, 8-499 973-1234) has many Sichuan dishes, including a bestseller, the shuizhu roupian -- literally water-boiled beef slices, which is more exciting than it sounds: The tender beef is boiled in a spicy, peppery broth.

To get the daodi, or authentic cheap fare, the market provides much more. The smaller, hole-in-the-wall shops in the Zhyolty Dom area bustle with business at lunchtime, offering everything from noodles to stewed pig's feet and deep-fried doughy pancakes at low prices. A serving of beef noodles at the Haozailai restaurant costs 80 rubles.

Where to Get Healthy

Igor Tabakov / MT
The Kanti health center offers acupuncture as well as traditional Chinese medicine.
In Moscow, centers practicing Chinese medicine offer massage and acupuncture. The Kan Fu Center for Chinese Medicine (12 Ul. Tryokhgorny Val, Bldg. 2, 205-0053), which opened three years ago, brings in qualified and experienced doctors from China who communicate through interpreters, said a center representative who declined to be named.

Fewer offer the all-knowing, wrinkly skinned Chinese doctor who diagnoses his patients by feeling their pulse and prescribes recipes of herbs, twigs, insects and roots for the patient to boil into medicine.

Although Druzhba's Kanti health center, the opening of which in June was attended by Chinese Ambassador Zhang Deguang, receives more patients requesting acupuncture treatment, it does have Chinese doctors, and medicines may be purchased at the Qiancaotang pharmacy, located separately on the second floor. Zhao, the pharmacy's manager, who declined to give his full name, said prices were unpredictable as diagnoses vary greatly. But for a common cold, he said, you can expect to spend several hundred rubles for diagnosis plus medicine.

Where to Get Tea

Authentic Chinese tea in a good variety can be bought almost everywhere in Moscow -- in specialty stores, in the underground perekhod pedestrian tunnels or at kiosks. One kiosk at the Belorusskaya metro station has different kinds of Tieguanyin and Pu Er tea, with prices varying according the age of the leaves. The seven-year "Imperial" Pu Er was recently selling for 250 rubles per 50 grams, or 80 rubles for the three-year version. This compares with the Kongfutsi, or Confucius, tea in supermarkets such as Perekryostok selling for 180 rubles per 70 gram bottle.

Brown clay teapots ranged from 175 rubles to 485 rubles in one kiosk, and up to 750 rubles for an eight-cup set with a teapot. For the real deal, get a white ceramic handmade set for 2,500 rubles at Druzhba's Mei Hua tea company on the second floor, where you can also find good old-fashioned chabing -- disk-shaped cakes of dried tea leaves -- and compressed bricks of tea.

What to Read

Six Chinese-language newspapers are published in Moscow, with news mostly about China, not Russia. They are sold at the markets by women carrying copies on their arms and cash in their shoulder bags, walking from stall to stall and stopping near the shuttle bus stop. They cost from 10 to 15 rubles, with newspaper porters selling at double the price for which they buy from the publisher, said Jiang Lili, a seller. Another, the Zhongguocheng newspaper, closed down after it stopped making a profit, Jiang said.

Three monthly journals published in Russia focus on Chinese-Russian relations and Chinese culture in Russia. Partnyory, or Huoban in Chinese, is edited from Harbin; Rossia Kitai XXI Vek is published by the Xinhua state news agency; and Kitai is the Chinese government's official publication.

Where to Get Groceries

To be Chinese, there are three fundamentals: rice, soya sauce, chopsticks. Thankfully, Perekryostok, Sedmoi Kontinent, Azbuka Vkusa and sometimes even your local kiosk carry them for reasonable prices. Just make sure when buying soya sauce that it's shengchou, the most common kind, and not laochou, the darker, less savory blend used to stew soya sauce chicken; nor mushroom-flavored, which is sometimes found from the Guangdong province-based Pearl River Bridge brand; nor sushi soya sauce, often of the Japanese Kikkoman brand -- which incidentally, like the Heinz brand soya sauce carried in Perekryostok, is produced in the Netherlands. The Russian brand Stebel Bambuka is cheapest, as are mainland Chinese brands found in the markets, such as Meiweixian. Rice noodles are easily found, often of the Thai Kitchen or the Blue Dragon brands.

But if anyone knows Chinese food, then they would remember the operative phrase is xinxian, or fresh. Moscow's food stores rarely carry fresh meats, and the Yevrazia market is where to get it. Meats are hung as in China's markets, and giblets, ox tongues and dripping red beef are in full view. Other stalls sell the leafy, green vegetables like bak choy or choy sum, found more often in Asian cuisines. Stores also carry staple Chinese snacks like crunchy prawn crackers.