Forget everything you think you know about Russia.
Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is the most un-Russian of cities.
Sochi is warm; subtropical in fact, with palm trees, exotic flowers, and tea plantations. Sochi is the warmest city to ever host the winter games. Sochi is so warm that organizers began stockpiling snow last year, plowing it up under frozen tarps, and snow-making experts from the world’s top ski resorts have descended on the city for a massive snow-making operation that converts 12,000 gallons of water a minute into snow. More importantly, the climate means that Sochi’s local cuisine doesn’t rely on the smoked meats and cellared root vegetables that are so ubiquitous in the rest of the country. Instead, Sochi’s markets are filled with locally-fished Black Sea flounder, sturgeon, and mussels. Citrus, berries, and tropical fruits grow wild, and local artisans sell their own wine, cheese, and caviar.
The Olympics mark the city’s global debut
In a country that’s known for its dour national character, Sochi seems downright cheerful. The city hopes to use the spotlight to market itself as a carefree playground for an elite, cosmopolitan crowd. It aspires to a St. Tropez or Cannes kind of tourism, calling the region the ‘Russian Riviera,’ and plopping outdoor café tables on every block of sidewalk. There are pricey steakhouses, sushi bars, Italian and French restaurants, and of course Starbucks outlets are everywhere. But the refinement is more of the homegrown variety. There are no Michelin stars, and traditional dishes like kebabs, borscht, and blini tend to be your best bet.
If you’re heading to Sochi (which requires you to disregard the security-related travel alert posted by the U.S. State Department, ignore the god-awful human rights policies of President Putin, and banish the image of the infamous ‘twin toilets’ of the Olympic Village from your mind), you’ll find more than 500 English language listings and reviews for Sochi restaurants on Trip Advisor.