I recently traveled to the exotic Russian Far East to discover the best places to eat the famous Kamchatka crab of Russia. This crab is found in Kamchatka, which is the wildest region of Russia. Even Russians consider Kamchatka the last frontier of their country. The nature is incredible here but there is little sign of civilisation.
The jump-off point for Kamchatka is usually the city of Vladivostok, which is the largest city in the Russian Far East. Not many tourists make this their destination in Russia, but it’s actually a rather pretty town with four major ports on the Japan Sea. You can get here via direct flights from Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
WHERE TO EAT THE FAMOUS KAMCHATKA CRAB
One of the highlights of a visit to Vladivostok is the great seafood. Of course, Kamchatka crab is at the top of every foodie’s bucket list, if they actually make it here.
There’s Kamchatka crab for sale everywhere in Russia these days but most of it is frozen. For example, the weekend seafood markets around the Kremlin in Moscow usually have it. However the crabs you’ll find at these markets are usually days old, at best. Meanwhile, in the Far East of Russia, you can pick your own crabs alive from an aquarium and have these cooked on the spot. This makes a huge difference in taste.
I flew to Vladivostok for good food so I definitely wanted to eat at the best restaurants in the city for Kamchatka crabs. The crabs aren’t cheap by local standards so I had to look for relatively upscale restaurants. However the Primorsky region of Russia, of which Vladivostok is the capital, is not exactly known for luxury. It’s the Russian equivalent of the Wild West, after all.
Fortunately, I did find a handful of great restaurants that exceeded my expectations. The chefs knew how to cook the crabs just right. I did not want the crab overcooked or doused with sauce as they’re incredibly tasty as is.
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN VLADIVOSTOK
One of the best restaurants in Vladivostok is located in the Astoria Hotel. It’s casual but stylish, and it’s definitely one of the happening places in this city. When I looked at the menu, though, the first thing I saw was live Kamchatka crab cooked in chili sauce.
I said to my companion: “You must be kidding. Chili sauce is only for cheap crab, and it’s a crime to cook live crab this way.”
I insisted that the chefs hold off on the sauce and the crabs turned out wonderfully.
THE BEST RESTAURANT IN USSURIYSK
Not content with this initial meal, we scanned the Russian restaurant websites until we found one restaurant that matched my preferences exactly and had good reviews. Unfortunately, it was 77 kilometers away from Vladivostok, right next to the main square of a town called Ussuriysk.
So we drove 77 kilometers just for lunch in Ussuriysk, a nondescript town most people will never hear of. In fact, absolutely no English is spoken here. In fact, it’s so far out that it used to be part of China 1000 years ago.
WHERE TO EAT KAMCHATKA CRAB
But wow. That crab sure was worth the 154-kilometer roundtrip drive. It was so sublime that it only needed a dash of lemon. And it was so good that there was no conversation between us during the 90 minutes it took to vanquish the two-kilogram crab.
“This crab was just caught yesterday,” said the waitress. And I have to say: for a decent but not fancy restaurant in the middle of nowhere, with wooden benches instead of chairs and a haphazard collection of nautical items for decor, lunch sure wasn’t cheap. But it was certainly worth it.
THE BEST SCALLOPS IN THE WORLD
In fact, it was so good that I wanted to go back the next day to eat the crab again. However instead we ended up driving back to Vladivostok where we found the fanciest restaurant I never imagined, right next to the port.
We knew from the outset that it was different from any other restaurant because of its cool design. Also, fashionably dressed people kept entering the restaurant for lunch. We didn’t even need a minute to decide to enter.
What a surprise. It turned out to be the branch of the trendy London restaurant Zuma. It was so fancy that it was disconcertingly out of place in Vladivostok. Nevertheless, this formula seems to work because the restaurant was packed even before noon. We wouldn’t have gotten a table without reservations if we hadn’t arrived a few minutes after the doors opened.
They had crabs on the menu but we decided instead to order the famous Primorsky region scallops. This is another local delicacy and these are considered by some to be the best scallops in the world. I just had to try it before returning to Tokyo.
Everything we ate at Zuma in Vladivostok was very good, particularly because most of the seafood were fished out of the aquarium just before cooking. The plating, too, was up to international standards. So we had the best of both worlds at this restaurant.
Afterwards, we walked by the port and watched local families playing on the beach. After two hours in a sophisticated dining scene that could be anywhere in the world, we were back in the Russian Far East again.
It was a cold day but the sun was shining, so we bought ice cream from a vendor and sat on a ledge by the sea. Russian ice cream is another great favorite of mine, by the way, because it’s still done the old fashioned way with very little sugar. It was our last day in Vladivostok and this was the perfect way to end another great food trip in my Travelife.