Vladimir Putin is something of a mystery. To Russia — and the rest of the world — he is a man’s man; an adventurer, a soldier and a thinker, as strong on the world stage as he is tough in his private life. He’s physically imposing, capable of great feats of exertion and holds a dear love of extreme sports. He’s a public servant, an artist, a dear husband, a patriarch as patriarchal as they come. Or, at least, that’s what the newspapers like to say.
The truth is, aside from being an authoritarian leader of a fading superpower, not much is known about the real Putin. Being at the heart of what is, essentially, a cult of personality, not many people have a proper understanding of his real self — and that extends to his eating habits. What we do know comes from the media, Putin himself, and occasionally an insider who’s brave enough to shed some light on the man. What we do know, however, is this…
Everything is checked for poison
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a powerful despot in possession of a vicious regime must be in want of a food taster. Every leader insecure about their own safety since pretty much the dawn of time has employed somebody to taste or test the food they eat to safeguard against assassination. Hitler did it, Roman emperors did it — hell, even a president or two have done it.
No surprise, then, that Putin’s got a food taster too. As a precaution, everything the Russian President has placed in front of him has been tried and tested by someone whose job it is to take a hit should some cheeky rascal decide to spark a Third World War by murdering him. As his actions have become more and more well-known (and controversial) over the last few years, we’d say this isn’t so much paranoia as it is a sensible matter of safety.
Breakfast comes late
It’s always fascinating to learn — and judge — the morning habits of various world leaders. Pope Francis, for example, begins the day before dawn and eats a simple breakfast after prayers. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t eat breakfast at all. So what about Putin? Well, for all the macho posturing and shirtless horseback photo shoots, he begins his day quite leisurely indeed. In fact, he wakes up late enough that breakfast is served at noon, which is the sort of routine usually reserved only for college students and writers.
On the menu tends to be a large omelette or a bowl of porridge, with quail eggs and a glass of fruit juice on the side. The ingredients are shipped over from the Patriarch Kirill’s own farmland estates too, so you know he’s getting the good stuff. All very nice, but it’s not salmon caught by hand from the stream, or fruit wrenched from the jaws of a mountain bear, is it?
Coffee and a workout
The best part of waking up is caffeine in your cup, are we right? Especially if you’ve got a country that’s literally larger than Pluto to administrate. Yes, just like we common folks, Putin is partial to a cup of coffee in the morning, right after breakfast. Of course, his is served to him, and there are courtiers involved for some reason, and he swims for two hours afterwards, but, apart from that, it’s pretty much the classic morning slog, isn’t it? Hell, he’s even shown up at an actual coffee shop from time to time, just to prove how much of a regular fella he is.
Shortly after this, he’ll keep his job waiting just a bit longer while he spends some time in the gym and watches the news. Eventually, he’ll show up and get to work, though whether it’s the coffee that fuels him or the gargantuan lie-in is, frankly, anyone’s guess.
He eats healthily — probably
Here’s where things get tricky. You see, Vladimir Putin’s actual eating habits are a little hard to get a firm grasp of, and the reports we do get are, let’s just say, not entirely verifiable. Take this, for example — we’re told that Putin prefers to eat healthy food, including tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. He prefers fish, although his favorite meat is mutton. He avoids sweets. This information comes, however, from Pravda (the publication once known as the official propaganda rag of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party) which was itself reporting on Putin’s own words.
How can he prefer fish when his favorite meat is mutton? What kind of list is “tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce”? Does he really avoid sweets, considering what his favorite food (which we’ll get to later) is? Perhaps the only halfway convincing fact in Pravda’s report is that, according to his wife, Putin believes women must do all the work in the home and that they shouldn’t be praised so as not to spoil them. And that’s not a great thing to believe.
But he also eats steaks in the morning
More bizarre contradictions, here, with the revelation that Putin, the man who prefers fish to mutton and likes to stick to tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce (we’re not getting over that one) also seems to eat steaks for breakfast. That’s according to this ludicrous display for the media which Russia Today broadcast in 2015. The video depicts the Russian President taking a trip to the gym with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, pumping iron together before retiring to grill some steaks before sitting down to enjoy them with a cup of tea — as the tell-tale snaps of the photographers’ cameras chatter away in the background.
The video was released shortly after a dip in Putin’s ratings, as you might expect. So does Putin really love steak? Does he actually fire up the barbecue after his morning workout? Or is it just more posturing, fabricated to convince the Russian populace that he’s as “manly” a man as he is? We’ll let you figure that one out.
Kefir, fruit and not much else
Nailing down what Vladimir Putin likes to eat over the course of the rest of the day is, somehow, even trickier. According to the man himself, he enjoys trying local cuisine when he’s traveling and will eat fruit and drink kefir (a type of fermented milk drink which originates in the Caucasus Mountains) when he can, but otherwise tends not to eat in the afternoon at all, and often skips dinner because of his busy schedule. A word of advice, Vlad — maybe you’d get more time in the evening if you woke up a little earlier.
Kefir, funnily enough, is one of the few things that does seem to keep cropping up in varying reports on Putin’s diet. The yogurt-like drink has been spotted in media appearances and, according to his now ex-wife Ludmila Putina, the way to get Vladimir to listen to her was to wait at home with a glass of it on the kitchen table, ready and waiting.
Alcohol is mostly a no-go
The first President of post-Soviet Russia, Boris Yeltsin, was a notorious drinker, so much so that it led to numerous embarrassing incidents for the leader. This, as well as Russia’s well-documented alcoholism problem, is most likely the reason for Putin’s aversion to alcohol. As a result, some reports claim that he only drinks at formal receptions. You know what’s coming though, don’t you? Yes, indeed, other sources suggest that Putin, in fact, does like a drink every now and then, with photographs of the President enjoying a beer cropping up from time to time, as well as revelations such as that claiming Angela Merkel and Putin send each other German beer — seemingly the latter’s favorite alcoholic drink — on the regular.
Don’t expect to see him downing vodka anytime soon, though, no matter what the stereotypes may say. The alcoholism epidemic in Russia is fueled by the stuff, to the extent that the Moscow Times described it as “Putin’s worst enemy.”
His favorite haunts
Vladimir Putin, like the best of us, is also partial to a night out from time to time, and has at least one preferred restaurant in basically every major Russian city. In St. Petersburg, this is New Island, a dinner cruise which sails along the Neva River and serves a simple, refined menu which includes such delicacies as Kamchatka crab salad, veal Orloff and fillet of trout — Putin has visited the spot with both Gerhard Schröder and Staraya Tamozhnya in the past.
In Moscow, his favorite haunt is Tsarskaya Okhota off the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye highway, a high-class restaurant beloved by the political elite and known for its traditional Russian fare — and its pies. He’s also known to visit Pivnushka on occasion, a German beer hall and restaurant said to have the best bratwurst in Moscow. If nothing else, Vladimir seems to have a real thing for German food. Or maybe it’s just the beer.
He adores ice cream
According to Anya von Bremzen, a contributor to Food and Wine, Russians of the Soviet generation adore ice cream, despite Russia’s often below-freezing temperatures, saying, “We all ate it in winter, even though our parents forbade it because of the cold.” This truth, it would seem, extends to Putin, too. Time and time again, ice cream — specifically, pistachio-flavored ice cream — has cropped up at the top of the list of his favorite foods.
In the past, Putin has treated executives to ice cream during public appearances and has even gifted it to Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping, an act which, according to Russia Today led to a craze for Russian ice cream to develop in China — not exactly harmed by the relative affordability of Russian desserts compared to those from other sources. Despite all this, however, and his clear love for the stuff, Putin apparently cannot be served milk products while traveling. Shame, that.
He’s not afraid to be lavish
A good way to get a grasp of what sort of thing Vladimir Putin might eat on more formal occasions is to take a look at some of the menus from previous events and dinners. During a lunch at Podvorye, a restaurant in St. Petersburg, he ate fish soup to begin with, followed by cold cuts, smoked sturgeon with lemon and butter, then a range of desserts after.
At a dinner between him and George W. bush in 2008, the two leaders dined on venison filet with marinated mushrooms, veal tenderloin with baked potato, salmon and crab coulibiac and, finally, berry pie with ice cream. Finally, at another dinner meeting between Putin and Dubya in 2006, they ate a salad of tomatoes (with 50-year-old balsamic vinegar!), crawfish with gooseberry marmalade, oladi with caviar, whitefish, steak and strawberry ice cream.
General verdict? Russia may be known as a country of austere simplicity and Putin may project an image of likeable relatability onto his people, but damn, does the guy love to live in luxury. And that’s coming from the stuff we do know about him.