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Home » Electronics Theory » USB Pinout, Wiring and How It Works
USB Pinout, Wiring and How It Works
What is a usb.
The easiest way to connect computer peripherals is through a Universal Serial Bus (USB). The USB is a plug-and-play interface between the PC and the peripherals. The main advantage of USB is that the device can be plugged in or plugged out without the need of restarting the PC
USB is the short form of Universal Serial Bus, a standard port that helps to connect computer peripherals like scanner, printer, digital camera, flash drive and more to the Computer. The USB standard supports the data transfer at the rate of 12 Mbps.
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USB specification and bandwidth
Two important aspects are its support capability and total bandwidth. It is capable of supporting 127 devices and has a total bandwidth of 12 Mbit per second which is equal to 1.5 MB per second. Working of a 12 Mbit (full speed device) or a 1.5 Mbit (low speed devices) depends on the total bandwidth of the USB.
USB 2.0 has a maximum signaling rate of 480 Mbit/s and USB 3.0 has a usable data rate of up to 4 Gbit/s (500 MB/s). Who knows what the future reserves?
Each USB device uses the standard A type connector to the USB host or Hub through A type receptacle. The other end of the cable has series B connector which is used to plug into the B type receptacle.
A connector is used for the upstream connection towards the host and B connector for the downward stream to the USB device. When the device is connected to the PC, it activates the host to recognize it. The PC detects the device and manages a control flow between the device and computer.
PC also manages the data transfer between the device and PC. Once detected, the PC sends data to the USB system software to recognize it which then identify the device and assign an address. This address is used to detect the particular USB device. The software controls the input and output data between the PC and device. If the software fails to assign the address, PC will not detect the device.
USB A, B 2.0 and 3.0 Cable Pinout
The USB cable provides four pathways- two power conductors and two twisted signal conductors. The USB device that uses full speed bandwidth devices must have a twisted pair D+ and D- conductors. The data is transferred through the D+ and D- connectors while Vbus and Gnd connectors provide power to the USB device.
USB A&B male & female pinout
USB 3 female pinout
USB A Wiring Connection
The USB cable has typically four wires to connect the A type connector
Wire colors and pins
- Pin 1 (Red): +5V
- Pin 2 (White): Data –
- Pin 3 (Green): Data +
- Pin 4 (Black): GND
The USB Hub is used to connect many devices to the PC using a single USB connector. The hub can detect the attachment or detachment of devices in each port of the Hub. It also distributes power to all the devices connected to it and also detects low speed and full speed devices.
It has two components – A Hub controller and a Hub repeater. The controller enables the Hub to communicate with the PC for configuration and control of devices attached to it. The repeater has hardware support for reset, suspend and resume signals.
I recommend you to use a hub with an external power supply if you want to connect more than 2 or 3 devices because they will absorb a large amount of current and the USB port cannot provide it by itself.
USB Flash Drive
The most commonly used USB device is the Flash drive the commonly called Pen drive. It is a mass storage device capable of functioning like a hard disk of computer.
article updated and edited by P. Marian on Oct 15, 2014
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Recent posts, 13 comments.
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I’m just a 14 year old kid who likes to take things apart and I don’t know what you’re all arguing about.
I would like to know a PCB design with components for a flash disk which have USB & OTG ports option.
Thanks for the wiring info! I found mistakes in text books where for argument sake they had the resistor colouring codes mixed up! I did make the correction in the book and told the librarian as this confuse the beginners. So we are just human but before criticising
I have updated the article with the female USB pinout and USB 3 also and wrote under each image what it represents, maybe you’ll understand now.
Your USB wire/color image is INCORRECT! D+ and D- should be reversed. Note that this image is one of the first to appear when you Google Image Search for USB pinout!!!
Please accept my apologies, I didn’t read your comment carefully the first time, afterwards saw your comment with the picture (it was pending for approval). I just updated the article with a picture of an USB cable and its (probably) correct wiring connection.
D Mohankumar, the author of this article, is not an active member of this website because he made many mistakes.
Wow. Let me get this straight.
People come and give you the correct answer in comments so you don’t mislead your readers and anyone else who sees your photo high up in a Google Image search. You tell them they are wrong without doing research to see they are actually correct. They correct you again. You fix the problem and then tell them not to come back any more. Doesn’t seem like you have much professionalism on the journalism side.
How about a response of “Thanks for clearing that up guys, I appreciate your input!”
Bottom line. I’m glad to have informed you to make the change and potentially helped others make the same mistake I made years ago.
If the information is wrong please visit other websites and don’t come here again, ok?
We are referring to THIS image= https://www.electroschematics.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/USB-cable-wiring.png
What? LOL are you kidding me?!?! How do you run a website like this with this lack of knowledge. I dare you to find ANY PCB with any USB cable that would work correctly if you followed your colors correctly. Male or Female connectors mean nothing when it comes to the Green and White data lines. Go ahead, google search USB colors and what the D+ and D- lines are on every website in the world besides yours.
Probably you do not know that there 2 types: female and male USBs (like any other connector), that is why you think this is wrong. The one presented in the picture is the male cable (you can see the cable clearly) and the pinout is correct.
Your USB colors have been wrong for years. Just spoke with a buddy who followed your site and he soldered cables on wrong. I bring up Google image search occasionally to see usb colors for green and white and every time I see your image I know to do opposite. change it. I can’t imagine how many people have screwed up cables because of this image.
Hello Dr.Mohankumar: I know USB is patented and you need to pay even if u want to experiment with the USB port even if having educational/non-profit applications. But I was wondering , which is completely legal, I had heard about using USB port with Linux to a pheripheral which can be controlled with those ATMEL USB interface chips (I don’t know the exact family).I’m not sure if they come with a driver, I guess so, but I read (don’t remember where, sorry) that the code registred that appears in ur PC is the atmel chip one. HAve you heat about that??
On the other hand, doing a USB to RS232 interface could be the other way to doing a project of making my own peripheral. But, does it implies driver problems?? How can I now control the USB port here???
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USB Pinout | USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Type A, Type B, Mini-B, Micro-B, USB-C
- March 28, 2022
- By Leela Prasad
Universal Serial Bus or simply USB is a popular computer interface that we use to connect a variety of peripherals and devices. Some of the things that we connect using USB are Mice, Keyboard, Printers, Game Controllers , Audio Devices, and many more. Apart from computing devices (laptops, tablets, mobile phones), you can find USBs in cars, bikes, power banks, LED Lights, chargers etc. Depending on the type of application and need, there are several USB ports (USB Type A, Type B, micro-USB, Mini-USB, Type-C etc.). If you are working on anything related to USB, then a knowledge of the USB Pinout is crucial.
In this guide, let us take a quick look at the popular USB Ports and their pinouts. If you are interested in learning about different types of computers ports, then take a look at this 16 Different Types of Computer Ports guide.
A Brief Note on USB
Before the development of USB, we had to deal with separate ports for different types of devices. For example, mice and keyboards had PS/2 Ports, Modems has Serial Ports, Printers had Parallel Ports to name a few.
But with the introduction of USB, this has changed completely. You just need a single port to connect all the aforementioned and many other peripherals and devices to a computer.
From an end-user’s perspective, USB is an easy-to-use interface that supports many devices, is hot pluggable and no fiddling with configuration or settings. You plug-in a device and it just works.
All is not good and positive about USB. There are some negatives as well. For example, the main problem with USB is the different types of connectors it has for different devices (USB A, B, C, Micro, Mini etc.).
This is now changing with the development of USB Type C. We can use USB-C for data transfer, power and charging, connecting to displays, docking stations, etc. with a variety of devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, computers, cars, external drives, power banks etc.). We believe that USB is finally living up to its “Universal” name with USB Type C.
Different Types of USB Ports
We can divide USB connectors and ports into three types: Type A, Type B and Type C. In both Type A and Type B, there are again three different sizes of connectors intended for different classes of devices. They are: Regular, Mini and Micro.
The connectors are also different based on the version of the USB i.e., USB 1.1 and USN 2.0 have a similar connectors and ports but when it comes to USB3.0, they are completely different. USB Type C sorted this whole mess with a single connector.
Before looking at the USB pinout of different USB ports, here is an image of all the USB Connectors.
Let us now take a look at the pinouts of different USB Ports. We are mentioning the USB Pinout only for the female side of the connection. The pinout of the male side will be identical except that it will be a mirror image of the female side.
USB is the most popular type of connector at the moment. With USB Type C, it is very close to achieving the true “universal” stature for data, power display and many more. In this guide, we saw the basics of USB, different types of USB ports, USB Pinout of different connectors and receptacles.
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- 16 Types of Computer Ports and Their Functions
- What is USB C? (Introduction, Versions, Pros and Cons)
- What Are the Different USB Types?
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USB Pinout: The Beginner’s Guide
Nowadays, it’s easy to complete projects that involve creating a physical connection between a host controller and several other bus-powered devices because of the USB interface.
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and has since replaced its predecessors (FireWire, RS-232 serial, and even parallel) as the primary interface for connecting a host to a device.
Normally, the architecture of a USB system includes a host controller, USB ports, and a wide variety of devices. Also, there are cases where you can add additional USB network hubs to create a tree connection structure.
However, that’s just the surface of it all.
So, in this article, we’ll explain everything about the USB and give different USB examples for your circuits.
USB Flash drive
The USB has four shielded wires that work as pins. Two of these wires are for power supply, while the other two are for differential data signal pairs. Check out the table below for the full USB pinout.
How Does a USB Work?
plugging a USB pen drive on a laptop
Like all connectors, all types of USB connectors have male and female types, making sure you connect your devices in the right direction.
It’s essential to make correct USB connections to allow the system to follow the required USB protocol. So, to establish a connection, USB remote devices feature what we call an upstream connection. These remote devices use this upstream connection to connect to a host.
Now, the hosts also have downstream connections that allow them to connect to the remote devices.
Furthermore, you can’t use upstream and downstream connections interchangeably. This helps you avoid misconnections and makes sure you connect the USB cable only in the right direction.
It also helps you avoid several issues like illegal loopback connections and connecting a downstream port to another downstream port.
How it really Works
First, a USB device will show its maximum speed by using pull-up resistors to draw the “D+” and “D-” terminals to 3.3V. Now, the host or hub will also use these pull-up resistors to detect when you connect a compound device to its port. Thus, without a pull-up resistor, the USB won’t detect your connected device or if you have a broken device or broken connector .
So, when you plug in an external device for the first time, the host device scans it and loads the correct driver version required to run the device. To do this, the host uses a product ID/vendor ID (PID/VID)—which the connected hardware or device supplies. Once the host completes the loading of necessary device drivers, the hardware/device will be ready for use.
Note: USB host controllers have their specifications. We have the Universal Host Controller Interface (UHCI), which works for all USB types, the Open Host Controller Interface (OHCI), which works with USB 1.1, and the Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI), which works with USB 2.0.
USB Connector Types
Originally, the USB cable could only be one of two types, and these two types included “Type A” and “Type B”. Afterward, we got the USB C type, which boasted a better data transfer speed with a more robust system.
Check out the table below for the full overview of the different USB types.
Type-A USB Connector Pinout
Type-A USB is the most popular type of USB connector. Plus, you can find them on host controllers, computers, flash drives, and several other items. Also, you can only make downstream connections with the Type-A USB as its sole use is for controllers and hubs.
Type-A USB connectors are bigger than other connectors and have flat and rectangular shapes. Plus, friction holds this connector in place, making it easy to connect and disconnect. However, using it in areas where your equipment might vibrate isn’t a great idea.
The Type-A USB has two versions: Male and female versions. The male version is the plug, while the female version is what we know as the socket or port.
Female connector versions are what we find on host controllers, while male connector versions are usually on devices like memory sticks, keyboards, mice, and other connections to storage devices.
- Works in most personal computers.
- Also works in television and music systems.
- You can also find them on gaming consoles and almost all chargers for mobile portable devices.
Type-A USB Pinout
The older versions of the Type-A connector have four pins, while the newer versions have nine pins. Here’s a table showing all the pins of the Type-A connector.
Note: all generations of the Type-A USB connector have pins 1 to 4 while third-generation connectors have pins 5-9.
The USB-B is the second connector type that mostly works for connecting peripherals like printers and scanners. Plus, their pinouts have a different arrangement.
It has an almost square shape with a slight bevel at the top end corners of the connector. Also, it uses friction to remain in place when connected.
The Type-B USB port is an upstream connector that you can only find on peripheral devices. Thus, most Type-B USB applications require A to B USB cables.
Here’s an interesting fact:
Type-B USB canceled out the chances of creating a connection between two host computers. Thus, helping to prevent damages.
This connector mainly works for peripherals like printers and scanners.
Like the Type-A USB, the older versions of Type-B have four pins, while the newer 3.0 versions have nine pins. Here’s a table showing all the pins:
Also, there is a second type of Type-B connector that has two extra pins:
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The USB Type-C is the USB specification that’s slowly replacing the USB-B. It’s a tiny 24-pin reversible plug that works for USB cabling and devices.
Type-C USBs can serve as connectors for both hosts and devices. Plus, you can find Type-C USBs in most recent mobile devices.
USB-C Connector Pinout
The Type-C USB has 24 pins which you can connect reversibly. Here’s a table showing the full list of pins:
Micro USB Pinout
A smaller connector became necessary as the technology required smaller USB sizes for many items like modern mobile phones and audio devices. Thus, the USB Microcontroller was born.
The micro USB has both Type-A and Type-B USB versions available, like the 1.0 micro-USB and 2.0 micro-USB. However, these versions are smaller, and you can use them for much thinner lines of equipment.
Additionally, the micro USB is the USB standard and offers better transfer rates from an external source.
Standard older micro USB connectors have five pins, while the less common 3.0 version has ten pins. Here’s a table showing the pins of the micro USB connector:
The fourth pin mode is what we call the USB on-the-go (OTG). It allows you to switch between the peripheral and host roles on your devices. It’s also what enables devices to decide which will act as a power source once connected. For instance, plugging an android phone into a laptop. The laptop will charge the phone if you have a charge-only cable, not the phone charging the laptop.
It’s worth mentioning that sometimes, it’s possible to use USB A to USB A cables to establish connections between a computer or USB device to another USB device with an A-style female port. So you can transfer data between both systems.
However, you shouldn’t use the type A to A cable connection to create connections between two computers or a USB hub and two computers. Why? Well, creating such a connection would mean the cable would receive equal amounts of voltage (5V) from both computers. Thus, connecting both power supplies and causing irreparable damage and other issues. Sometimes, it may even cause a fire hazard.
Well, that wraps up this article. Feel free to reach us if you have any questions, and we’ll be happy to help.
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Type B USB Connectors & Pinouts
Of the five types of USB connectors , Type B is the original “standard” USB connector for peripherals. Today, it’s still commonly used to connect printers to other devices where space isn’t an issue.
What is USB Type B?
It debuted as a partner connector to Type A ; Type B connectors clarified which end of the cable should hook up to the host device and which to the peripheral. Type B connectors also eliminated the possibility of connecting two host computers to each other.
Here are a few updates we’ve seen in Type B technology:
- Each successive generation has come with increased data transfer rates.
- Versions 1.1 and 2.0 maintained the same form factor, but USB 3.0 changed the shape and introduced a second variety called Powered-B.
- Older Type B plugs are compatible with 3.0 receptacles, but 3.0 plugs are not backward compatible with older generation receptacles.
USB Type B Pinout
The Type B connector has four pins in its older generations and nine pins in standard 3.0:
Looking at the Type B connector on a cable, the pins are numbered 1-4, ascending, clockwise from top left in the central rectangular portion of all generations. The third generation adds a row of pins above, numbered 9-5 descending from the left. A second type of Type B connector, the Powered-B, adds pins 10 and 11 on the left and right of the central rectangle, respectively.
Type B USB connectors have been a staple of certain electronic devices, but manufacturers are slowly phasing it out in favor of newer, sleeker connector types like USB C.
Fig 1: USB Type B diagram
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Usb-c (type-c) pinout.
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USB type-c details
Developed at roughly the same time as the USB 3.1 specification, but distinct from it, the USB Type-C Specification 1.0 defines a new small reversible-plug connector for USB devices. The Type-C plug connects to both hosts and devices, replacing various Type-B and Type-A connectors and cables with a standard meant to be future-proof, similar to Apple Lightning and Thunderbolt . The 24-pin double-sided connector provides four power/ground pairs, two differential pairs for USB 2.0 data bus (though only one pair is implemented in a Type-C cable), four pairs for high-speed data bus, two sideband use pins, and two configuration pins for cable orientation detection, dedicated biphase mark code (BMC) configuration data channel, and VCONN +5 V power for active cables. Type-A and Type-B adaptors and cables will be required for older devices in order to plug into Type-C hosts; adaptors and cables with a Type-C receptacle are not allowed.
USB type-C pinout
Pins A2,A3,A10,A11,B2,B3,B10,B11 are not used with USB 2.0-only devices.
User uploaded image:
See also USB type C full-featured cable.
- USB-C (type-C) full-featured cable pinout
- USB-C (Type-C) to USB-A charge/data cable pinout
- USB-C to micro-USB 2.0 cable pinout
- USB-C to USB 3.2 cable pinout
Thunderbolt Pinout (Thunderbolt 1, 2, 3, and 4)
The Thunderbolt pinout shows that Thunderbolt 1 and 2 have 20 pins whereas Thunderbolt 3 and 4 have 24 pins.
In early 2011, Apple became the first manufacturer to use Intel’s Thunderbolt technology; which is an external data port that can be plugged into any computer for high-speed transfers. It was initially called Light Peak because Intel intended it to rely on fiber optics; hence the reference to light in the name. As Intel developed its product, it got a new name: Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt 1 and 2 Pinout
Thunderbolt 3 and 4 pinout, thunderbolt features.
Want to know more about Thunderbolt in general? Read this article: What is Thunderbolt Port and Cable?
Thunderbolt 1 was launched in the year 2011, while Thunderbolt 2 was launched in the year 2013. Both Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 have the same connector, which is similar to that of DisplayPort. While the speed of Thunderbolt 1 is limited to 10 Gbps per channel, Thunderbolt 2 gives 20 Gbps speed per channel. ( Read more )
Both have a 20-pin connector as shown in the figure below.
The table below gives the pinout of the Thunderbolt 1 and 2 connector.
Want to know how thunderbolt differs from USB-C? Thunderbolt vs USB-C (11 Key Differences)
The upgraded version of thunderbolt, which is Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 uses the USB Type – C connector which has 24 pins. Thunderbolt 3 was launched in the year 2015, while Thunderbolt 4 was launched in the year 2020. Both have a speed of 40 Gbps.
The pinout of Thunderbolt 3 and 4 is given in the figure below.
For a detailed comparison between all 4 types read this article: Difference Between 4 Types of Thunderbolt (1,2,3,4)
Thunderbolt is one of the advanced versions among the available ports. Some of the features that make it stand out are discussed below:
- It is designed to support several other standards like USB Type C, DisplayPort, PCIe, etc. Hence the input/output devices in any of these standards are good to interface via Thunderbolt connections.
- It supports two 4K monitors simultaneously with a speed of 10Gbps, which is simply amazing and endorsing, especially for gamers.
- Thunderbolt is the fastest peripheral interface that achieves the data transfer speed in the range of 10Gbps to 40Gbps which is several times larger than the other available peripherals.
- Thunderbolt cables are capable to deliver power up to 100W so that they can charge devices that even require a significant power range, like laptops.
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2018 Primetime Emmy & James Beard Award Winner
A History of Moscow in 13 Dishes
Jun 06 2018.
War, hunger, and some of the world’s great doomed social experiments all changed the way that Moscow eats.
Moscow, the European metropolis on Asia’s western flank, has always been a canvas for competing cultures. Its cuisine is no different. The ancient baselines of winter grains, root vegetables, and cabbage acquired scaffolding from both directions: eastern horsemen brought meat on sticks, western craftsmen brought pastries, and courtly French chefs came and drowned it all in cream.
History has a place on the plate here, as well: war, hunger, and some of the world’s great doomed social experiments from Serfdom to Communism to Bandit Capitalism all changed the way that Moscow eats. So in the spirit of all of those grand failures, we—a Russian chef and an American writer—will attempt here to reduce the towering history of this unknowable city to 13 dishes, with some Imperial past but a special emphasis on the more recent decades of culinary paroxysms as Moscow emerged from its Soviet slumber.
To visualize the long marriage between French and Russian cuisines, picture Peter the Great, on a diplomatic sojourn to Paris in 1717, a “ stranger to etiquette ”, meeting the 7-year-old boy-king Louis XV and lifting him in the air out of sheer elán. These things were simply not done, and yet, there they were. Peter’s joyful (and often envious) fascination with all things French took hold, among other places, in the kitchen. He brought French chefs back to his palaces, and then the lesser nobility followed suit, and when the first restaurants emerged in Moscow, they also spoke French. The Hermitage Restaurant, which was open from 1864 until history intervened in 1917, had a Francophone Belgian named Lucien Olivier as a chef, and he made a salad that was a perfectly unrestrained combination of French flavors and Russian ingredients: grouse! Veal tongue! Proto-mayonnaise! The ingredients now tend toward the pedestrian—boiled beef, dill pickles, various vegetables all bound with mayonnaise—and it has become a staple of Russian cuisine, especially on New Year’s. And yes, if you’ve ever seen the lonely Ensalada Rusa wilting behind the sneezeguard of a Spanish tapas bar, that is supposed to be a successor to the Olivier. But in Moscow, you should eat Matryoshka ’s version, which is not the original recipe but has some of that imperial richness: crayfish, quail, sturgeon caviar, and remoulade, all under a translucent aspic skirt, for 990₽ ($16).
There’s a type of expression around bottling things—bottled lightning, summer in a jar, etc.—that feels very apt here. What exactly is bottled with vareniye (jam)? A lot more than just fruit. These jams, which tend to be thinner than western varieties—with whole berries or fruit chunks in syrup—are bottled with a lot of Russian identity. There’s the Russian love of countryside. Deep dacha culture of summer cottages and personal orchards. Traditional naturopathy (raspberry vareniye taken with tea will fight fever). And above all, friendship is bottled here— vareniye made from the overabundance of fruit at one’s dacha is the most typical Russian gift, real sharing from real nature, even in the often-cynical heart of Europe’s largest megacity. Visitors who are short on lifelong friendships in Moscow can pick some up fine vareniye at any Lavka Lavka shop (we recommend the delicate young pine cone jam) or, curiously enough, at many Armenian stores.
The clinical-sounding title of Lev Auerman’s 1935 classic Tekhnologiya Khlebopecheniya ( Bread Baking Technology) doesn’t promise scintillation. But Auerman’s recipe for rye bread changed Russian bread forever. An older legend had it that the bread was baked dark for mourning by a woman widowed in the battle of Borodino in 1812, but the real birth of the bread came from Auerman’s recipes. A modification on sweet, malted Baltic breads, Auerman’s Borodinsky bread was 100% rye and used caraway or anise. The recipe has evolved a bit—today it is 80% rye and 20% wheat high extraction flour and leans more on coriander than caraway. But its flavor profile (sweet, chewy) as well as its characteristic L7 mold —a deep brick of bread—has made it easily identifiable as the traditional, ubiquitous, every-occasion bread of Moscow. You can buy it everywhere, but the Azbuka Vkusa high-end markets have a reliably good sliced version.
Look closely at those Russians who have followed their money to live in London, or are vacationing in Cyprus or Antalya. See the slight melancholy that not even cappuccinos or sunshine can erase. It’s not because Russians are gloomy by nature; it’s probably because there is no real grechka outside of Russia and Ukraine, and that is devastating. Buckwheat grain and groats— grechka (or grecha in Saint Petersburg)—are deep in the culture. It’s a wartime memory: May 9 Victory Day celebrations feature military kitchens serving buckwheat like they did at the front. It’s a little slice of Russian history that lies somewhere between oatmeal and couscous. In Moscow, eat it at Dr. Zhivago with milk (180₽/US$2.90) or mushrooms (590₽/US$9.50), and rejoice.
This fantastically expressive egg-and-canned-fish salad is a testament to Soviet ingenuity—it’s the ultimate puzzle to make a drastically limited food chain sparkle—and the universal human thrill of layering foods. The geological creation starts with a base layer of fish, then layers of grated cooked potato, mayonnaise, shredded cheese, grated carrots, sweet onion, diced egg whites and then capped with a brilliant yellow crumble of boiled egg yolk. It sits there on the plate, dazzling like the flowering mimosa tree it is named after. The taste? Well, it’s comfort food. Pick some up to go at any Karavaev Brothers location —the excellent deli chain sells it for 650₽ (US$10.40) a kilo.
It seems odd, almost impossible, to imagine a time in Russia before shashlik. It’s meat on a stick, something that all humans should have had on the menu since at least the time of Prometheus. But shashlik as we know it know—cubes of marinated meat cooked with vegetables over a mangal grill—didn’t really take off in Russia until the early 1900s. And due to a lack of suitable meat in much of the Soviet era (there were no meat cattle herds, only dairy), we’re starting the clock on shashlik in the late Soviet period. Despite its relatively recent (re)appearance, it is now the ubiquitous grill phenomenon of Russia, a welcome ritual of summer.
Much of Russian cuisine has borrowed heavily from Central Asia and further east over the millennia ( pelmeni anyone?), but plov is a striking example of an entire eastern dish making its way directly into Russian households. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and upheaval in many Central Asian Soviet Republics, mass economic migration to Moscow took off in the late 80s and early 90s. Central Asians today are the lifeblood of the Moscow labor force (part of up to 10-12 million Central Asian migrants living in Russia), and plov—rice steamed in stock with meat and vegetables—has jumped from the migrant communities to the homes of Muscovites everywhere. It has developed an unfortunate reputation for being a food that even finicky kids will eat, so there is a lot of harried domestic plov being made. But you can get a fully expressed Uzbek version at Danilovsky Market, online at plov.com , or at Food City—the surf-and-turf Tsukiji of Moscow.
The Big Mac
So many of the difficulties in American-Russian relations come down to one foundational attitude problem: The Americans (that’s half of this writing duo) were incredibly, distressingly smug through the entire fall of the Soviet Union. We mistook Soviet failure for an American victory, and that made all the difference. What does that have to do with a Big Mac? Well, when Russia’s first McDonald’s opened on Pushkinskaya in 1990 and 5000 people turned out to wait in line for the first taste of America, we back home in the states mistook it for culinary and commercial superiority. But there was something more complicated happening: Russians had been denied Western goods for so long and with such force that any outside identity was much-needed oxygen. And the long-term victory, as McDonald’s has continued to thrive in post-Soviet Russia, really belongs to the local franchise, which used higher-quality ingredients than in the U.S. and created a chain that was successful not because of its American identity but because of its Russian modifications. We wouldn’t recommend eating at any McDonald’s, especially not when there is Teremok for your fast-food needs, but having a soda in the original location is one way to sit and ponder the sin of hubris. And to use the free toilet and Wi-Fi.
The crown jewel of Levantine meat preparations, perhaps the single greatest street meat in the world: Shawarma. It first came to Moscow with a shawarma joint across from the Passazh mall, opened in the early 90s by Syrian cooks who dazzled masses with their sizzling, spinning, spiced meat emporium. Lines that stretched into the hundreds of people weren’t uncommon in those heady early days. And even though the original spot closed many years ago, Moscow shawarma only grew from there, mutating into the beast it is today, where you’re likely to find chicken, cabbage, mayo and a thin tomato sauce all combining to make the Levant a distant memory.
Fish Tartare aka Sashimi
One result of the aforementioned American smugness is that the West seemed surprised at how rapidly 1990s Russia assimilated some of the most hardcore capitalist traits, including but not limited to conspicuous consumerism. Moscow’s new elite was very, very good at that. What could be more conspicuous that recreating a restrained, exclusive seafood cuisine from Japan in the chaotic, landlocked megacity of Moscow? The very improbability of high-end sushi and sashimi in Moscow fueled much of its allure, and even though the trends have moved on from sushi, you can still tell the emotional attachment that the oligarch class has to those formative wastes of money. Sumosan restaurant started in Moscow back in 1997 and has since expanded to Monte Carlo and Londongrad , where they serve a dish that they call Fish Tartare, among others, in their restaurants and through their private jet catering service.
Blue Cheese roll
If the early elite sushi restaurants in Moscow were the frivolous edge of a food phenomenon, then Yakitoriya , a chain which started in the late 1990s, democratized it with affordable sushi rolls geared to local tastes. The Blue Cheese Roll, available now on their menu, seems like the apex (or nadir) of the Russianized roll: salmon, smoked eel, cucumber, cream cheese, Blue Cheese sauce. It might not be Jiro’s dream, but a true Russian middle class, one that can work honestly, earn meaningful salaries, and have a freaky sushi roll at the end of the week just like the rest of us—that’s something worthing dreaming for. Blue Cheese Roll, Yakitoriya, 417₽ (US$6.70)
If you’re American, have you ever wondered why tacos took over middle America but sopes remain virtually unknown? It’s curious how a country can assimilate some foods from their neighbors and but remain blissfully ignorant of others. That may explain what took place two years ago in Moscow, when the city seemingly discovered, as if for the first time, the bagged awesomeness that is khinkali , a soup dumpling from Russia’s southern neighbor Georgia. It became very trendy very quickly, and khinkali joints sprouted across Moscow like griby after a rain. But it wasn’t just that dish: what they were serving was a bit of the imagined southern, sybaritic lifestyle of the Caucasus, as promised in restaurant names like Est’ Khinkali Pit Vino ( Eat Khinkali Drink Wine ). Your best bets are at the stately Sakhli , around 100₽ (US$1.60) per soft, fulsome dumpling, or the more modernized Kafe Khinkalnaya on Neglinnaya Street , 100₽ (US$0.80) a dumpling.
We have named burrata—yes, that Italian alchemy of cheese and cream—the Perfect Dish of Moscow 2018, if only because it is the Dish of the Moment, ready to be enjoyed at the height of its faddishness now, and equally ready to be replaced when the city decides to move on. Read Anna Maslovskaya’s masterful breakdown of why—and where—to eat burrata in Moscow.
Top image: Olivier salad with chicken. Photo by: Kvector /Shutterstock
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The Perfect Dish: The Moscow Burrata
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