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Russian Restaurants Cater to Orthodox Lent Observers

On Sunday, many people across Russia will celebrate Orthodox Easter. The day will also mark the end of Lent, a period during which many believers fast and abstain from certain kinds of food, including meat. Lent is becoming popular with people in the formerly Communist country, and many restaurants are trying to cater to their taste.

Broccoli sushi. Walnut-stuffed eggplant. Fried fruit with berry sauce and sherbet. These are a few of the items available at restaurants that offer special menus for Orthodox Russians who are observing Lent.

During this 40-day period preceding Orthodox Easter, believers are not supposed to eat meat products, fish - except on certain days - milk products, eggs, drink alcohol or smoke.

Lent has become popular with many Russians who are, after 70 years of communism, rediscovering religion.

Tatiana Tselikovskaya, 26, is a manager at the Starlite Diner, which has a vegetable curry plate on its Lent menu. She herself is a strict observer of Lent, and says some people fast because it's trendy, and others out of religious conviction.

"From the one side, it's popular to follow Lent," she said. "From the other side, many Russians are going back to their roots. And we want to be hospitable."

Being hospitable to believers also makes good financial sense. Although for many years most Russians couldn't afford to eat at restaurants, the Russian economy has steadily improved in the last three years. As a result, the numbers who eat out are increasing.

Natalya Kashemirova, 28, is a manager at the Yakitoria Sushi and Sports Bar Restaurant. She says 80 percent of the customers order something from the Lent menu, which features tofu sushi.

Ms. Kashemirova says many restaurants started offering the Lent menus because they noticed during Lent the number of customers was dropping off as people stayed at home to eat.

But Ms. Kashemirova says that not all people who order the Lenten menu are doing so for religious reasons. She says it's also a good way to lose some weight.

Ms. Tselikovskaya from the Starlite Diner says this isn't necessarily bad. "You can start from this. You can start from refusing of food," she said. "Maybe next year you will go to the church."

Whatever the reason, on Sunday, people across Russia will eagerly sit down to a full meal. Many of the restaurants, however, say they will keep some of the Lent items on the menu because they have become so popular.