Local food culture in St. Petersburg, Russia. Food tours

When visiting a new place, we usually try to get some authentic experience which necessarily includes tasting local food. Being famous for its history, St. Petersburg lags behind when it comes to cuisine. However, just like palaces and churches have their own history, so do a great number of cafes, bars and restaurants which open cultural and social codes that help with understanding our history.

During the era of the Russian Empire there were a lot of poets, writers, actors and musicians living in St. Petersburg; there even was a special name for that elite - so called ‘artistic Bohemia’. They used to meet up in cafes, some of which still exist downtown, for instance, the cafe “Podval brodyachey sobaki” (“Vault of a stray dog”) and cafe “Literaturnoye” (“Literary”). The imperial poet Pushkin, one of the most prominent Russian poets of all time, used to recite his poems there. Later on during the Soviet time the cafe also hosted Vladimir Mayakovsky as well as many other outstanding figures of the Russian artistic circles.

The city has also formed its own very special culture of tea and coffee drinking which includes eating some sweets as a dessert. Spending time in a cafe with some cakes/cookies/chocolate discussing the latest news with friends is a part of life for many St. Petersburg residents. Therefore, you can find a lot of local confectioneries such as “North” (Sever) that suggest trying locally produced pies and other kinds of desserts.

The Soviet time did not change this custom of St. Petersburg residents; in fact, a new kind of desserts appeared. It was called “pyshka”, which is like “donut”. It is a piece of dough fried in oil like French fries and then topped with sugar powder. Normally served with coffee and milk, donuts are still very popular in St. Petersburg. There is still one donut bar (“pyshechnaya”) that has been working since the 1960s which has never been shut down and has always been very crowded!

One more food heritage that was left from the Soviet time is ryumochnaya or so-called ‘vodka bar’. It is normally open from 7am to 9pm. No food can be found on the menu other than some fish sandwiches and a wide range of cheap vodka and other alcoholic drinks. During the Soviet time vodka bars used to serve factory workers; nowadays it is a mysterious place for just the same type of people plus ex-intelligentsia.

Historical restaurants and bars of St Petersburg can tell a lot about history and culture of hundreds of years.
As St. Petersburg is the second biggest megapolis in Russia, there are a lot of immigrants from post-Soviet countries. When moving they assimilate with the local population, and the city accepts their culture as well. This way a lot of Central Asian and Caucasian food spots appeared in St. Petersburg. Usually the food there is very cheap (2 or 3 times cheaper than in a restaurant). One of the best places to eat cheap and good quality halal food are Uzbek diners. Not all of these diners are trustworthy and tasty, but if you know some, life becomes a food paradise!

Places described in this article are strongly connected with history, literature, culture and social life of St. Petersburg of different time periods from the Russian Empire till nowadays. Places reflect processes happening in the city and tell the story which is just as good as a walking city tour.

1 comment: