Dining in St Petersburg, Russia

Russian meat pie

I should have been surprised about how much I would enjoy Russian cuisine, and I would have been had I thought about it all.  Who goes to Russia for the food?  Most come for the Hermitage, as I was.   One would vaguely expecting something gruelish, like kasha (it’s here, unfortunately).  Too much bland cabbage dishes and greasy meats – they do like cabbage and you can certainly greasy (as well as quality) meats, including some of the best hard sausage I’ve had anywhere.   But so much good stuff?  Never!  

Lunch at bistro
Lunch at bistro, about $5

So what is it you dine one here?  Of course there is the famous borscht, the kind of simple and inexpensive food you would find in a Russian bistro (inexpensive places unlike what the Parisian counterparts have become) , cafeteria or most any hole in wall.  I’ve had a bowl for less than $1 with chicken bits in it.   They taste much the same and always good.

I am certain the economy would collapse if either sour cream or dill became scarce.  The former is dolloped or smeared on half of the things you see in restaurants,  such as blinis, which are crepes filled with meat, cheese, veggies, great for a quick inexpensive snack or a whole meal.  They can come filled with beef, pork, mushroom and a variety of other veggies, and sweet versions.    You can get them for about $3 at Tepemok, a fast food franchise that features them.  There they make them as you watch on one of several crepe pans (actually dedicated burners).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teremok    (The ‘p’ in Russian is an ‘r’ in the western alphabet.  Don’t worry, it is normal to find this confusing.)

Dill is in soups, stews, various versions of blinis and a wide variety of other items.  I am not a fan but fortunately there are plenty of things to choose from which do not have it.  Sometimes you do not see it as a listed ingredient, although many menus have English translations so you can choose your basic ingredients, sometimes it is just a garnish, but in Georgian food it with parsley is considered the standard spice. 

Blinis, around $3.  Beer is $2-3


St Petersburg cafeteria
St Petersburg cafeteria-  Fast food is everywhere-  and I don’t mean McD’s or BK, which are here as well.  I mean mom and pop places like this one.

Dumplings are a favorite, stuffed with meat, cheese or veggies, often in soup.   Meat pies, Pirozhki (pirogi), are popular and the same or similar dough is used for sweets.  Salmon in various forms is common but fairly expensive. 

Russian meat pie
salmon pie 

Coffee shops serve coffee for $1- $2, many of them quite good.  Some tiny places have push button machines that make a fine cup and there are free standing coffee machines that for $.50 serve up a very good cappuccino –  and they use that very word in bars and restaurants.  Pizza is popular, although I have had it only once, and it wasn’t bad but hardly what you would find in Italy.  While at that restaurant the pizza was good, the white wine was served warm, the fries came out 20 minutes ahead of the burgers our friends ordered, and they were cold, as were the burgers, but this was the exception and not the rule for other places we’ve tried.   Pizza, burgers, yep there is foreign food here, and that’s a St Petersburg tradition, having long ties to Europe.  

Herring Under the Fur Coat is a salted herring salad that has several layers: salted herring on the bottom, topped with chopped onions, potatoes, carrots, beet roots and dressed with mayonnaise. Salad Olivier is a winter dish-   boiled potatoes, peas, beef, pickled cucumbers, onions, eggs and carrots.  Chebureki are a deep-fried turnover with ground or minced meat and onion.  I had  one at our local Cafe Brynza-  it was wonderful!  https://cafebrynza.ru/.    Their site is in Russian but if you use Chrome you can translate it by right clicking anywhere on their page.

Soups!  This is a cold country so they have perfected these. Okroshka is a summer soup.  The main ingredients are diced raw vegetables, boiled meat, eggs and potatoes, served with kvas,  a popular fermented drink made from black rye (I’ll skip this next time), and sour cream.   Of course.  Solyanka is a thick, piquant soup popular in Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. It can be cooked with meat, fish, or mushrooms.  Other ingredients include olives, pickled cucumbers with brine, cabbage, potatoes, sour cream and dill.  Of course.  

Beef Stroganof, perhaps named after someone in the Stroganof family, is a common dish, but since it has sour cream, I have avoided it.  Other main dishes include grilled and roasted meats, stews and a wide variety of fish.  I am seeing a lot of sturgeon and salmon.    I’ve bought roasted pork from the upscale Stockmans, which was excellent, as was their ham and Russian cheese. 

Did I mention dumplings –Pelmeni? How could I forget (easily, I am not a huge fan).   Lots of them around.  They love cabbage and eat a lot of it in soup but also they stuff and roll the leaves.  Yum!  Chicken kiev is a popular dish of chicken breast stuffed with grated cheese, mushrooms, herbs, egg yolk, then breaded and baked in oil.   Khachapuri are a thick boat shaped bread filled with varieties of melted cheese with an egg on top.  Peg had one.  I found the cheese to be rather bland and the dough to be rather, well, doughy, but maybe it was just the way that restaurant does them.  

Beer is everywhere and the local stuff is inexpensive and good.  Wine is widely available, but you have to get the imports or you will likely get sweet versions, which is how they like it here.  But at Barclay Cafe they have a good selection of dry Russian wines, the house barely $2 for a small glass and not bad at all.   We are quite far north so they need to add sugar to get enough alcohol and to mask any unpleasant flavors.  There is a lot of Spanish wine around, even some from our favorite city there, Valencia, although the labels are not ones we have ever seen.

Desserts are fabulous!  Lots of cherries, blueberries and other fruit fill or float on various dough arrangements.   Since cherries are hard to come by in some many of the places we live in I am loading up on them here.  

Kiosk– just up the street, a woman sits all day ready to get you an excellent and inexpensive cherry or other flavor pie or turnover. 


More goodies

Russian cuisine is quite sophisticated and varied, and there is so much I have not tried and a lot more that does not even show up in St Petersburg.  This is a huge country with many ethnic groups, and other than Georgian (an excellent eggplant rolled around some king of walnut mixture) and the Chebureki (I think I had a Crimean version) we did not knowingly have anything that was from the non-European part of Russia.   Visit and enjoy!


Some of my information came from https://bridgetomoscow.com/russian-cuisine

A brief glimpse of St Petersburg

Typical dress and architecture

September 8, 2017

On our first full day in St. Petersburg, after an effortless 3.5 hour train ride from Helsinki, we took trolley 3 from the Metro Pushkinskaya area to Lenin Square.  This trolley takes you through some of the most attractive areas of St Petersburg.  Being on the trolley makes photography difficult as many of the interesting structures go by quickly or are too far away.  I got a couple of snaps from my phone, though, to give you some sense of what it’s like. You’ll notice they seem to love golden domes and spires. 

The River Neva


Being on the tram did not make people watching difficult at all, although you could be almost anywhere in the US or Europe judging by appearance and dress.  I’ve seen several women with striking long black hair, faces as white as snow and dressed for a night on the town. Otherwise it’s very much like what you see in the photo, which I grabbed off the public domain to avoid taking photos of people on the tram.

Typical dress and architecture
Typical dress and architecture

Other than the domes the architecture is generally pretty similar.  The vehicles include many of the same brands you see anywhere in the US or Europe.  The city is often described as being the most European of Russia’s cities, entirely justified as far as I can tell so far.  

We stopped for lunch at a kind of bakery that made pies- meat, chicken, fish, mushroom, berry. Very good and very Russian.

Russian salmon pie
Russian salmon pie


Language is a barrier for us.  In the central part of the city most menus are translated.  This was not the case in the pie place but a waitress spoke English fairly well and served up everything with shy charm.  On our first night we ate at a posh place recommended as being very traditional by our friendly landlady.  The translations were just so so but we did get what we ordered.  In my case it was a shrimp dish with dill (everywhere here), parsley and a small portion of some cooked greens that I could not identify but enjoyed greatly.  They had Russian wine on the menu, which is almost always sweet, so we ordered some red from Spain.  It was decent and not too expensive (in Helsinki there’s nothing less than $35).  We saw also found Spanish wines in the grocery stores, not the best Spain has to offer but acceptable.  

I am enthused about being here.  This is a fabulous city known especially for the Hermitage, one of the world’s best museums= in fact it is a collection of museums in palaces built by a series of czars starting with Peter.  More to come!