Insights into St Petersburg

Community style food: locations for soviet dishes

In a book by Chekhov a character once said that “people should be beautiful in every way – in their faces, in the way they dress, in their thoughts, and in their innermost selves”. Beauty in every way is only possible when there is a healthy diet. In the 1930s the Soviet government pursued the idea of community nutrition, which included establishing restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, and bistros. As opposed to what we see in modern cafes and restaurants, Soviet time dining places offered a variety of choice at moderate prices.
Bistros (meaing ‘fast’ in Russian) encompassed a wide range of traditional pastry houses. So, where can you go today to get a glimpse of the soviet cuisine?

Chebureki

The word cheburek came from Turkish languages. The Azerbaijani and Crimean Tatars have a pastry dish, a fried turnover with a filling of ground or minced meat and onions. A proper cheburek is filled with lamb meat and spices.
The best cheburek-houses in the city are on the islands. For instance, one of the oldest cheburek-houses can be found on the Petrograd side, 4 Bolshoi Prospekt. Besides chebureks, this bistro also sells other lamb dishes: the Georgian dish chanakhi (lamb and vegetable soup) and the Armenian dish khazani (a lamb kebab in a pot).
The Cheburek-house at 6, 6th line of Vasilievski Island looks like a regular bistro, nothing special at the first glance. And yet this is the place where connoisseurs come for a treat. In the Soviet era the bistro was teaming with students from the nearby departments of St Petersburg State University.

Pyshki

Deep-fried donut, a ring-like pastry dish in Moscow, is called ponchik, and in St Petersburg it is best known as pyshka. You would be hard pushed to find a single person in St Petersburg who has not heard about the pyshka-house on Zhalyabova (25, Bolshaya Konyushennaya). This bistro was established in 1960 in the building of a French reformed church. This is exactly the location you want, to have a cup of coffee after visiting the Hermitage or before going to the concert at the Academic Capella.

Pirozhki

"In the first place, make a pasty in four divisions. Into one of the divisions put the sturgeon's cheeks and some viaziga, and into another division some buckwheat porridge, young mushrooms and onions, sweet milk, calves' brains, and anything else that you can find suitable—anything else that you may have to hand” – such a request for a pastry came from a well known character in a novel by Gogol.
In the Soviet times, pastry dishes were smaller, but they did come in a variety of forms and fillings. The place to taste pirozhki of all sorts and kinds is at 9, Bolshaya Konyushennaya. The only kind hard to find there is probably the one with viaziga, dried spinal marrow of the sturgeon. This kind is served at the high-profile dinners in the Kremlin or in the Smolny. Places that sell a wide range of pirozhki can also offer khachapuri, Massandra wines, and a house speciality - a tiny cupcake with Russian cream cheese.

Pelmeni

Pelmeni, a kind of dumpling or ravioli, is a traditional dish for the Komi people. The word literally means “little ears of dough”. When discovering Siberia, colonists borrowed the dish for traditional Russian cuisine. Making pelmeni is an art in itself; the recipes and the craft are passed down from generation to generation. Usually, several families would gather to make pelmeni.
Even though the dish is on the menu in many cafes and restaurants, there is one place you should definitely visit. 21, Maly Prospekt is the right address for those who want to see the process of preparing pelmeni.

Ryumochnaya

A place where alcohol is consumed without sitting down, a ryumochnaya offers vodka and open sandwiches: vodka of a cheaper kind, not Finlandia or Smirnoff; sandwiches with fish, Sprattus or Pacific saury. Ryumochnaya is a rather gloomy place where men come to seek oblivion, not meaning. Such bistros became especially popular during the depression of the Brezhnev era and the wild 1990s. Nowadays it is still very easy to find a soviet-style ryumochnaya. Try 9 Dektyarnaya Ulitsa, 22/3 Stramyannaya Ulitsa, 11 Razyezzhaya Ulitsa.