I’ve noticed a lot of American chain restaurants around Saint Petersburg, Russia, especially in the center of the city. I haven’t stepped foot in any of them, though. Why would I, when the traditional food here is nothing short of delicious? Everything I’ve eaten has been so tasty that I’m not sure if my host parents believe me any more when I tell my host mom (honestly) every day that her cooking is delicious.
You might ask, what exactly is Russian food? Some people might tell you that it’s a lot of meat and potatoes. They’re not wrong, per se – like in many countries, meat and potatoes are prominent here – but to say that the food here is just meat and potatoes is to miss out on many other tasty things. There are pelmeni (dumplings), tvorog (a type of sweet cream cheese), sirniki (little cakes made of tvorog), pastries, sushki (no, not sushi – sushki are small, bagel-shaped crackers, though there’s plenty of sushi in the city, too). Maybe the best thing of all are fresh donuts, or pishki, that are served with powdered sugar! You can get them in a café off of Nevski Prospekt (one of the major streets in Saint Petersburg) for the equivalent of 25 cents apiece, and they’re perfect as an after-school snack. Then there’s the tea… it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll find good tea, anywhere you go!
Besides actually eating the food itself, I think that ordering food here can be just as great of an experience. Not only is it good language practice, but unexpected and wonderful things also happen sometimes precisely because you’re ordering in a different and unfamiliar language.
Maybe a waitress asks you a question after you place an order and you nod, even though you have no idea what she said. My friends and I have done this several times, with mixed results. It’s always happened to work out well for me – condensed milk drizzled over donuts? Delicious! Other times, though, you might end up with banana syrup in your coffee (yes, that happened to someone I know).
On the flip side, maybe you order something and think you understood what’s going on… until you actually get your food. One time, a few days after I arrived in Petersburg, I ordered breakfast at a little stand near Nevski Prospekt. At the stand, which was run by the Russian fast food chain Teremok, you could get freshly made blini (crepe-like pancakes) with various toppings. I thought that a ham and cheese blin sounded pretty good, so went ahead and ordered. One of the women at the stand started cooking, and I felt pretty happy with myself because I’d ordered in Russian and would be able to eat soon. When I got my food and took a bite, though, it wasn’t ham and cheese at all… it had jam inside, instead! That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty – it was absolutely delicious (definitely not complaining)! It’s just funny because, to this day, I still have no idea how I got from ham and cheese to jam.
Whatever the case may be, experiencing the food here has been a wonderful adventure. I’m already thinking that when I get home to the States, I’m going to be going to the Russian grocery store a lot more!
By: Emily Herring
Term: Fall 2017