Dining SSSR style: Good Old Stolovaya
Добро пожаловать в СССР! (Dobro pozhalovat v SSSR!) When you arrive in Russia and you start to look around to find a place to eat you notice a widespread “phenomenon” called Столовая (Stolovaya). These are public cafeteria-restaurants that you can find everywhere in Russia and can be considered part of the Soviet legacy.
Stolovaya is a really popular place to eat among Russian because one can have regular portions for a very cheap price; if you know what to chose you can be well-satisfied paying just 100 RUB! In the majority of stolovaya you can only pay by cash and if you don’t have time to eat there, you can ask for food to take away.
When you go to have lunch in one of these self-service restaurants you take tray and cutlery and then stand in line asking the servers to hand you the dishes you’d like to have. Well, maybe the first time, the second and probably the 5th one too you’ll just point them the dish you want saying “это” (eto)“и это, нет это”. So did my friends and I during our first few times and most of us knew a little Russian when we arrived to Saint Petersburg. Next to this we moved to the stage “let’s try to pronounce this names” and then we came back to the one “okay maybe, it will be already something to know if it’s meat or fish”. But then more or less from the 10th time things moved faster. We were able to recognise some of the dishes, match them with names and prices while we were learning about the great variety of soups, salads and main meals of the Russian cuisine. So you well see that going to stolovaya is a real unique experience and actually a way to get to know Russian culture, use all your language skills and improve them.
As for the food, the quality is fine since it’s a cafeteria, some of them I must say, can have quite bad quality food and you can well say “Давай отравимся” (Davai otravimsya, “let’s poison ourselves”) if you don’t know what to choose, while some of them are unexpectedly very nice and tasty.
My recommendations in St.Petersburg
The most popular stalovaya chains in Saint Petersburg are “Столовая № 1 Копейка” (Stolovaya n.1 Kopeika) and “Тарелка Столовая” (Tarelka Stalovaya). The second one is a quite new chain and it’s a little bit more expensive than Stolovaya n.1, but inside is usually brighter, modern and better furnished and in the big ones you can pay by credit card as well. The quality of food is nice and a bit better than Stolovaya n.1.
“Столовая № 1 Копейка” chain is one of the cheapest in town as suggested by the name. Most of them opens 24/7 so you have always a place to eat or just to have a cup of tea with some sweets.
The quality is usually fine but if you visit some of them, as the one close to our school, in Nevsky Prospekt, you have to check on food because some dishes are sometimes just съедобный (sedobnyi, “edible”); for instance pirogi can be stale and some котлеты (kotlety) quite greasy. Most of these stolovaya have an old and dark atmosphere, Soviet style prints hang on their walls and most of the workers are from the former soviet republics of central Asia, as in many other cafeteria-restaurant. A stalovaya of this chain that I really recommend you to visit is the one in Ligovsky Prospekt n.43/45. This is probably the best of the chain: the prices are the same but the food is very nice and tasty and the place is clean and bright!
Personally I love “stalovaya”: cheap food and if you learn how to choose it’s also very tasty, and most of them open 24/7! I definitely think you should try a stolovaya at least once!That’s why I suggest you Stolovaya n.1 in Ligovsky Prospekt since this would be the best place to have the first experience with a Russian Stolovaya!
This post was brought to you by Jessica, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz