St. Petersburg

1. Borscht

BorschtAlthough borscht is considered a Ukrainian soup, it is associated with Russia and considered a staple by most Russians. The main ingredient, beets, gives borscht its signature reddish-purple coloring and earthy flavor. Unfortunately the rest of the ingredients vary as widely as the number of recipes passed down through generations of eastern European cooks. But typically, besides beets, borscht includes a meat-based broth, tomatoes, celery, onion, butter, carrot, and dill. Always garnished with a spoon full of sour cream, borscht is served hot or cold.

Where to eat it:
Gogol on Admiralteyskaya just off Nevsky Prospect. Named after Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, whose coat hangs in the entrance way to the restaurant, the restaurant delivers a literary vibe and a bookish menu, featuring each course as a chapter in a book.

2. Solyanka

A thick and spicy tomato-based chowder slightly on the salty side. Solyanka is really a hodge-podge of a soup. I liken it to the American temptation to empty the refrigerator and throw everything into a Crockpot with chicken broth as the base. Here’s the proof; the ingredients you’ll need, give or take two or three, to make your very own solyanka are meat-based broth, veal, bacon, ham, hotdog, sausage, tomato, tomato paste, olive oil, pickles, white wine, dill, olives, lemon, onions, capers, salt, pepper, cilantro, and sour cream.

Where to eat it:
Russian Vodka Room No. 1 on Konnogvardeysky Bulvar in St. Petersburg. The restaurant offers a menu full of traditional Russian fare and a stop during the lunch hour also gains you entrance into their museum dedicated to vodka for a mere 150 rubles (or about $5.00).

3. Pelmeny

Pelmeny

Pelmeny, or plemeni, is a meat-filled, paper-thin dumpling. Chicken broth and black pepper are a dominant taste. Garnished with dill and sour cream to add a little flavor, pelmeny offers a simple and tasty delight that first found its footing in Siberia.

I was introduced to pelmeny by a woman named Lena. Staying at her home in Ulan Ude in Central Siberia, Lena prepared a traditional Russian feast, showcasing her homemade version of the dish. And while Lena’s pelmeny will always retain the number one position on my list of favorites, an Irish pub near the State Hermitage Museum offers a serving of pelmeny that runs a close second.

Where to eat it:
Radio Ireland on Admiralteisky Avenue in St. Petersburg. You may ask, “An Irish pub in downtown St. Petersburg?” Why not! It was a busy spot for lunch. Locals were predominant and I was probably the only Irish lass in the establishment. My advice: Stay away from the Irish fare and opt for Radio Ireland’s traditional Russian foods washed down by the one Russian beer on the menu.

4. Blini

Caviar blini

Blini, or Russian pancake, are a crepe-like favorite for any meal. The blini usually come with a filling – anything from sweet berry jams and condensed milk to mushrooms, meats and caviar. Round in form, the blini was said to symbolize the sun and the end of winter. It is honored during Maslenitsa, also known as Butter Week or Pancake Week, a folk-based festival celebrated during Russia’s Easter holiday.

Where to eat it:
Russkie Blini on Gagarinskaya. Sweet or meat, you decide.

5. Beef Stroganoff

Like many Russian dishes, the original of Beef Stroganoff has solid roots in Eastern Europe. But there are two details that make beef stroganoff decidedly Russian. First, the name: The entrée was named after the Stroganoff family, considered Russian nobility. Second, the thinly-sliced beef and sour cream-based sauce are mixed together prior to serving.

Russian-style stroganoff begins thinly sliced strips of filet tossed in flour, placed on a bed of diced onions and mushrooms and allowed to cook over medium heat without stirring. Unlike American stroganoff served with rice, Russian’s always accompany their beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes and garnish with dill.

Where to eat it:
Enjoy a healthy portion of Beef Stroganoff in a relaxed family atmosphere at Levin on Malaya Morskaya.

6. Piroski

Piroski

Not to be confused with perogi (another Eastern European-style dumpling more similar in appearance, texture and taste to a pelmeni), piroski is a bun stuffed with a variety of ingredients, from fruits and jams to cabbage, meat, and vegetables. Because the dough includes yeast, it is bread-like in form and consistency. Piroski can be baked or fried and are small enough for individual servings.

While the best piroski are the kind bought at a road-side stand from a woman pushing a cart filled with her own homemade twist on this national favorite, piroski are also sold in delis and cafes throughout Russia’s larger cities.

Where to eat it:
Just outside the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace on Nevsky Prospect are two bakery trucks, each selling their own inexpensive commercial versions of delicious piroski. Expect to wait in a long line on busy Saturday afternoon but time spent is rewarded with piping hot piroski. The treats are displayed at eye level and ordering just one seems like a waste of your hard-earned turn at the order window.