From pancakes and dumplings to soups and stews, traditional Russian dishes are wholesome and warming all year round
Many of the simplest recipes in Russian cuisine are also the most satisfying. While many traditional Russian dishes aren’t particularly complex, they are hearty, wholesome and guaranteed to keep hunger at bay while you explore St Petersburg’s many attractions. The city is a haven for food-minded travellers, with everything from borscht and blini to pelmeni and piroshki served up at restaurants and street stalls across St Petersburg. If you’re planning a trip, follow this guide to the best Russian foods to sample while you’re there, and where to find them.
A staple Russian dish loved by families across the country is borscht, a beetroot-based soup that’s bold in colour and flavour. It has a distinctive red colour and is an excellent winter warmer for when temperatures drop. As well as beetroot, the soup often contains ingredients such as meat, herbs, potatoes and other vegetables, and is usually served as a starter with a dollop of sour cream (a Russian favourite) and some bread.
Dumplings are popular across the globe, from China to Italy. But Russian dumplings, known as pelmeni, are made from paper-thin pastry, shaped into parcels and packed full of meat and herbs before being boiled and served fresh from the pan, garnished with dill and a spoonful of sour cream, or in a warm broth.
Another Russian version of an international dish, blini are best described as Russian pancakes. While the base is similar to the French crêpe, the fillings are anything but. A traditional savoury blini is made from buckwheat flour and topped with sour cream and red or black caviar. Other popular varieties include sour cream and smoked salmon, cottage cheese and, for those with a sweet tooth, jam.
Another home-turned-museum, Nabokov House Museum on 47 Bolshaya Morskaya Street was the birthplace of esteemed Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Author of the famously controversial novel, Lolita, this house has appeared in many of Nabokov’s works, its most detailed account appearing in his autobiography, Speak, Memory. Visitors to the museum can explore a recreation of Nabokov’s childhood dining room and library, where they’ll discover a wealth of personal memorabilia such as historic manuscripts, early print editions and part of the writer’s prized butterfly collection.
Piroshki are thick bread-like pastry buns packed with fillings and baked or fried. A popular street food snack, visitors can pick up the mini pies from roadside stands across the city. While piroshkis are traditionally savoury and filled with meat, fish, cheese or vegetables, sweet varieties including jam and fruit are also available.
Arguably the most famous of traditional Russian dishes, beef stroganoff is a wholesome meal named after the noble Stroganoff family. Rich and creamy, stroganoff is made with thinly-sliced beef cooked on a bed of mushrooms and onions and mixed into a sour cream-based sauce, and often served with pasta or potato (unlike the Western rice alternative).
To sample traditional Russian dishes in St Petersburg, visit the city’s leading Russian restaurants. Imperial Restaurant at Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg serves excellent Russian fare, including one of the best beef stroganoffs you’re likely to find. Elsewhere, Tsar Restaurant offers Russian fine dining in even finer settings; Shalyapin is the place to go for caviar-topped blinis; and the historical Palkin restaurant offers gastronomic opulence at its best. It’s also possible to pick up bite-sized Russian snacks such as piroshkis at street vendors, bakeries and food markets throughout the city.