If, when you think of Russian food, you think of borscht and not much else, then a trip to a farmers’ market is an essential stop when you’re in St Petersburg.
Farmers’ markets have been common since Soviet times, when they gave shoppers a variety of foods far beyond what was offer in conventional state-run food stores. Although most Russians now do most of their shopping in large supermarkets, they go to markets like Kuznechny when they’re on the lookout for something delicious, fresh and exotic. Stallholders and produce often come from the warmer climes of the Caucasus and Asia, meaning that you’ll find all sorts of items on offer, even during the depths of the Russian winter.
You’ll find all sorts of colourful stalls, selling produce from all over the former USSR and beyond; luscious pomegranates from Azerbaijan, delicious walnut cakes from Georgia, caviar from the Caspian Sea, herbs from the Orient and not forgetting plenty of local mushrooms, which Russians are passionate about, as well as a wide variety of honey. A good farmers’ market is like an edible geography lesson.
Your main problem may be restraining yourself – fat cloves of garlic, sweet smelling bunches of dill and fresh fillets of carp look delicious but aren’t much use if you’re staying in a hotel or on board cruise ship – keen cooks may immediately start planning a self-catering break!
However, there’s plenty on offer that you’ll find opportunities to consume, no matter where you’re staying. Cakes and candies, some infused with exotic spices, are all too easy to eat. Cured meats and sausages are moreish and portable. Hearty pastries, still warm from the oven, are perfect if you don’t have time to stop for lunch. And if you’re feeling thirsty, then try some kvass, a low-alcohol fermented drink that’s made from bread, and is popular all over Russia. If you’re feeling brave, then try some Ukrainian salo, or cured pork lard.
Of course, you might be visiting St.Petersburg farmers’ market to shop for souvenirs. You’ll be welcomed home from Russia with love if you bring a few tins of caviar. Vodka is another popular present – Russian Standard is produced in St Petersburg, but you may be interested in seeking out more unusual brands that cannot be found in other countries. Some cookies and biscuits may also survive the long trip home if handled carefully.
As you walk through the crowded aisles of the market, vendors will call to you, trying to persuade you to buy. Haggling is all part of the fun. If you are not confident about Russian, then consider going as part of St.Petersburg private guided tour – your host will be able to help you make purchases, and advise you on a fair price. Like markets everywhere, stallholders will always try to get foreigners to pay that little bit extra!
Any of the St Petersburg farmers’ markets are great fun to visit whether you intend to buy anything or not – but we promise you you’ll find something you want!
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