I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for years because there aren’t many out there on the internet and I was freaking out thinking I wouldn’t have any food when I was researching before actually coming. Here is my advice so far.
From the get-go, tell the people doing your application that you’re vegetarian/vegan. I told my reps and the year abroad people helping me with my application, I also emailed the coordinator of the RLUS course, and I wrote clearly on my home stay application that I was vegan. I also requested to be able to cook for myself. This is important!
Fortunately, my home stay owners let me cook whenever I want and I have a little fridge and freezer space. They are so kind and are always offering my their fruit or rye bread/whatever bread they have at the time, and my host babushka Zoya is always offering me her friends’ homemade jams and compotes which she gets given and they are delicious! She even let me have some leftover boiled rice that she didn’t need the other evening so I didn’t have to cook anything!
During the first week, I spent around 1,500 roubles (about £15) on food for a weekly shop… but that’s a rough budget and in England I normally have £20 so I might have to buy some more food to keep me going to the weekend, but we’ll see.
I buy a lot of vegetables and I look for what’s in season or which vegetables you spend less on per kilogram. The way it works here in Russia and in most European countries is you get the amount you want in a plastic bag, weigh the bag, select the number of the vegetable you are weighing (should be on the sign above the place you found that particular food item) and then you hit that and it prints you a little sticker with a bar code and the price on it. You stick this on the bag and away you go until you pay for it all at the end at the till. There aren’t many vegan meat substitutes, such as burgers etc, in the supermarkets.
I tend to go for aubergines (eggplant), squash and cucumbers and tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, buckwheat and millet – buckwheat and millet are a bit like rice but more widely eaten in Russia so they are cheaper, although rice is also pretty cheap! Pasta is a bit more expensive. There are tons of varieties of bread and all of them are fairly cheaply priced, especially rye bread. Pre-made sauces and things like olives and olive oil are more expensive, but not much more. It’s cheaper than in England anyway. You can get tinned beans and also dried ones, but lentils are a lot cheaper. Oh, and potatoes!! They are only about 40 roubles per kilogram if that!! I found a shelf of various kinds of plant milks in a Finnish supermarket called STOCKMANN (CTOKMAHH) – I bought an unsweetened alpro soy milk. I also saw some tofu, not an amazing brand, but guys it exists out here. I wouldn’t expect to find it in normal Russian supermarkets though. Apparently Spar is the place to go for stuff like that, and it’s all over St P so hopefully I’ll get my hands on some soon, although it’s not crucial to my survival. I just like tofu once in a while!You can buy fruit and veg from little stalls on the street, but bear in mind that you have no idea where they were grown or what pesticides were put on them etc so it’s probably better to buy in a supermarket. I am going to try out Lime supermarket (a friend recommended it) and if you buy their discount card (100 roubles) you get everything cheaper and rack up points and things. Anything they don’t sell in Lime I can always get in Stockmann which is just over the road anyway. Another store I’ve been recommended trying is called Dixie (Дикси)… but so far I haven’t visited one yet.
For restaurants – use Happy Cow. Just type it into Google and type in your location. You’d be surprised at how many vegetarian friendly ones you’ll find. There’s a chain of restaurants called Ukrop (Укроп) which are vegetarian/vegan and have great prices. Also pretty much any cafe/restaurant will sell boiled rice, buckwheat and some kind of salad so you can mix those together and bring your own beans or something if you need a bit extra. Check out this article written by my friend Michaela about the top vegetarian/vegan places to eat in St Petersburg to get an idea of what’s out here.
I think my biggest tip of all is to just be prepared. Forward-think and bring things in tupper-wares, things you’ve prepared at home.
Another policy I’ve lived by since a friend told me about it is the ‘benefit of the doubt’ policy. She spent her year in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, and she had a vegan friend out there. (If she can be vegan in Siberia, you can be vegan in Russia). Sometimes you just have to choose the best option that’s available and not get hung up on whether it has an animal product in it or not. For example, on my first night here, my host offered me some waffles (the sweet wafer ones, not potato waffles or american breakfast waffles). They are probably mostly made with flour and sugar and water, but could possibly have butter or milk in them. I didn’t know, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt and tried one. I didn’t want to be rude. If it’s once every now and then, it honestly doesn’t matter. Otherwise you might risk alienating people if you’re too rigid about it. That’s the reality, especially if you aren’t a native and you’re trying to get settled etc. Maybe in a few months I’ll know the place better and have a better routine or even have moved out with some Russian friends and be able to have a bit more say in what ingredients are in my food, but for now I am going to make do.
Your main priority is, after all, to learn Russian and experience Russia and get stuck in. So letting food get in the way will only make it miserable.
These are some of my tips so far and how well I’ve done in my first week. I might do an updated post later in the term if things have changed and once I’m into the routine a bit more. Sorry there isn’t that much in it, but I wanted to try and encourage those out there that might be put of setting foot in Russia thinking that they won’t get catered for. Vegetarianism is much more well-known now in Russia, especially amongst the younger generations, so don’t worry and don’t let it put you off.
Until next time!!!
[UPDATE: I found a health food shop that sells cheap but good quality tofu (100p/roubles) and soy yogurt (90р/roubles) and pretty much everything else you’ll need as a vegan (helloooo peanut butter with no sugar, oils, salt and other additives). It’s called Компас Здоровья (Compass Zdorov’ya) and it’s on Садовая ( Садовая, 38, МО №2 “Сенной”) not far from Sennaya square metro station (Сенная площадь). I’ve also bought soy mince really cheaply from there for about 70-75 roubles. ]