Vegan in Russia??? 

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!

Vegan heaven!

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. ]

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Tips for Language Learning while Abroad

Here it is, as promised 🙂 My best tips for making sure you make the most of you year abroad and get as fluent as possible. I’ve also checked some of the things my own uni recommended to add further suggestions, but mostly these are my personal recommendations and things I’ve found have helped me! You can totally reject this if it doesn’t work for you, everyone works differently. I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner before an aural learner – which means that I need lots of visual information and I also need to do or practice the language / grammar for it to actually go into my brain. Just listening isn’t enough. So here’s tip number one:

  1. Find out what kind of learner you are. This is really important because it will change the way you revise and it will help you memorise vocab and grammar easier. You can take free tests online, just Google it 😉 There are about 4 types, Kinesthetic, Aural, Visual and then Traditional (I think).
  2. Say ‘yes’ a lot! People will offer you things, to go shopping, to go see a movie, etc. Just say yes. It’s all good experience and you’ll learn something about the culture from these.
  3. Stay with a family/Spanish friends who speak only/mostly Spanish/whatever your target language is. This way you wake up speaking the language, and go to bed speaking the language. You’ll get so much more out of it, trust me. And if the family has kids, this is a good way of getting practice using different registers – speaking more politely to grandparents whereas with kids you can usually be more informal.
  4. Go over difficult areas of grammar that you notice yourself struggling with. Don’t just leave them and hope they go away! I still go over the past tenses in Spanish and the subjunctive… and ser and estar still catch me out occasionally!! Just because you’re in the country doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately become bad-ass at grammar, so make sure you try and do some exercises / revision a few times a week. Nothing intensive. If you can, take a course at a local uni.
  5. Write down new vocabulary – no excuses! I keep lists of new vocab, and as I mentioned in my last post, we’ve actually stuck up some pieces of blank paper in the kitchen with all of our names on so we can write down new words in English/Spanish and then go over them together at meal times. This is great for kids, but to be honest it works for adults too.
  6. You’re gonna love this one! Watch TV! and films… but in the target language obviously. If possible, use subtitles in that language too instead of in your native language, if you need it that is! But often programs have actors speaking clearly and with good grammar. I watched an episode of El Ministerio del Tiempo last night and it was great! I recommend the site rtve.es for series and news etc. for Spanish.
  7. Read. If you can, get your hands on a novel, maybe one you’ve read before so you know what happens, but trust me, this really helped not only to widen my vocabulary but also to get used to ways of saying things, set phrases/idioms, and the grammar structures. I read the Fault in Our Stars (Bajo la misma estrella) only in Spanish, I’ve also read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter y la cámara secreta), The Last Song (La última canción) and the Hunger Games (book one – Los juegos del hambre) in Spanish, and am currently reading Gone Girl (Perdida). I haven’t managed to get my hands on a Russian novel yet but I’m probably going to try and get the first Harry Potter on my kindle! [*Fun fact, in Russian they sometimes pronounce the ‘H’ sound (х) as a hard G sound like in gutter (г), so Harry Potter is Gary Potter to Russians (Гарpи Поттер), but for us English lot at least this makes it take on a whole different meaning! 😉 ]
  8. Do things that scare you – go for a train journey somewhere so that you have to buy tickets, go to the cinema or theatre, etc. These experiences will bring you into contact with people who don’t speak English/ your native language and will help you use what you have on the spot. 

So there you go – my 8 pieces of advice for helping you use and develop your language on your year abroad. Hope this helps!