If you’re heading to St. Petersburg, you won’t want to miss trying a dining event with Elena! Her top-rated dinners and cooking classes are the perfect introduction to Russian cuisine and local life.
What made you think of hosting strangers and what do you love about it?
In our family we’ve always loved having guests – both local friends and visitors from abroad. I’m a Russian-English translator and our family speaks English, so communication was never a problem. We also like to treat people who visit our home with nice food. Guests from Germany, the USA, Canada, France, exchange students from the US, Taiwan, Brazil – everybody liked the food we cooked and was excited to learn our recipes. By pure chance last year I started hearing about dinners in private homes and somebody mentioned Eatwith. I discussed the project with local tour guides and asked them for their opinion. I even had a demo event for them and they said: “You MUST do it!”. In fact, there were so many enablers: we live in a beautiful, spacious, traditional St. Petersburg apartment on a beautiful street, we like to cook and we cook well, we love meeting people and hosting guests, we love St.Petersburg, and we know the city quite well and сan tell our guests about its past and present! Somebody asked us whether we could do a cooking class and that’s how we started! We love to travel and to learn about life in other countries. But since I have a regular office job we can only travel once or twice a year. Meeting travelers at home feels like we’re traveling, too!
What do you think your guests enjoy most when attending your event?
It’s hard to tell what our guests enjoy the most. In their reviews they emphasize that the food was delicious, and the atmosphere was very friendly and cozy. Perhaps for many of the guests the most interesting part was our open and sincere discussion on life in our respective countries. Some people loved our beautiful and intelligent cats!
How would you describe St. Petersburg to someone who’s never visited before?
St. Petersburg is splendid and breathtaking. It’s a very romantic city. Some people compare St.Petersburg to Paris, Amsterdam, or Venice. There are some similarities but I’d say it’s very different. The city, of course, has its own character. At times it’s perceived as aristocratic, noble and even “cold”, with the grandeur of its embankments, bridges, and cathedrals. At times you’re overwhelmed with its modern vibe and friendliness. When the days are grey and gloomy you can spend a whole day exploring palaces and museums. When the sky is blue and sunny you’ll see the city in its full glory, with shining domes and spires, picturesque rivers and canals, bright colors, and welcoming parks. The unique feature of St.Petersburg is its architecture. And of course, our pride and joy is Nevsky Avenue – “Nevskiy Prospekt” as we say here – the most beautiful street! If you come in summer, the days are very long and you can walk until midnight in almost full daylight and see so many delightful streets, boulevards, squares, and palaces. When night falls, life in the city continues. Along the Neva river there are crowds of people cheering, chanting, enjoying the sights of draw bridges… And that’s where you can’t resist its emotive power and romantic appeal!
What’s your favorite spot in St. Petersburg?
I have a favorite area: it’s the street where our family has been living for almost 100 years, and our neighborhood. Tavricheskaya is a very special street. It’s off the center, but still very centrally located. Every building there is an architectural masterpiece in the Art Nouveau style of the beginning of the 20th century. The area is famous for the Taurida Gardens and Taurida Palace, Smolny Cathedral and Smolny Institute, the unique building of the Fieldmarshal Alexander Suvorov Musum, elegant streets and boulevards. I have many favorites, like Nevski Prospekt (the “restaurant street”), Rubenstein Street, Belinsky Street (where you can meet students from the art schools in numerous bars and cafes)…
Where is the best food market?
We usually do our grocery shopping in small shops within walking distance from home – Diksi and Pyaterochka. Occasionally, we shop in big supermarkets – Auchan and Lenta. As for “markets”, I seldom buy my food there, except for very special products. We buy Armenian dried fruit and nuts, dried mushrooms from Russian forests, and cottage cheese. One historic market in the city center is Kuznechny Rynok (3, Kuznechny Pereulok). It’s quite expensive and looks like a bit like a “dying” place (due to a litigation over property rights). I see some foreign tourists there because it’s in a good location and right next door to the Museum of Dostoyevsky, a very popular tourist attraction. Nevsky and Kondratievsky are better food markets, but they’re in areas that aren’t worth visiting. If you’re in the city center and want to buy expensive but high quality food, go to Л&Лэнд (Le Land – 48, Nevsky Ave., 19 Vladimirsky Ave.) and Stockman Delicatessen at Nevsky Center (114-116 Nevsky Ave.).
What would you say to someone who’s visiting town and thinking about joining your event?
I would say “Hello stranger! If you want to go beyond the usual tourist paths and experience a cozy dinner with mouthwatering dishes from Russian cuisine made with my family’s century-old recipes (pies, salads, mushrooms, desserts) in a historic St.Petersburg apartment, have a sneak peek behind the elegant facades, see how real people live in St. Petersburg, and add a great personal dimension to your trip, then welcome to our home!”.
We had dinner with Elena and Sasha on January 8, 202. Elena met us outside her apartment and gave us a history of the building, the area, and her family’s presence there. Then we went inside for a tour of their home and the feast began. Wonderful food and conversation that went on for hours. We even got to taste some Vodka! My favorite dishes were the carrot roll, a pastry dish and the potatoes with wild mushrooms. A chance to visit in a Russian home was a highlight of our trip. I recommend this experience to everyone who visits St. Petersburg and wants to get off the tourism trail for a lovely evening with a family. And they have cats – one who does tricks! If I get back to St. Petersburg, I will do this again with them.