Cafe Nerpenok / Кафе “Нерпенок”
Poznaya and Russian Cafe
Meals from $4
The “poznaya,” a place which serves pozi, the national dish of the Buryats, is ubiquitous in the Baikal area. The Buryats are Siberia’s largest ethnic minority and are largely concentrated around Lake Baikal. Pozi are steamed meat dumplings and Cafe Nerpenok, centrally located on Proletarskaya Street, serves them together with standard Russian lunch fare in a simple atmosphere.
The name is an affectionate term derived from “nerpa” – a small seal that lives in nearby Lake Baikal and nowhere else in the world.
The café interior is cozy in a very simple way. Large, wooden slab tables and counters fill the cafe and when you first walk in, you come to a wooden bar where you can look at the menu and order your food. Then you sit and wait until you are called up to pick up your food (Заберите, пожалуйста!) The service is simple and unremarkable, like many of the Russian cafes and particularly those serving relatively cheap food. You order, you eat, and your plates are taken away. There’s a beauty to its simplicity.
The menu is quite standard for an Eastern Siberian cafe. Salads, main dishes of meat and fish, bliny, pozi and various sides, pastries and desserts are served, along with coffee and tea and other beverages. Some menu items are very quick and some have a longer wait time, up to twenty minutes sometimes for pozi and other dishes. The salads are particularly tasty, and the pozi are a classic standard for lunch patrons.
I went with a friend for lunch and we ordered a cheese sandwich for 35 rubles (a little over $1), a cabbage and carrot salad for 40 rubles, fried potatoes (which turned out to be french fries) for 40 rubles, pozi for 30 rubles a piece, tea for 15 rubles and an Americano coffee (which is espresso with water added) for 35 rubles. The food was simple and standard as far as Siberian cafes go, but for foreigners the pozi are novel and provide a tasty and fairly exotic new treat.
All in all, the Nerpenok poznaya is a simple cafe for cheap food and a comfortable and laid-back atmosphere. It’s neither the most exciting food nor the fastest, but it has reliable standards and always has room to sit and relax with some tea and pozi, bliny, or salad, all well within the student budget.
For groups and faculty-led tours, this can be an option, but it probably not if you needed to keep things quick as many of the menu items can take as long as 20 minutes – and would likely take even longer if several orders came in at once.