Chinese Cafe / Китайское Кафе
Садовая ул., 22 (inside the market). (See Map)
Eats for $3.33
This one is a bit more hidden and off-the-beaten-path than any other cafe I’ve visited in St. Petersburg. A Chinese friend of mine from class told me about a cafe where you can get Chinese pelmeni really cheap. As eating pelmeni and saving money are two of my favorite pastimes, I had to take her up on it. When she told me it was near the central Nevskii Prospekt Metro stop, I wasn’t thinking it would wind up being in the obscure location that it was.
Reference pictures for how to get there. Essentially if you’re going down Nevsky Prospekt toward Ploshad Vosstanya and turn right on Sadovaya, you walk about 3-5 minutes until you see the “Money Honey/Rock-n-Roll Club” sign on the left and enter the outdoor market. After passing through the archway, look for an entrance into the building labeled “Свадебные Наряды 2 этаж” (should be almost right away), go to the top floor, turn right and walk all the way to the very end of the hall where the walls are painted blue. It’s the last door on your right.
The entrance to the building is almost completely hidden, and then when you make it inside the last thing you expect to see is a cafe. Well once you’ve made it there, first – congratulations. And second, no one would fault you for thinking you’d made a mistake and stumbled upon a tiny Chinese grocery, because, in fact, you have. There are shelves lined with bags of dried goods and Mandarin characters. Take a closer look and you’ll see a small cooking area in the back of the room where the mom-and-pop owners make your food ready to order.
They were very kind, and they spoke some Russian, but it wasn’t much and it was at times difficult to understand. I did learn the Chinese words for “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” for what that’s worth as my friend spoke Chinese for us. Also one of the owners smoked throughout most of our meal, and because the place is so tiny, this could be bothersome to some patrons.
We were lucky we both wanted the only two things that were available on the menu that day – the lapsha and the dumplings (similar to pelmeni) – which were both priced at 100 rubles each. To be honest, I was more than a little skeptical. After all, lapsha can take many different forms and can be very bland. However, the lapsha here was smothered in a thick orange sauce and peppered with greens and small chicken slices. It was delicious, very authentic Chinese food. It wasn’t too spicy but they have a hot red pepper seasoning available at the table, which only made it that much better.
Neither of us could finish this dish, which made our orders of dumplings that much more problematic. Somewhere deep in our bellies, however, we dug in and found the will to keep eating. The dumplings looked very plain but could easily have been eaten without sauce – the fillings of pork and onion inside provided more than enough flavor. Even so, the owners suggested we try dipping the dumplings in a brown sauce (I’m not sure what it was – it was like soy but not), mixed with vinegar. This only made them that much better. It was all very fresh, as well as piping hot. We took home almost half of what we ordered.
If you’re feeling adventurous, hungry, or just in the mood for a lot of really good, really authentic Chinese food and have the time and inclination to hunt for this place, I would by all means recommend it. It is very centrally located and if you look for the landmarks pictured right, should not be too hard to find. It’s totally a cultural experience too – entering the market you feel for a second like you’re in a middle eastern bazaar, and entering the cafe itself you might not be sure where you are. It is also in the best tradition of the early-perestroika unmarked cafés that sprouted up across Russia when it had first declared itself a market society but which have today largely died off.
If any of this scares you, the food will absolutely make up for it. And if you aren’t satisfied, you can always pick up a bag of their dried seaweed for dessert. It’ll be on the shelf just behind you.
For groups and faculty-led tours, this is not an option. The little place can handle maybe 2-4 café customers at a time.