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Modern Cuisine With a Conscience

Cafe Ukrop is changing the way locals think about their food with its vegetarian menu.

Published: July 30, 2014 (Issue # 1822)




  • Photo: Ukrop

Although Lev Tolstoy, one of Russia’s most famous writers, was a known vegetarian in the 19th century, not eating meat is still uncommon to many Russians. However, eating vegetarian food is slowly becoming more and more common in Russia and its rising popularity is especially evident in St. Petersburg, where a number of vegetarian cafes such as Cafe Ukrop spoil their visitors with their handmade, fresh and original vegetarian, vegan and raw dishes.

With its casual, modern interior and a young, energetic staff, Cafe Ukrop is one of the hippest places in the city. Aleksander Gamayunov is the co-owner and co-founder of Ukrop, which opened its first cafe on Ulitsa Marata in 2012 with a partner and a second one last November at Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.

“At that time I had been vegetarian already for five years,” Gamayunov said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times. “There were only a few places in the city where you could eat vegetarian food which was not inspired by Asian cuisine, and I wanted to offer a menu that was familiar to me,” he said. As a result, the restaurant’s menu offers not only meatless dishes but also raw and dairy-free meals, even with its desserts.

“It is quite unique that we offer so called ‘raw desserts,’ which means that they only entail fresh, unprocessed ingredients,” Gamayunov said. Among the other various dishes made of vegetables, herbs, grains, lentils and different kinds of cheese, there are also typical Russian dishes, such as Russian salads, mushroom soup and “varenki,” Ukrainian pastries.

According to Gamayunov, his aim was to establish a new type of business. “We are not merely motivated by profit, as our main goal is to create a place with an intimate atmosphere where people may try something new and where the employees believe in their work and feel at home,” he said.

However, at the beginning, the project was not easy to set up. “At the start we didn’t make a profit and we had to work very hard. However, I always asked myself what I would do if I wasn’t dependent on money and I knew I would do the same,” said Gamayunov. Although more Russians have since become more interested in a vegetarian lifestyle, it is still not as accepted here as it is in Europe, Gamayunov believes. “Being vegetarian was probably more common in Russia before 1917 because people talked more about this kind of diet in those days.”

During the Soviet Union, the absence of meat became a symbol of poverty and vegetarianism was secretly condemned as a western tendency. Now the market for vegetarian foods is still developing in Russia and not yet widely commercialized, which, according to Gamayunov, has its advantages. “Over the next three years, vegetarian restaurants will be run mainly by idealistic people with the right values but afterwards it will become big business.”

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBA’s ongoing “Breakfast with the Director” series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at “Sounds of the Universe,” a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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