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)
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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