Thursday, October 20, 2016

Stolovaya: the student cafeteria

This post is either going to make you ravenous or revolted, because today we're going back to the столовая, cafeteria. The stolovaya seems to be a love-or-hate affair for most people. Which side are you on?

Stolovaya at Lobachevsky University in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

I'm a lover.

Sure, occasionally comes a day when there's just nothing good out- you're picking at some wilted cabbage and overcooked cutlets- but most of the time, the stolovaya is the best place to eat well + cheap. We never ever said no to a stolovaya in Ukraine (especially the overlooked ones!) and so I was psyched to be eating once a day at Lobachevsky State University's stolovaya in July.

Here's an example of a typical meal in the student cafeteria.

On this tray:
  • buckwheat with fried pork cutlet 
  • marinated cabbage salad 
  • sirnik (think, fried cottage cheese) with jam 
  • eclair  
  • mors (homemade juice). 
Cost: 199 rubles, or $3.21 USD.

To order the food, you would first need to stand in line with the other students. The "meal of the day" was posted near the trays- a set meal for a lower price. To get that, you'd place a laminated sign on your tray and the lady behind the counter would shove a soup / a side / a cut of meat toward you. If you wanted to practice your Russian or didn't want that day's meal, you could chose each course individually as the line slowly moved forward.

In general, the meals always came in three courses: soup / salad, main course, side. It sounds fancy, but it's pretty simple fare in reality.


The Stolovaya, Bonus Round:

There was also a workers' stolovaya across the street at the aircraft parts factory. This was an absolute no-frills kind of cafeteria. You could drink beer, coffee in styrofoam, or mors, and rub elbows with local policemen on their lunch break. There was only one student who enjoyed this place, a Dutchman who was afraid of nothing.

Russian cafeteria for workers.

I kind of liked it too, even though the food wasn't great. It was the real deal, though- just check out the plates with blue trim and those colorful trees in the background. It was very similar to this worker's cafeteria in Kharkiv-

Ukrainian cafeteria art.

But the food, eh. The blini were alright, once you waved off the circling flies-

Which brings me to the thing I can never bring myself to use in any stolovaya: salt. Did you catch the salt dispenser?

Each table has a container of salt like that, and anyone who wants to can pinch some out. Communal salt- could you do it? (It was like this in the student cafeteria too.)

Here's lunch for three at the worker stolovaya on another day.
Dutchman = delighted, American professor = not so much.

Fancy food

I didn't get out to that many restaurants in Nizhny Novgorod. Most days it was:
  • oatmeal @ dorms 
  • lunch @ stolovaya 
  • pelmeni + green beans @ dorms.
Allison and I went to a Czech restaurant once. We sat outside and the waitress brought us blankets, and we ordered some хреновуха, horseradish vodka, to warm up. (It was the single chilly evening that whole month.) Another good spot was Cafe Biblioteca, on Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street above the bookstore. The main advantage in going to a restaurant was the chance to order something green. Russian food isn't known for its wide variety of greens, but being at a restaurant at least gives you the chance of seeing a piece of lettuce.

Back in the dorm room, I would eat sweets.

One day an Iranian neighbor brought these over for a snack-

Another time, Sveta dropped by with some fresh melissa from her garden. We had melissa-lime tea with chocolate cake.

But those were the exceptions. Most of the time, the stolovaya was the biggest and most exciting meal of the day, so my devotion to stolovayas lives on to this day.

What do you think about stolovaya fare?


  1. I LOVE Russian stolovaya. There is a SUPER cheap one in Kazan. My boyfriend and I ate at it 6 times in our 4 days there. The food was so good.

    1. Wow, that's a lot! :) What was your favorite meal there?

      We went to a stolovaya in Kazan... were trying to find a famous one with Tatar food and ended up at a regular one by accident. I think they were both on Bauman Street- is that where yours was?