Editor's note: Contributing Editor RaeJean Stokes is traveling around the former U.S.S.R. this holiday season and reporting back to us with occasional missives about life on the other side of what was once the Iron Curtain.
While in St. Petersburg, my husband and I are taking four hours of Russian lessons per day. Due to our Peace Corps service in Ukraine, we're both fluent in Ukrainian, so (thankfully) the learning curve hasn't been terribly steep. The two languages are closely related, like Portuguese and Italian.
As part of the language immersion program, we're also living with a Russian family. Apparently characteristic of St. Petersburgers (as we've been told they're called by our language teachers), they don't really like to talk to us much. That means we've had a lot of time watch Russian television (mostly carbon copies of American series like Married with Children and The Nanny), as well as explore the city.
A few nights ago we decided it was time to investigate St. Petersburg's nightlife, of which I'd heard good things. Not keen on going to the stereotypical Russian bar (and by stereotypical I mean bursting with half-naked women dancing on poles) we consulted our guidebook and wandered into a student-ish bar called Tsinik. Literally underground, it features long communal wooden tables, loud rock (AC/DC and Rage Against the Machine were popular selections), cheap beer, and good snacks.
The Russian palate is a grease-loving one. Grenki are no exception: black bread, sliced into bite-sized pieces, fried in oil and smothered in crushed garlic, salt, and shredded cheese. It's not caviar and Sovietskoe Champagne by any means, but at about $1.10 a plate, grenki are the perfect beer snack and my new favorite Russian food.
Next time: More on learning the language.