Thursday, April 12, 2012

Russian Food in San Francisco

Every now and again I get a hankering for something you can only buy at a Russian store, preferably in San Francisco. Why San Francisco? Well beyond the beauty and museums nearby, Russian stores in San Francisco abound and they are typically better stocked and cheaper.

Driving into San Francisco on Highway 101 going south.

The best ones are in the Richmond district, which I lovingly call "Little Russia."

View of the Inner Richmond from Geary and 31st Street. You can see the cupolas of St. John San Francisco Orthodox Academy!

Geary and 22nd Street. The cupolas of St. John from the other direction!

Here, amidst the typical San Franciscans, walk little бабушки (ba-boo-sh-kee- grandmothers) who wear Communist era coats, Soviet manufactured wool stockings, and платки (plat-kee-scarves or wool wedding shawls) around their shoulders and head. Occasionally you also see a fur hat! All of these items, I assure you, came with them from Russia. Most grandparents from the mother country couldn't imagine all the inventory available for purchase in an American store. Their experience of shopping included standing in line for hours to buy basic essentials. Thus they brought EVERYTHING with them and claim that nothing is as high in quality as their communist manufactured staples. Sigh* Seeing бабушки everywhere makes me miss mine all the more.

Here are some of my favorite stores and their treats!

New World Market: 5641 Geary Blvd (between 20th Ave & 21st Ave)

The man who owns this store makes his own sausages and сырники (sih-r-nee-kee) which are deep fried or just fried, sweet farmer's cheese patties (usually with or without raisins). These he sells alongside the imported stuff, like other sausages, caviar, vodkas, liqueurs and milk products. If you like sausage this is your shop. You can go inside and try samples. They also have a good selection of house made deli salads, smoked fish, other cooked foods and all the regular staples: butter, farmer's cheese, Russian rye bread, pelmeni (Russian dumplings) and baked piroshki with cabbage, meat and other fillings behind the register. My favorite thing to buy here is the imported candy. The ones made in Russia are the very best. I personally recommend the ones that have blue wrappers with bears or polar bears on them. Typically they are in small plastic bags, in baskets on the floor.

New World Market Candy Kiosk. Sorry for the blurry picture! I was being a sneaky, sneak!

Across the street and one block over is the:

Moscow &Tbilisi Bakery Store, 5540 Geary Blvd  (between 19th Ave & 20th Ave)  

I'm partial to their poppy seed cakes, apple strudel and farmer's cheese pastries.

Farmer's cheese pastries

They also have savory goods:

The best one is their "хачапури" (pronounced ha-cha-pu-ree). Хачапури are cheese stuffed pastries. This bakery's version is giant and delicious! You can ask them to heat it up for you! :) 

They also make deep fried пирожки (piroshki- pronounced pee-roh-sh-kee) which are filled with either meat, cabbage, mushrooms or some other flavors and чебуреки (pronounced cheh-boo-rey-kee) which are deep fried meat pastries. If you get them when they are freshly made they're awesome good!

From the Moscow & Tbilisi bakery walk a few blocks to the closed Alexandria Theater.

The Alexandria was built in the 1920s!

Cross the street to the other side of Geary to get to...

Royal Market & Bakery. 5335 Geary Blvd (between 17th Ave & 18th Ave)

Strictly speaking this is an Armenian rather than Russian store, but it sells pretty much the same products and has an amazing fresh meat and poultry section, and delicious, DELICIOUS, cooked food. A lot more juices, which I've neglected to mention thus far. Mors brand juices made with whortleberries, currants, sea-buckthorn, wild strawberries or other interesting flavors are awesome! But in this shop, the BEST stuff is in the bakery and deli.

My favorites so far are their stuffed eggplant and baklava!

These delectable and addictive treats are stuffed with garlic, walnuts, cream, and other yummy stuff!

Their Baklava is amazing and entirely different in flavor from the kind you find in most Greek restaurants.

Their lamb, meat, chicken and even fish kebabs are delicious! They have luleh-kebab (minced meat) too. You can buy luleh-kebab ready made at the deli, buy raw minced meat with spices to cook at home or ask them to barbeque some fresh while you wait. The deli salads are all amazing as well! They also have a great selection of fresh goat cheeses and olives! All in all, my clear favorite Russian store in the city. In fact, I'm getting hungry for some stuffed eggplant as I write this! After I tried it for the first time, I went back three times within two weeks. :-)

By the Legion of Honor on Clement Street, just a block from Geary is another Russian store in the Richmond. 

European Food Wholesale and Deli, 3038 Clement Street (between 31st and 32nd)

I really like their pickles, especially the tomatoes and garlic!

Pickled Roma tomatoes!

Pickled Garlic

There is also a Russian "wholesale" store in the Outer Richmond on La Playa Street, between Balboa and Cabrillo. I don't really know how wholesale the prices are, but there is a large selection of everything. Plus you can park at Safeway and walk to the beach for a little stroll if it's not too cold, or even if it is. :-)

There are several other Russian stores in San Francisco, but these are the ones that I know best.

One word of warning: unlike American grocery stores where customer service is an expected part of your shopping experience, the cashier ladies in Russian stores aren't always welcoming, let alone cordial. If you happen to run into a nice one, congratulations on finding a unicorn. Don't be intimidated though. If the woman scowls and talks brusquely, buy what you want anyway. Generally, the cashiers can be cold shouldered to their own as well, including the little бабушки!

If you end up going Russian store shopping in San Francisco, Приятного аппетита! (Bon Appetit!)