A Small Dictionary of St. Petersburg
26 May, 2017
Want to explore St. Petersburg? Then you’ll need to know these words! Although the city is relatively young (a sprightly 314 years old), St. Petersburg is home to a culture and history like no other. Take a look at this small dictionary of St. Petersburg to find out what makes this beautiful city so unique.
1) Блокада (Siege)
A horrendous period of history, the Блокада Ленинграда (Siege of Leningrad) lasted 872 days, from September 1941 to January 1944. German forces had surrounded the city, and the only way to get supplies in was through the ‘Road of Life’ (‘Дорога жизни’) along the frozen Lake Ladoga. Inhabitants suffered unimaginable horrors and over a million died, mainly from starvation. The sacrifice they made is honoured throughout the city – the State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad is dedicated to this period and St. Petersburg was awarded the status of ‘hero-city’ (‘герой-город’) in 1945.
2) Болото (Swamp)
The story of the founding of St. Petersburg is legendary. Desiring a Russian capital with better access to the sea, Peter the Great (with the help of hundreds of thousands of serfs) built the city at the mouth of the Neva in 1703. It was a monumental achievement that resulted in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. However, St. Petersburg is built on a болото. The swampland accounts for the dozens of islands, as well as frequent flooding, a humid climate and a lot of rain!
3) Греча (Buckwheat)
A staple of the national diet, гречка has a special place in the Russian heart. Wonderfully healthy and cheap, the best way to eat гречка is with lots of butter! A number of proverbs revolve around this most Russian of dishes, and my favourite is “гречневая каша – матушка наша, а хлебец ржаной – отец наш родной” (buckwheat porridge is our mother and rye bread is our father). However, notice how St. Petersburg locals drop the ‘к’ – it becomes греча instead. So if you see греча on a menu here, it’s not a typo!
4) Корюшка (Smelts)
Apparently called the ‘tsar of fish’ by Peter the Great himself, these little fish are a St. Petersburg delicacy. Thanks to the city’s many waterways, корюшка are always in plentiful supply – great news considering the demand! Peak корюшка season is April to May, and there is even an annual festival dedicated to them. Корюшка have the scent of cucumbers, although I’ve been assured they don’t taste like them!
5) Петроград, Ленинград (Petrograd, Leningrad)
St. Petersburg has gone through a lot of name changes throughout the years. Originally called St. Petersburg, it became Петроград in 1914, as ‘St. Petersburg’ sounded too Germanic (Russia was in the midst of the First World War at the time). In 1924 the city’s name was changed to Ленинград to honour the late Soviet leader. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it reverted back to St. Petersburg. Therefore, a local could have been born in St. Petersburg, gone to school in Petrograd, got married in Leningrad and died in St. Petersburg without ever moving!
6) Пышки (Doughnuts)
Fancy an authentic Soviet snack? Then try some пышки! Similar to doughnuts, they are light and crispy, and sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. The ultimate пышки café is just off Nevsky Prospect, on Bolshaya Konyshennaya street. Called Пышки (what else?!), it has used the same recipe since 1958 and always has a huge queue outside – the locals can’t get enough of them!
7) Сезон навигации (Navigation Season)
An iconic part of life in St. Petersburg, сезон навигации refers to the opening of the huge drawbridges that cross the Neva. The season normally lasts from April to November and allows large ships to move along the river. The sight is quite something to behold, and tourists and locals often watch the bridge openings during White Nights (Белые ночи). Just make sure you’re on the right side of the bridge – they stay open for a few hours!
8) Шаверма (Shawarma)
Called шаурма elsewhere in Russia, these meat kebabs are popular all over St. Petersburg. Шаверма is a uniquely St. Petersburg term for this street food, and locals do certainly seem to like them! The meat is served in a sandwich or wrap, and accompanied with hummus, tahini, tomato, and cucumber. Originally from the Middle East, the шаверма has definitely found a home in St. Petersburg.
Hopefully these words have shed some light on the culture of St. Petersburg. Don’t forget to check out the Liden & Denz blog for more about this wonderful city!
This post was brought to you by Tilly Hicklin, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz, St. Petersburg.