Baked apples topped with cranberries and cinnamon sugar. Thin-crust pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms.  Caesar salad with grated Parmesan. Doesn’t sound like a school cafeteria?
 
Back when we were students, stolovaya - or old-school Soviet cafeteria  - was the last place you wanted to have lunch. It smelled like daycare and the tea served from a giant kettle looked like mop water. You ate there if you were too exhausted to walk a block to a real cafe.
 
But things have changed, and stolovayas are now a popular concept for a quick and freshly made lunch without breaking the bank. It’s even popular around town. People who don’t have to eat at stolovayas any more are happy to do so because of the convenience and a just a dash of nostalgia.
 
 
Each ITMO University campus has a stolovaya. It works like this: you grab a tray which you’ll find piled up at the beginning of the line and gradually make your way through some delicious Russian cuisine towards the cash register. Most Russians would start with a salad, and here’s your opportunity to try Olivie (Russian take on potato salad), vinaigrette, which here is a beets salad and not a dressing, or sauerkraut, often served as an appetiser. 
 
 
Your next stop is soup: wanted to try borsch but making it sounds like too much hassle? Here’s your chance. You might also find schi, similar to borsch but without the beets and with lots of cabbage, or fish soup, or solyanka - a hodgepodge of veggies, sausages and pickles topped with a couple of olives. Russians love soup and are convinced its healthy for you, so you might as well enjoy.
 
Then you’re on to the main course. You’re likely to find a local version of bunless hamburger called kotleti, some sort of fish and chicken. Sometimes there’s plov: a rice and meat dish originally from Uzbekistan. You might also find local delicacies, such as yezhiki - or hedgehogs. Don’t fret. It’s just meatballs with rice stewed in sour cream sauce. 
 
 
Still room on your tray? You can’t leave without dessert or at least a vatrushka - a sweet pastry with cottage cheese center - that you can stash for that break between the classes. To wash everything down you go for some boring soda or try compote instead. Served in glasses, it’s a bright fruity drink often with tiny pieces of apples or berries. 
 
A three-course lunch will run you about 300 RUB. You can catch up on the latest issue of Megabyte magazine while you’re at it or work on a project with group mates. Sharing lunch is a universal way of cementing friendships. 
 
Stolovaya is a popular concept in St. Petersburg in general, with some of the more popular chains are Stolovaya #1 and Tarelka. They also serve breakfast and dinner. 
 
Priyatnovo appetita (bon appetit) and don’t forget to put your dirty dishes away!
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