Gastronomic tourism as a new brand of St. Petersburg

15 March 2021

Modern St. Petersburg cuisine is not a smelt. More precisely, not only her. These are unique local products, northern berries and herbs, the imagination and freedom of the chef. This is how she was introduced to journalists during a press tour organized by the Committee for the Development of Tourism of St. Petersburg. What the local gastronomy is famous for, and how it will help bring tourists back to the city - in our review.

Olga Pegasova, correspondent of "Vestnik ATOR"


Petersburg cuisine is by no means an artificial brand. It began to form back in the 18th century during the reign of Peter I, and over time it turned into the so-called. "High Russian cuisine".

Her dishes were served in palaces and houses of the nobility and are, of course, mentioned in Russian classical literature. The main feature of this cuisine is the combination of the traditions of French and Russian gastronomy.

Of course, a lot of time has passed since then, and the turbulent XX century did not contribute to the continuation of traditions. To return the city to its former glory as the gastronomic capital of Russia, the government of St. Petersburg launched the Petersburg Cuisine program in 2014.

Chefs and catering establishments were involved in it, culinary colleges and museums were connected. Advertising of St. Petersburg cuisine as a historical phenomenon was carried out at various professional forums and festivals, and this year a promotional video was launched for the townspeople in public transport. On top of that, dishes of "high" Petersburg cuisine were included in the programs of all official receptions of the city and regional government.

“It is important for us that the gastronomic component of the tourist product for the guests of St. Petersburg becomes as necessary a point as the desire to go on an excursion or look at the raised bridges,” says Sergey Korneev, Chairman of the Committee for Tourism Development of St. Petersburg. He is sure that the city may well become the place where the best traditions of European, Russian and even world cuisine will be presented.

“The gastronomic symbols of our city are not only smelt and crumpets,” says Sergey Markov, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg. He notes that over the 6 years of the program's existence, a lot has been done to promote the new brand. So, today more than 40% of city dwellers believe that St. Petersburg has its own local cuisine, and more than 10% have heard about the project itself.

Now in the city there are more than 30 restaurants serving traditional St. Petersburg cuisine and in confirmation of this they have a special sign, which is shown already at the entrance to their institution.

The quintessence of the revived brand is the “boiled sterlet in champagne” (this recipe, like many others, can be read here). This is a classic combination of Russian fish from the sturgeon family, the catch of which is allowed only in the north of the country, and French champagne.

It is sterlet that is most often ordered by guests in St. Petersburg restaurants when they want to try something from the local cuisine. The cost of such a dish varies from 600 to 2 thousand rubles. per plate, which makes it quite accessible to people with different abilities.


However, Mr. Markov notes that, despite all the efforts, the number of restaurants in the city offering Russian cuisine on the menu is still small and loses to numerous establishments with Georgian, Italian, Asian and “pan-European” gastronomy. He reminds that if in European countries the ratio of local and foreign cuisines in popular tourist cities is usually 8 to 10, in St. Petersburg it is not even 4 to 5.

The lack of such a “local” gastronomic focus can become a problem for tourism, experts say. According to UNWTO, over 80% of travelers are always interested in local cuisine and ready to try something new. As for St. Petersburg, most of our tourists do not yet understand what the city can be "unusual" in terms of gastronomy and how much it will be available to them.

“There is a problem of the so-called. "Tourist restaurants", through which there is a large flow, and tourists, as a rule, do not notice the delicious food and high-class service on the spot, "says Igor Bukharov, President of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Russia.

At the same time, he notes that modern St. Petersburg really has something to offer guests in terms of gastronomy, since here, in comparison with Moscow, there is more space for creativity, high-class and independent chefs work, and prices are significantly lower.

So far, alas, there is no mass request for a gastronomic trip to St. Petersburg and specifically for visiting restaurants of St. Petersburg cuisine. The main reason is the lack of information - both among the professionals of the tourist business and among the tourists themselves.

“All segments of the tourist chain, both tour operators, travel agents, and travelers, must receive elements of local cuisine, otherwise we cannot be called a tourist country,” summarizes Ekaterina Shapovalova, coordinator of the federal project “Gastronomic Map of Russia”.


The pandemic restrictions introduced at the end of 2020 and the absence of foreigners in St. Petersburg, which hit tourism hard, forced many professionals to think about new ways to restore a successful industry. So, last year the city was visited by 10.4 million tourists, each of them spent at least 3 days here and, accordingly, spent a certain amount on food and visiting restaurants.

According to local authorities, to restore tourist flow after the pandemic, new measures and non-standard solutions will be required. And the focus on local gastronomy is one of them.

St. Petersburg attracts tourists with its unique atmosphere, an important element of which is gastronomy. Having good memories of food and the accompanying setting influences the experience of the entire trip, so gastronomy should be seen as an essential part of a tourist's emotional experience. As Mr. Korneev notes, there are 1000 and 1 reasons to return to St. Petersburg again, including for the unique historical and modern St. Petersburg cuisine.

He recalls that lately the city has pulled ahead significantly in terms of the opening and level of restaurants, gastropubs and bars. Many St. Petersburg restaurants were marked with the prestigious rating of The World's 50 Best Restaurants, and El Copitas bar became the first bar in the city to be included in the rating of the 50 best bars in the world. The team of chefs from St. Petersburg won the VI All-Russian culinary championship Chef a la Russe.

In addition, the promotion of gastronomy has a good effect on the local economy, developing small farms in the Leningrad region and neighboring regions, thereby forming a trend towards “sustainable tourism”.

Thus, the most famous restaurants of St. Petersburg's gourmet cuisine, such as Palkin, Eclipse, Birch, EM, have exclusive contracts with local suppliers, and these establishments change their menu depending on the season of supply of certain local products.

So, salmon and trout are often brought in them from the shores of Lake Onega and Ladoga, muksun and marbled catfish are grown on farms in the Baltic, local communities of Kingisepp supply handmade cheeses from goat's milk, pickled coriander is brought from Pskov, and berries and herbs are collected in forests of Karelia.


At the moment, we can safely say that gastronomic tours to St. Petersburg have great potential.

“St. Petersburg has already formed a unique restaurant and bar subculture that attracts guests from other cities, and, above all, residents of the capital. At the same time, St. Petersburg restaurant culture is more democratic in terms of price positioning and is a unique synthesis of northern, Russian, Scandinavian and classical European gastronomic traditions,”notes Daria Domostroeva, head of the press service of the Intourist tour operator.

According to experts of tour operator companies - ATOR members, gastronomic tours to St. Petersburg can include visits to restaurants of haute Russian cuisine, modern cuisine, experimental, author's cuisine, master classes, familiarization with local products and places of their production.

In addition, among the objects of display in such tours may be the Eliseevsky store, the historic Metropol, the Sever confectionery, the Leningrad Porcelain Factory, the Faberge Museum and the Art and Industrial Academy. A.L. Stieglitz, where you can trace the entire history of porcelain in Russia and get acquainted with modern industrial design of tableware.

As a souvenir, tourists can bring the famous sweets, pastries, as well as the St. Petersburg cake with the symbols of the city.

But the main thing in these tours, experts say, is to strike the right balance between gastronomic and cultural tourism.

“In St. Petersburg, there are the strongest travel brands associated primarily with historical and architectural monuments, which so far draw on almost the entire flow, eclipsing all other areas of tourism,” emphasizes Sergei Romashkin, general director of the Dolphin tour operator, on whose website more than 10 gastronomic tours across Russia are presented.

He is sure that the main "highlight" of a gastronomic trip to St. Petersburg should lie in something other than cooking, and interesting food only complements and "fringes" it.

“We, for example, have a gastronomic tour to Teriberka, according to which we realized that the opportunity to see the Northern Lights is still in the first place for our tourists, and gastronomic delights - in the second,” explains Mr. Romashkin.

The experts of the Intourist tour operator also agree with this, and they note that gastro-tourism in St. Petersburg will most likely be held in the format of city breaks.

So, if in the Crimea and Krasnodar Territory tourists often combine gastronomic tours with vacation at sea, visiting remote wineries, cheese dairies and oyster farms, in St. Petersburg most restaurants and gastro bars are concentrated in the city center. Therefore, studying the latest trends in gastronomy can be easily combined there with visits to historical sites and museums.

“The format of an individual weekend tour lasting 3 days / 2 nights with visits to cultural events (theater, exhibition), a museum of interest, showrooms of St. Petersburg designers is ideal,” says Larisa Akhanova, head of the press service of the National Tour Operator ALEAN.

This tour operator, in fact, already makes individual gastronomic tours to St. Petersburg in the VIP format, booking restaurants and organizing visits to the most interesting gastronomic venues. According to Ms Akhanova, the share of such tourists, for whom, first of all, “experience tourism” is important, is growing by an average of 10% every year.

Based on his experience, the expert names the approximate prices that are acceptable for future gastro-tourists: from 5 thousand rubles. per person in a tour format with visits to inexpensive gastro bars, farmers markets, food courts and wine glasses. And from 20 thousand rubles. per person - for tours in the premium segment - with thoughtful tastings and atmospheric restaurants.

The most important thing in the future gastro-tourism of the Northern capital is to recreate that special St. Petersburg atmosphere, which is appreciated by the residents themselves and which guests of the city want to feel, according to the experts of tour operators.

Obviously, everyone in the Committee for Tourism Development understands this, where, together with tourism professionals, a comprehensive tourist product is now being developed for different segments of guests and contacts with the Leningrad Region are expanding.

 The material was prepared as a result of a series of 5 informational and familiarization press tours that took place from November 28 to December 7, 2020 in the Northern capital. It was attended by 50 journalists and bloggers from different regions of Russia.