A Culinary Guide to Veliky Novgorod

PHOTO by yulenochekk / Depositphotos
We walked through the length and breadth of Novgorod, trying lots of dishes and local products – here are top 15 gastronomic attractions we found

Veliky Novgorod is the birthplace of the Russian state and of Russian democracy. The former capital of the mighty Novgorod republic, stretching from the Baltic to the Urals. The city where doughty old churches, are a natural part of urban neighbourhoods. A city which has survived many wars, though they sometimes almost left it in ruins. It is a city of distinctive culinary tradition, based on the poverty of local soils, centuries-old tradition of horticulture, its forests inhabited by wild game, berry and mushroom picking, and lakes and rivers, still brimming with fish.

Novgorod Gingerbread

Novgorod is one of the few Russian cities where the gingerbread-baking tradition has been preserved. Gingerbreads with different fillings are made at the local industrial baking. You can buy them in the tourist info centre and in the Novgorodhleb branded kiosks scattered throughout the city. They taste and look like those from Tula, but those served at Berg’s House (Dom Berga) restaurant (see below) are much tastier: they are soft, tender, soaked with sweet spices, and, of course, expensive.

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Gallery

This Park Inn Hotel Restaurant is of as good quality as you ought to expect from a restaurant at a decent hotel. The menu includes such Russian-European classics as tartar, mussels in cream sauce, solyanka soup, beef stroganoff, Pozharsky cutlets and shish-kebabs. It still is one of the few places in the city where the grey shchi cabbage soup is on regular menu. Gallery’s Chef, Mikhail Shishov, who is originally from St. Petersburg, is also the chef at Park Inn’s second restaurant “Na Solntse” (On the sun), which offers all kinds of steaks, pasta, burgers and wok noodles.

Address: Studencheskaya, 2

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Kroshevo (Mishmash)

Kroshevo is a speciality of Novgorod, as well as one of northwest Russia, i.e. those lands which belonged to the Novgorod Republic. The outer leaves of a green cabbage (those which usually go into animal fodder) are finely chopped, occasionally mixed with chopped onions and carrots, then sprinkled with salt and rye flour (some chefs don't add it, but it's still better with flour) and squeezed together by hand. Then the mixture is left under a press in a warm place for about a week. Once a day, the press is lifted and the green mass poked with a stick to release the gas. Once it's ready, the mishmash should be stored in a cool, dry place. It is used as the main ingredient of shchi, one of the best Russian soups. You can buy kroshevo at Novgorod’s markets – Central, Vostochny (East) market (street row) and on the bridge over Fedorovsky Creek. Khutynsky Monastery near the city also sells kroshevo. A small pot costs 50-60 roubles.

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Krasnaya Izba

Novgorod is one of the very few cities in Russia which has created a tourist information centre which is comparable with its European equivalents. It is called "Krasnaya Izba" (the Red House) and is found in Sennaya Square, near the Kremlin walls. It is useful, not only because it has all necessary tourist information, but because it has gathered all major edible souvenirs of the city and the region together. Gingerbreads, milk thistle and flax seed flour, Lesok lemonade and cream-honey from "Honey House", willowherb Ivan-tea from Yemelyanovskaya biofactory, and Old Russian salt can all be found in one place.

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Cabbages

The Cabbage Festival is held in early October in the Vitoslavlitsy museum of wooden architecture, between Novgorod and Lake Ilmen. During the festival, demonstrations of peasant chores are staged, showing how in the olden days the whole village would gather together and make cabbage preserves for winter. Guests of the festival can take part in cabbage and kroshevo chopping, learn how to make sauerkraut and kroshevo preserves, and try shchi and pies with cabbage.

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Medovukha and Sbiten

We cannot say that medovukha and sbiten are Novgorod’s specialities, but thanks to tourist demand, they are now served in every self-respecting cafe or restaurant. And they're quite good, too! Medovukha is produced on an industrial scale by the Novgorod plant "Deka", but homemade medovukha is better.

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Starorusskaya Salt

Salt in Staraya Russa was produced as far back as in the eleventh century. In fact, this town near Lake Ilmen most likely sprung up thanks to salt production. The locals evaporated salt from the local mineral water, giving a salt which was not white, but reddish-pink.

Then salt industry became less profitable and eventually died out due to the development of industrial salt production in the south of Russia and the resulting fall in the price of salt. But not so long ago, two local businessmen Oleg Suvorov and Yuri Kuznetsov built a salt furnace in Staraya Russa, mainly in order to make money from tourists.

The local salt has a soft, gentle taste and can be bought at the Krasnaya Izba. It costs a lot more than regular salt since its production is quite expensive: they boil it in small volumes over woodfires. You can only make about 1.8 kilogram of salt from 100 litres of water.

Veliky Novgorod Gourmet Festival

Started at the Krasnaya Izba, this gastronomic festival has been held every autumn for the last five years. Its goal is simple: to make Novgorod cuisine more popular. Thanks to the festival, the restaurants with French cuisine now also serve hoed beef, a restaurant of a large international chain has shchi on the menu, and a Georgian cafe serves walleye pike telnoye (fish chop). Places with Russian cuisine serve new and interesting dishes, organise contests to help them find interesting half-forgotten recipes and host days of different national cuisines – Estonian, Serbian, Swiss, and Chilean. Here is one of the festival meals photographed from the roof of the Rossiya Hotel.

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Hoed Beef

This is a specialty which was cooked at coachhouses across the Novgorod region: beef chops laid in a cabbage leaf. Horse carriage drivers and their passengers used to take these with them for long journeys. The dish unexpectedly reappeared in the Ile de France restaurant during one of the Novgorod gastronomic festivals. The restaurant’s chef, Evgenia, found it still quite widely eaten in the village of Sherebut and slightly adjusted the recipe. First, she quickly marinates beaten filet in a mixture of juniper, rowan berry flour and salt, then she fries it and serves with pickled cucumbers covered with sour cream.

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Flagman Frigate

You'll find a whole restaurant complex on board the old Finnish ship, which has been converted into a sort of frigate, with masts, but without sails. It is solidly moored on the bank of the Volkhov, right in front of the Novgorod Kremlin. There is a night club and a banquet hall inside, but the “Russian soul” restaurant is the calmer and more authentic part of it. They prepare sliced elk meat here, bake walleye in puff pastry, cook walleye and ruffe fish soups, fry the ribs of Ilmen bream, stuff quail with liver and mushrooms, and make pelmeni with bear meat – in short, just about every Novgorod dish you can think of. As well as this, the chef Irina Sazonova has a secret cellar in her office, where homemade preserves, pickles and of all sorts of jams are stored. We have made a video of it.

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Rosebay Willowherb Ivan Tea

Ivan-tea, also known as koporka, was made on a massive scale in pre-revolutionary Russia in order to be mis-sold as Chinese tea. In modern history, infused willowherb leaves were promoted as a true Russian drink. Set aside this patriotic fervour and you're left with a perfectly good drink. Ivan-tea is now industrially produced in various regions of Russia. In the Novgorod region it is made at Yemelyanovskaya factory in the village of Yemelyanovskaya in the Khvoyninsky district. They produce large leaf, medium leaf and broken-leaf tea, fermented and green, loose and in pyramids, with different additives: thyme, currant, lime blossom, mint, marjoram, heather and meadowsweet. In Novgorod, you can buy it at the Krasnaya Izba, but the factory also has an online store with delivery to Moscow and the Moscow region.

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Samovar

A small, soulful and distinctive craft bar on the Fedorovsky Creek. There are 14 taps, whose contents occasionally rotate, but does not go beyond the Russian breweries. There's also large selection of bottled international beers, and small snacks. The main hall has a record player with a big stack of the most unexpected vinyl, and what will play in the next half hour – German psychedelic rock or Vladimir Vysotsky – depends more on chance rather than by bartenders’ mood.

Address: Fedorovsky Creek, 9

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Berg’s House (Dom Berga)

This restaurant is located in a former pharmacy belonging to the merchant Emily Berg on Bolshaya Moskovskaya street, across the street from Yaroslav’s Court. It serves traditional Russian cuisine, but with some upgrades. Salo and pickles, mushrooms with sour cream, vinaigrette salad with anchovies, pancakes with pike caviar, veal kidneys with porcini mushrooms in Crimean port wine, kroshevo soup, bear meat with lingonberries, pike perch telnoye, and finally pelmeni. We have already mentioned its gingerbread, too!

Address: B.Moskovskaya, 24

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Sulchiny

These are Karelian rye breads which were very popular across the Novgorod Republic (the region of Karelia was part of the Novgorod Republic). They were a regular treat for the coachmen at coachhouses on the way from city to city. Here is a recipe from Valentina Timofeeva, who lives in the village of Ust-Volma, in Krestetsky district, which was recorded during one of the festivals arranged by the Krasnaya Izba: make dough from one kilogram of rye flour, one glass of water and 1.2 teaspoons of salt so that it does not stick to hands; divide it into pieces which are the size of a hen’s egg, roll out into thin breads; fry them a bit on both sides in a hot dry frying pan – very quickly, so they don't dry up; liberally grease the hot cakes on both sides with butter and lay them out on a plate. At the same time you need to make millet porridge of medium thickness, put the hot porridge on the breads, pull the edges on both sides towards the centre and fold them again. Sulchiny should be eaten hot, dipped into melted butter.

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Pike perch

Pike perch is one of the main fish of Lake Ilmen. Smoked pike perch is one Novgorod’s most important souvenirs.

Pike perch (and bream) are traditionally stuffed with sauerkraut in Novgorod. You will need large fish for that dish, so that they have room for filling. The sauerkraut should be heated in oil with chopped onion and stuffed into the gutted fish. You do not need to add salt to the sauerkraut, but the sides of the fish should be rubbed with salt (and smeared with oil). Grease a baking sheet, put the fish on its belly to bake at 180ºC for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.

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