In my previous articles (Arrival to Saint-Petersburg, Saint-Petersburg wonders and Weather in Saint-Petersburg) I was rather looking through the glasses of a tourist who often has only 1-2 weeks time to spend in the city. I have lived for more than two years in Russia and I would like to share my experience about living in Petersburg.
In this article I discuss mostly food and some other shopping options and prices in the city. As a mainly self-supporting student I had be aware of the pricetags. No matter what I did in Russia, studied or completed an internship in St.Petersburg, I had to control my spendings – I believe some of you can relate to that, so off we go.
The price level of basic food and water are well below the western prices, even this is the case in 2015 after the record inflation in April. I remember seeing exchange students from Norway and Switzerland (they had particularly high purchasing power parity) packing the shopping cart till it almost collapsed and they were honestly surprised that they could buy goods for „free”. Yes, they were using that word, for them it was for free in sense that food was ten times cheaper than in their home countries. A swiss friend of mine caught a cold and bought three prescribed medicine in the pharmacy, and he was shocked that he paid only 30 euros (in rubles). Also, my friends from France, Italy and Germany considered the prices to be very generous. Central-European fellow students had almost the same buying power as at home, however they (including me) noticed that vegetables, fruits, sliced meat and cheese products cost more than in Poland, The Chezh Republic, Slovakia or Hungary. Tap water is generally not drinking water, so either we bought a water-filterer or bottled water. The Russian way is definitely the filtering, because they mostly boil the water for a tea (note: personally I recommend the bottled water, because filtering and boiling did not help me in Petersburg).
The taste and quality of food are equally decent. I never had any food problem in Russia, however in case of raw meat and dairy products it is advised to check the date of expiry and the soundness of the package. Alcohol is sold for 18+, and hard liquor for 21+ (till 22:00), though IDs are very seldom checked. Many of my western friends broke their „I quit smoking” new year resolution, because they could buy a pack of local cigarettes starting from 30 rubles and western brands from 50 rubels (1€) – so willpower is needed indeed.
Keep in mind that 24 hour shops like Lenta (Лента) and Perekrestok (Перекресток) cost more than smaller shops like Diksi (Дикси). In my experience the product quality is lesser in Produkti (Продукты) and Semja (7Я-Семья), while Prisma (Призма) represents good quality, but it is even more expensive than its 24 hour competitors. Well-known foreign shops are present as well: Auchan (Ашан), Metro and SPAR are widely available. Students who were in need of furniture, kitchenware or decoration, they organized a shared car to IKEA, those wanting to buy branded clothes went to Galeria (Галерия). I recommend the app „2gis”, which offers by far the best (free) offline map of any Russian city; though you must be able to at least read in Russian. For people who desire consistently good quality and cheap prices, I strongly suggest to choose the closest Diksi (open till 23:00, Sunday 22:00) – there I could find any product I needed in a well organized and clean shopping area for affordable prices. Visa and MasterCard are accepted everywhere, in very rare cases the cashier breaks down and accepts cash only, so always keep 700-800 rubles on you. If you are using cash, try to pay with appropriate banknotes, because they will not be happy to change your 5000 rubles note for a chewing gum.
The ruble has lost 50% of its value to the main currencies at the end of 2015, so those getting their paychecks in dollar or euro enjoy significant benefits, which is mildly balanced off with a moderate price increase. All things considered I could easily get by from 120-150 euros (for food and water) with a shopping cart that included chicken breast, eggs, potato, rice, tomato, pickles, onion, banana, flavoured oatmeat, milk, water, fruits and some chocolate (Russian chocolates are delicious). If you are fond of sliced meat, cheese and various candies, you will be on the 150 euro end of the scale, which is still a great offer for most foreigners.
As a next step for an easier life, read further abour the Public transport in Saint-Petersburg.
Attila Mucsi (visit Attila's FaceBook page)