An acquired taste that’s synonymous with luxury, caviar is one of Russia’s signature delicacies. Just as you wouldn’t leave Italy without sipping a glass of top-class Italian wine, caviar is an essential try when in St Petersburg. From where to buy premium Beluga, to how to eat it and which vodkas make a perfect pairing, this guide to caviar has all the essentials covered.
Russian caviar is a delicacy that all visitors should try when in St Petersburg, but before jumping straight into a tasting session, it’s important to know what makes it so special. The salt-cured fish eggs are farmed from wild sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas, which straddle the south-western tip of Russia. The eggs are taken only from mature sturgeon, although the process is complex – eggs are either massaged out from a live fish or removed when it’s no longer alive. Considered a gourmet luxury, the delicacy is usually served with a mother of pearl spoon and eaten on a blini (a small Russian pancake), with sour cream and condiments such as boiled eggs, onion or herbs.
Varieties to try
Black, red, orange, yellow, brown, grey – Russian caviar comes in almost as many colours as it does varieties. The main types include Beluga, Sevruga and Ossetra. While all come from sturgeon, they have their unique qualities. Beluga is the most expensive and is prized for its large pea-sized eggs. It’s also the rarest because Beluga sturgeons can take up to 20 years to mature to egg-producing age. The next most premium variety is Ossetra. The eggs have a medium size and a strong flavour that’s highly distinctive. Sevruga is the most common Russian caviar, in part because the Sevruga sturgeon reproduces quickly. It’s small in shape and salty to taste.
Where to buy caviar
Yeliseev’s Food Hall is among St Petersburg’s most famous shops. It’s also one of the best places to buy caviar. Since Tsars ruled the country, it’s been a favourite of elite Russian gourmands and it’s worth visiting for its lavish gold leaf interiors alone. Visitors who can drag their gaze away from the ceiling will discover a generous selection of Russian goods, of which top-class caviar is a highlight. Caviar enthusiasts can also visit the Kuznechny Market and seek out the seafood aisle, which is dedicated to caviar and fish.
Caviar tasting at Astoria Café
Try before you buy with caviar tastings at Astoria Café at Hotel Astoria. The elegant Russian eatery serves four types across the price scale, including Keta, Sevruga, Sturgeon and, the highlight of the menu, Beluga. It’s served with blinis and traditional condiments, including hard-boiled eggs, sour cream, parsley, capers and chives. Start at the bottom with Kuta, and work your way up to the premium Beluga to really appreciate its unique flavour.
Vodka is to caviar what wine is to cheese, the perfect pairing. The subtleness of a good Russian vodka, served straight and ice cold, allows the distinctive flavour of the caviar to take centre stage on your palette. High-quality brands are best and certain vodkas pair particularly well with different caviar varieties. Beluga vodka with beluga caviar is an obvious choice, while Tsarskaya and Stolichnaya work well with a number of types, such as Sevruga.
After digesting our guide to caviar, sample the many varieties for yourself at Astoria Café at Hotel Astoria.
Image credits: Red caviar © iStock/alisafarov, Black caviar © iStock/margouillatphotos, Caviar and vodka © iStock/Rus32