In 2008 Nikita became a vegetarian. The cruelty that went into meat production had served as the main incentive and then he started cooking, realizing a passion he had had for so long.
“I used to cook raw dishes for events,” Nikita recalls, “And then people would come and ask where they can get the same thing in the city.” And every time the answer was “nowhere”. Ukrop was born out of this. Nikita found Sasha and together they founded the first restaurant off Nevsky Street a year later.
“The luxury of honesty” Nikita calls it, “Of being Russian and then not Russian, of being something else, more and different.” This is how the development manager of Ukrop Café endearingly describes the original concept of their vegetarian cafés.
“I was here for its opening and then I’ve been coming over for three and half years now.” Veronica, a mutual friend of Nikita and Sasha speaks fondly of the original Ukrop. The place opened on September 17th 2012 and became so popular that three more cafes opened within the next three years. Nikita’s favorite?
“You can’t ask me that,” Nikita tells me laughingly, “It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child.” He does single out his favorite items on the menu though, vegetarian burgers and “A mean ‘raw chocolate’ with Colombian cocoa beans, cocoa butter, honey and nuts” he adds.
‘Raw chocolate’ among other raw dishes as Ukrop claims to be the first “rawtarian” menu in town,
“Perhaps not the first in Russia,” Nikita is quick to point out, and adds that Sok Café located opposite the Tretyakov Art Gallery in Moscow was the first. So the first ‘rawtarian’ in Petersburg and deliciously so. Anastasia, an eco-blogger acquaintance of mine had passionately recommended the ‘raw’ blueberry dessert and it had surprised me with its depth and richness of flavor.
“We were by no means the first vegetarian place in town,” Nikita asserts and goes on to say that Botanika had started its business almost eight years ago. He even tells me his favorite item on their menu, “They do this amazing hot drink called Siberian Heat with pine nuts, dates, and maple syrup.”
As for Ukrop’s frequent customers, they usually go for the “falafel in pita bread”. This is what Barbara, one of the baristas in the ‘original’ Ukrop, tells me. It resonates with me as a couple of other eco-blogger friends and regulars have been raving about the falafel. But the menu certainly goes beyond the ordinary-sounding dish. I have asked for Barbara’s favorite pick from their menu and she shows me the tofu scramble with Himalayan salt.
Each item on the menu is created with care. Most are original creations of Ukrop’s chefs and some are personal creations of the founders. Nikita for example has created the Tuscan soup, and Vera, Sasha’s wife, contributes by developing recipes. Up until September 2015, each of the four Ukrop cafés had something unique to offer.
The ingredients that go inside that yummy falafel and the other items on Ukrop’s menu are nothing super-fancy though,
“Well, we never claimed we were using organic or all-natural products,” Nikita remarks, “But simply providing another option for anyone who loves eating, not only vegans and vegetarians, anyone.” And Nikita knows their demographic and no, they are not only hardcore vegans and vegetarians like Veronica but yes, mostly young women from twenty-seven to thirty. They are not ‘those who only eat carrot’ as some Russians blatantly put it. Whether following a trend or choosing to be a vegan for a ‘greater good’, these are real people with real jobs, lives and identities.
And why the name Ukrop which literally translate as ‘dill‘ in Russian?
“It is as Russian as it gets, yes!” Nikita says referring to the herb being a common staple of many Russian dishes and a reason for quite a few raised eyebrows. “But also so much more in something quite unique!” he adds. And so it happens that Ukrop finds its place and thrives.
Added value: ‘Summer’ and ‘Kvartira’ serve organic wine!