How did pizza first appear in the Soviet Union?


The first pizzerias in Russia did not appear until the onset of perestroika in the 1980s, and some of them are still in operation today. Also, although there were no billboards advertising the pizza and it was impossible to order delivery, everyone knew what pizza was. In addition, almost everyone would cook their own variety of the famous Italian dish at home, creating their own Russian version.

Wind of change

The Iron Curtain didn’t stop Soviet citizens from learning about pizza and knowing that it was a popular fast food restaurant in America. The first restaurants where people could taste the taste of “western life” began to open in Moscow and other major cities before the 1980 Olympics, in preparation for which the country needed restaurants with customer service. high standard and modern kitchen.

Thus, a pizzeria with red and white checkered tablecloths opened on Gorki Street (now Tverskaya). It served a variety of pizzas and pastas as well as Lambrusco sparkling wine.

Pizzeria

Getting a table there, like many other popular places in Moscow, was a fluke. His pizzas were similar to the ones we are used to today, although small in size.

Another incredibly authentic pizzeria opened in the mid-1980s in Simferopol (Crimea), but it didn’t have Margarita, Napolitana, or other canonical pizza flavors on its menu.

The Simferopol pizzeria is still in the same building!

Instead, the Crimean pizza makers offered Soviet citizens what can only be considered daring dining experiences. For example, ham and egg pizza, chicken and mushroom pizza, or crab stick pizza. Their pizzas looked like an open pie on thick dough. This cafe still operates today with virtually the same menu. And it gets incredible reviews: “It’s unlikely that when this cafe first opened, anyone had a clear idea of ​​what a pizza is.” writing Sergey from St. Petersburg, who visited the pizzeria during his vacation. “And yet their pizzas are pretty darn tasty. And the main thing is that they are very generous with the toppings.

The Odessa pizzeria, 1980s.

A pizzeria opened in Odessa in 1984 occupied the premises of a former creperie and was decorated in red and black tones. His squid, beef, or egg pizzas cost no more than 50 kopecks back then (around 100 rubles, or $ 1.50 at today’s price).

Many cities in the Soviet Union, such as Kiev, Riga, and Lvov, had pizzerias that served their own variations of the traditional Italian dish.

Automated pizzeria grill

But real Italian and American pizza didn’t appear in the USSR until the late 1980s, after a summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan. In 1987, the USSR allowed the creation of so-called “joint ventures”, and with this foreign fast food restaurant and other Western things began to flow into the country.

Pizza on wheels

The opening of the Astro Pizza truck, the Lenin Hills, 1988.

In the spring of 1988, a huge truck with Soviet and American flags appeared in the district of Lenin Hills (now Sparrow Hills). A crowd of people immediately gathered around him as Italian-American chefs behind the counter demonstrated how they beat the dough, a trick people had previously only seen in movies. After throwing in some sausage and cheese, they then invited the spectators to try an American style pizza. The food truck was called Astro Pizza and was a Russian-American joint venture.

The opening of the Astro Pizza truck, the Lenin Hills, 1988.

Their prices weren’t cheap: 1 ruble and 25 kopecks for one slice (not even a whole pizza!), Which translates to almost 300 rubles ($ 4) in today’s currency. This didn’t deter customers, however, and there were always huge queues at the Astro Pizza truck. Its popularity was further enhanced by an element of surprise, as Muscovites never knew where the truck would appear next. Astro Pizza typically sold around 150-200 pizzas a day, which was a pretty lucrative business overall.

The opening of the Astro Pizza truck, the Lenin Hills, 1988.

And yet, after only six months, the company left the USSR because the legal status of a joint venture proved problematic for American companies. There was also a problem with the conversion of Soviet rubles into dollars. However, it won’t be long before the Soviet Union sees the arrival of some of the real restaurant giants.

Lunch in foreign currency

The Pizza Hut restaurant in Moscow, 1990.

In 1990, two Pizza Hut restaurants opened in Moscow at the same time: one in the center and one in the west of the city (also a joint venture). A few months later, they were serving around 80,000 customers a month and producing 5,000 pizzas a day! Moscow’s Pizza Hut restaurants were the largest in the world at the time and offered all modern varieties of pizza.

Initially, the management of the company planned to use mainly Soviet ingredients, but it turned out that there was simply no supplier of mozzarella in the country, and in winter it was almost impossible to find fresh vegetables in the necessary quantities.

Additionally, Pizza Hut restaurants were also quite expensive for locals and not seen as just a place to grab a quick bite.

They accepted not only rubles, but also US dollars, which few people in the USSR had (and those who did were mostly foreigners). A large pizza cost about 18 rubles (4000 rubles in today’s currency), while its price in dollars was almost twice as much. And yet, foreigners often chose sections of restaurants that charged in dollars so as not to queue.

After the collapse of the USSR, Pizza Hut continued to operate successfully in Russia. In 1997, the channel’s advertising campaign even featured former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. However, the company did not survive the financial crisis of 1998. In 2013, Pizza Hut restaurants reopened in Moscow, but this time it was all-Russian entities that offered pizza. relatively inexpensive (600-700 rubles, about $ 8-10).

Fast food according to national quality standards

Many Soviets couldn’t afford to eat out often, but that didn’t mean they didn’t cook pizza at home. Homemade pizzas were made with all the leftovers from the fridge, while exotic ingredients like anchovies were replaced with something more familiar, like herring.

“In Ryazan, where I lived, when a leatherette factory was built, the material was ordered from Italy. remember Constantine Stepanov. “A large group of Italians arrived to set it up and train local staff. They baked pizzas and the recipe spread through word of mouth. I remember my grandmother also trying to make pizza. ”

In the late 1980s, the Leningrad Soviet Institute of Commerce developed pizza recipes that could be found in cookbooks from that period. The basis was an ordinary yeast dough, which was covered with tomato paste and, optionally, mayonnaise, an ingredient much appreciated by the Soviets at the time. Then there were also options to make pizza with fish or meat. For the fish pizza, you would need 75 grams of fish (any variety), 10 grams of onions, a few olives (which could also be replaced with pickles) and 30 grams of cheese. And you can top it all off with dried herbs. Meanwhile, the meat pizza required boiled minced meat or chicken, a boiled egg, cheese, tomato and herbs. The cooking time was eight minutes at 300 degrees.

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