Apart from being one of the most lucrative shopping destinations in Europe – thanks to the current exchange rate, Russia is also a great country to look for unique mementos. Sure, the world has shrunk and you can buy anything (almost) anywhere, but here are seven things beyond matreshkas, ushankas and Soviet memorabilia, that are so much better if you buy them in Russia.
For two centuries Russia’s oldest porcelain factory created exquisite pieces for the Romanov family and retained its impeccable quality even when the Soviet authorities used it as a means of visual propaganda. Now you can buy their lovely pieces, or even the whole iconic “cobalt net” set at a number of stores around Russia.
There are several kinds of Russian shawl, but all of them are equally extraordinary in both visual appearance and adherence to traditions. Pavloposadskie shawls, named after the town they’re produced in, are known for their bright flower patterns and authenticity – they look exactly like the ones Russian ladies wore two hundreds years ago. If you’re looking for something to keep you warm on the coldest of winter nights, then you should definitely get yourself an Orenburg shawl. Made of goat down yarn, these shawls are knitted lace with intricate patterns, so fine you can pull them through a wedding band.
Produced in Moscow’s suburbs since 1802, these blue and white ceramic pieces are arguably the most recognisable Russian keepsakes. With its soft colours, floral designs, and fairytale look, Gzhel porcelain looks amazing in any shape. While you can buy them all over the world now, they are so much better if you get them from the actual place of origin.
The Russian tradition of wood painting dates back as far as the 12th century, and is still alive in a number villages with Palekh being the best-known. Beautiful miniature paintings on lacquered wooden jewelry boxes take a lot of time and effort and make a perfect gift idea.
The Fabulous Faberge Easter Eggs, created by St. Petersburg jeweler Karl Gustav Faberge for the Russian Royals, are the crowd pullers responsible for the ridiculous lines at the Hermitage Museum. Today you can buy visually stunning replicas of the iconic art works all over Russia. Made of gold or silver and decorated with jade, pearls, ivory, rubies or diamonds, these pieces make much cheaper souvenirs that the originals.
When you say “chocolate”, Belgium is probably the first country to pop in to your mind, but Russians also have rich traditions of chocolate making. Before the revolution confectionery magnates Abrikosov and Sons produced 800 varieties of chocolate. Even today the cornucopia of choices in candy stores can make you dizzy, but if you’re a first timer, then stick to the tried and trusted “Alenka” and “Babaevsky” chocolate bars.
Russian space food is one of the perks of the Space Race and the USSR’s heavy investments into the space program. Backed by science and produced by the actual Space Food Laboratory, Russian space food is not just delicious and made with natural ingredients, now it boasts some adorable packaging. All that makes it a perfect gift to bring home, so look for space food vending machines at the interactive museum complex “Buran” or pavilion 26 of the VDNKh park and Moscow’s railway stations.