The Transplanted Culture of Bell’s & Petrovsky Markets

The Transplanted Culture of Bell's & Petrovsky Markets

By Brandon Joyce

Two Russian friends of mine, Danila Aposov and Lea Elesoff”• a Moscovite and Dagestani, respectively”• recommended launching a little field trip up to Philadelphia’s “Russian suburb,” a string of Russian supermarkets, boutiques, bookstores, and eateries on the Northern reaches of Bustleton Avenue. It would be our chance to dine, garble Russian, and catch a make-believe glimpse of the Mother Country.

But as much as I wanted Bell’s Market to be an authentic pseudo-experience, Danila cut down my hopes, right inside of the automatic doors. “These kind of supermarkets are a pretty American invention. They’re so big. In Russia, the markets are much, much smaller.” Larger supermarkets could be found in Russia, but only more recently, and only then in disproportionately wealthy centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg. “And they have so much more variety here,” Lea added, surrounded on all sides by shiny-red Russian candies and confections.

The Transplanted Culture of Bell's & Petrovsky Markets

Nevertheless, a boy can dream, and never having been to Russia, I could still easily pretend to be in the middle of a truly Russian gastronom. Everyone”• absolutely everyone”• was speaking Russian. The tabloids and crosswords were in Russian. The deli clerks rang out with pozhaluista and slooshayou vass. Scarved, nipple-high babuschkas ran rampant through the aisles, thumping their fruits and vegetables before purchase. Even the adverts were colored in a suitably Slavic, brown and muted decor…

More after the jump!

This was exactly what I wanted, what I always want: to feel like a foreigner in my own country. In my ideal Philadelphia, I would need to cross five languages just to get to the drugstore and back. Common tasks, like shopping for pants or extension cords, would become giant, three-dimensional puzzles, for me to solve rather than endure. It would be so fun. But, hey, leave it to the English-only types to botch the whole thing up.

The Transplanted Culture of Bell's & Petrovsky Markets

Petrovsky Market was, it turns out, more authentically Russian. Smaller. More purely Russian in stock. And more presuming of your ability to speak in their language. When my girlfriend Leslie received her total in Russian, she forked over the cash, echoed a timid spaseeba, and hurried out undiscovered… Off with us, to enjoy our khachapury and chebureki in some nearby woods. A scene so wintry, so Peter and the Wolf, that it put the finishing touches on my true Russian pseudo-experience.

Petrovsky Market
9808 Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19115
(215) 330-1024

Bell’s Market
8330 Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19152
(215) 342-6016

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3 comments

  1. very nice story of 2 of my favorite markets!you should try calling Gastronome on red lion road for Varnicki but you have to order it 24 hrs in advance

  2. I am from St. Petersburg, Russia. And Petrovskiy Market was one of the first stores I went to, here in USA. I absolutely loved it. It brought back the sweetest memories. What was funny is that despite the fact that EVERYTHING is in Russian, we still had to pay with dollars! :)

  3. Petrovski market our favorite in PA. Fresh food, friendly staff, perfect store layout, great food section. Thank you management for such great asset to the community

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