Our Daily Saika
A Food History Tour at the Philippov Bakery

by grace watson

Bread, the basis of civilizations, the opener of prayer. The subsidy, the sustenance. Even Rasputin recognized its import, warning the tsar what could happen if the country's supply of crucial ingredients (flour, butter, sugar) was inhibited. The mad monk was right.

Whether practical or poetic, there's no substitute for bread, try as dieters might to avow otherwise. Khleb Nasushny, Russia's answer to the Belgian Le Pain Quotidien, is there to weaken the wills of those who continue to pretend.

But how many even daily consumers know the history of their dining table staple? A group of TMT Club goers wanted to improve upon this.

KhN at 17 Tverskaya, not far from where Philippov's flagship bakery once stood, leads the chain's way to finding its historical roots. It pioneers the cafe's plans to resurrect the legendary name, decor, and recipes that made it the legend it once was. Other KhN sites will soon follow suit.

Back in the day, Philippov was the baker for everyone: from the tsar's family to government officials to the local plumber. Affordable prices and quality classics, namely the popular kalatch loaf, earned him a name for himself; his business savvy earned that name longevity.

Tenacious and enterprising, he saw his company through a destructive fire and a moment of near disaster. As the story goes, a significant official and regular customer is working his way through a familiar treat: saika, a dessert bun. Finding an unwelcome ingredient within, he shrieks, "Philippov! What on earth is this doing in here?" The baker rushes over; indeed, a roach had somehow been baked into the dough. Mustering his finest poker face, Maxim assures, "That's just a raisin! A new recipe, is all!" He then bites a chunk off to prove it before racing back to his kitchen to dump raisins into the remaining batter. The innovation that arose would join the oddly purse-like kalatch as one of the master's signature products.
The group got to see and taste the treats as we learned about them. They found KhN's saika lived up to the hype. A soft bun with crunchy nut topping, the reinterpretation is an improvement on a childhood favorite, likely also an improvement on the original. Other favorites included Borodinsky – made in the traditional way, with honey, which modern recipes tend to discard; nalivashki – standard peroshki in appearance, but with a warm filling of egg, cheese, and green onion; and gubniki – lip-shaped and mushroom-stuffed. Kalatch is more interesting to view than eat, practically indistinguishable from basic white bread, though elevated by the cafe's homemade jams. Everything washed down well with the also homemade ginger tea and Ivan Chai.

I've long appreciated Le Pain and Khleb Nasushny alike for consistently bringing a warm ambience, relaxing mood, tasteful music, and international menu of reliable dishes to cities worldwide. Philippov retains all of that, contributing to it the story of a Russian artisan, a former serf, establishing himself in a then German-dominated craft. Russian bread hasn't been the same since.
Philippov Bakery (LPQ)
Address: Tverskaya, 17