BANGKOK — Belka (meaning “squirrel” in Russian), is a cozy cafe in the city’s commercial center that brings out the милый (sweet, pleasant) in Russian culture through cute cakes.
Soft Tchaikovsky plays over the speakers as diners pour tea to go with slices of medovik, under framed maps and paintings of the world’s largest country. Despite its size and influence, there’s barely any establishment in Bangkok that pays homage to Russia, the cafe owner noted.
“There’s already so many Japanese and Korean-themed cafes,” owner Ranistha Chartisathian said. “Russia has a huge, diverse culture and many tourist attractions. Thais may have the perception that it’s a scary, unfriendly country. But Russians all love Thailand.”
She continued, “So I want Thais to get to know Russia. It’s not ruthless like you see in the movies.”
Ranistha, 30, opened the cafe on the Si Wiang Road in Sathorn neighborhood back in August, after her work as a tour guide for Thais going to Russia dried up due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the pandemic broke out, Ranistha led Thai tour groups across Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union, like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The guide, who graduated from a university in Moscow, also explained Russian history and taking tourists to photo hotspots.
“I took Thais around to restaurants and cafes and arranged tour group’s menus, so I know what kind of Russian things appeal to Thais,” she said. “I looked for the cute parts of Russian culture and put it into this cafe.”
The star of Belka is by far the Medovik (90 baht), a honey cake made with delicate layers and sandwiched with sour cream, with a deep, rich honey taste. It was the cake we finished first with almost inhuman speed.
The Napoleon Cake (90 baht) is one adaptation by Ranistha. In Russia, she explained, Napoleon cakes can be served in large squares. She made the portion at her shop smaller, and added sour strawberry sauce to make sure it’s not too lian, or overly creamy or buttery-tasting, as well as a strawberry garnish to improve its IG-worthy appearances.
The Strawberry Pavlova (120 baht) is a delightfully light, creamy meringue cloud that’s a pleasure to crack with a spoon, while the Eskimo Cake (120 baht) is a slightly salty cookie-base cream tart topped with chocolate.
Her souvenirs from travelling, such as matryoshkas, paintings, and books about Russia are part of the cafe’s decor, for customers to peruse. Did we have a little bit too much fun with the matryoshkas of Russia’s past political leaders? Yes.
“Russia and Thailand have a long relationship; our countries are brother and sister,” Ranistha said.
The low prices are due to the cafe’s proximity to the Bangkok Christian College School. Ranistha chose a squirrel for the name and mascot since it was one of the cuter-sounding animals in Russian, and one can actually see squirrels scrambling around the trees in the area.
Coffees, juices, and soda drinks run from 50 baht to 80 baht. We recommend the selection of hot teas (60 baht per pot), especially the playful, fruity White Tea with Pineapple.
Those hankering for something savory may enjoy the pork stroganoff (99 baht) – changed from beef to appeal to more Thais, or the non-Russian rice with baked chicken (79 baht).
The cosy cafe can sit about a maximum of 18. It’s usually populated in after-school hours by students and their parents. One memorable group of regulars is a half-Thai, half-Russian student and their Russian dad.
Belka is located on Si Wiang Road, connected to Sathorn Nuea Road by Pramuan Road. It’s a walking distance from BTS Surasak. The cafe is open from 10am to 7pm every day except Friday, but closes at 4pm on Sundays. This review is unsponsored and is based on a hosted visit.