What I would like to do now is present you with a well-researched, link-filled essay on the history of this humble dish called Pel’meni, a Russian dumpling relative of the equally beloved Polish pierogi or the Ukranian vareniki. However, the combination of a blizzard and a big work event this week mean I don’t have time to overthink things or to present you the first of a series of recaps from my Russian Food Adventures.
But I will not leave you hanging! What I *can* do is share what I have loved most about Brighton Beach in the past two trips, and what I have loved most are these little dumplings.
I ate pel’meni for the first time during this trip last year when I asked my Russian coworker what dish I had to try when I made my maiden voyage to Brighton Beach. I fell hard for those little pillows of delicious, meaty joy. Their name (according to handy Wikipedia) translates as “ear bread,” and I just can’t get enough of them.
I first experienced the joy of this dish at the hallmark Brighton Beach restaurant, Glechik. While Glechik is a Ukranian restaurant, one of the most popular items on their menu are the Siberian-style pelmeni. Like most dishes, pelmeni is served in different styles across Eastern Europe (different fillings, served in broth or no broth and what kind of broth, garnish, no garnish, etc.).
On my second trip out to Brighton Beach a couple weeks ago, I made a beeline back to Glechik to indulge some more. This time, on the advice of the lovely Sassy Radish, I decorated mine with sour cream and LOTS of vinegar (emphasis hers).
Buried in an email full of recommendations from of a friend of a friend named Ivan, I zeroed in on the phrase “hole in the wall spot, good for dumplings.” Ah HA! This, this is what Mouth of the Border is all about. We are the champion of the hole in the wall, the for real deal joint that serves what you want to eat when you are far from the country of your people, whoever those people may be.
After Glechik, we made a few other stops before stopping for a second dish of pel’meni at the place Ivan had recommended. Today, THIS hole in the wall would be our mecca.
The name of this stop was Varenichnaya. There are no more than eight tables in the whole place, and it smells of soup and grandma. As you might expect, they do indeed serve up several types of vareniki (dumplings), one of which I will write about in a more comprehensive post as it was a high point of the day.
There was one large party seated when we were there, an English-speaking family. Otherwise, the customers looked to be folks from the neighborhood.
My favorite nibble of the whole trip (of dozens throughout the day) were there pel’meni in clear, hot broth with a liberal amount of chopped fresh dill. The dumplings were somehow more delicate than those served at Glechik, thinner-skinned and with more nuanced spice in the beef/pork filling. What completed the picture was the broth. I think it was chicken broth, but it was so clear it was like a consomme. It could have been that the dough was so light and tender that the filling was able to flavor the broth. Whatever, dudes. It was just fan-freaking-delish-tastic. This is the picture of comfort food.
One thing I do want to take a moment to geek out over is that Russian food and Asian food, particularly the cuisine of China, are intricately tied. I can’t wait until I can spend days and nights buried in the labyrinths of culinary connection but, for now, just think about how cool it is that shrimp shu mai and these delicious ear breads are cousins.
Pel’meni was born of the need for hardy (and hearty) food that wouldn’t spoil during the brutal winters of Siberia. Soon, I’ll set aside a weekend for a Chinese egg tart and pel’meni cooking at home. We’ll break it down, hopefully in time for you to make some pel’meni of your own and snuggle in at home with these perfect-for-winter provisions.
- Update: My friend Olga just posted her family’s recipe for pel’meni and it looks like the dictionary entry for comfort food: Pelmeni, by Sassy Radish
- Here’s a great pel’meni recipe with photos from Mouth of the Border reader Herring Under Fur Coat.
- I wish I could read this website: http://pelemeni.ru/
- There’s a restaurant in Washington that serves nothing but pel’meni. Field trip!
Restaurants mentioned in this post:
3159 Coney Island Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11235-6443
Brighton Beach (Q, B)
3086 Brighton 2nd St
(between Brighton Beach Ave & Brightwater Ct)
Brooklyn, NY 11235
Do you like dumplings? What type are your favorite kind? From one dumpling fiend to another, I would love to hear from you. Until next week, happy eating!
I love sharing details about upcoming tasty trips and adventures, so you won’t want to miss a bite. As always, please feel free to chat with me on Twitter, join our group on Facebook and keep up with new posts here by subscribing.