When we think of dumplings, we almost always think of the Chinese kind. But what you might not know, is that the national food of Russia is a dumpling called “pelmeni.” Pelmeni is considered the “heart of Russian cuisine”.
Pelmeni is made with mushroom or minced meat fillings, which can be beef, lamb, pork, or fish; in some cases, the meat of deer or elk. The minced meat filling is flavored with various spices such as black pepper, garlic, and onions. Sometimes, minced horseradish, tomato, and cabbage are added to the meat mix.
The dumpling’s dough is thin, made of water and flour, and sometimes with a few eggs. Pelmeni can be topped with mayonnaise, sour cream (called smetana), vinegar, red onions, ketchup, or butter.
There has been much debate over the origin of pelmeni. Pelmeni is generally thought to have been brought over from China by the Mongols, as it resembles the jiaozi and its ingredients were not native to Russia. The food then spread throughout Siberia and the Urals, and eventually to Eastern Europe. Pelmeni has been popular among hunters, as hunters are often after an easy-to-cook yet nourishing food that can be brought along on their hunting trips in the wintertime.
The pelmeni closely resembles most of the other types of dumplings from around the world, such as the bansh of Mongolia, gyoza of Japan, the mandu of Korea, the Cantonese wonton of China, the tortellini and ravioli of Italy, and the empanadas of Spain. Pelmeni is related to the varenyky of Ukraine and the uszka of Poland.
The filling of the pelmeni is usually raw and can be stored frozen for long periods. This is why it is popular among hunters as it can be cooked easily and is non-perishable. You can cook pelmeni by boiling it in salted water or in meat or chicken broth. The cooked pelmeni can be served and eaten as it is, or topped with smetana or butter. In some regions, pelmeni is eaten with vinegar, tomato sauce, or soy sauce. Some recipes suggest frying the pelmeni after being boiled while other recipes suggest serving pelmeni in a clear broth.
Frozen pelmeni is commonly found in Russian grocery stores. It is mostly made in factories from Italy and imported to Russia. Despite this, most Russian households make their own homemade pelmeni by hand or by using pelmeni makers.
In modern Russian culture, pelmeni bought from the stores is usually ready-to-go just like instant noodles for example. The target market is generally students and bachelors who may otherwise find themselves lacking the means and time to prepare and make pelmeni. Pelmeni is considered “the ultimate drunk food” as many bachelors and students eat pelmeni when they are recovering from a hangover. Pelmeni is after all healthy and filling.
Tzarevna serves delicious and authentic pelmeni and Siberian dumplings in their New York City restaurant. Come on by and try some today! We have the best Russian food available in New York City!