‘Pelmeni’ – Russian dumplings for the soul
Published on: Sunday, August 11, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol


FOR Russians, dumplings (“Pelmeni”) are traditional food and symbol of unity for families. These little lumps cut out of chilled battered flour, although simple, made great impact on the Russians. 

Whether it comes from the eastern or western parts of the Russian Federation, dumplings surely left legacy in its own rights. 

According to Vladislava Lozano @ Lada, a native from Siberia, dumplings had been the essential food for Russian families for generations. With different kinds of herbs and ingredients, the Siberians are proud to share the family recipe to anyone.

She said although there are similarities with other countries, the Siberian version is unique and special. “It is special because of the story behind the preparation of making Pelmeni. It is not just about the food we want to eat, rather, it is bringing out the unity and togetherness in the family.

“We do not always have the chance to be around the kitchen to witness the dumpling-making due to our work schedule. We appreciate this moment of togetherness surrounding the cooking pot while our mothers make the ‘noise’,” said Lada, laughing.

A cooking session was organised for the group of 30 delegates from different countries who were in Tomsk city, Siberia, for a conference, recently.

 

 Dmitry showing the proper way to make Pelmeni. 



Dmitry Voitsehovsky, a chef from Soft Loft restaurant in Tomsk city, hosted a demonstration of making Siberian dumplings and native pancakes to visitors from Chile, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Peru and Malaysia.

The three delegates from Malaysia included Nadira Yussof from Kuala Lumpur, Mary Jim and this writer from Sabah.

Kristina Zhigulskaya, the coordinator for the event, said dumpling-making is an important part of activities among Russian families. She said the ingredients vary. Some families use only minced pork, some minced beef and others mixed minced meat with a variety of herbs to choose from. However, chicken is not a choice of meat for Pelmeni.

“We can even freeze the uncooked Pelmeni for a year and cook it anytime we want,” Kristina said, adding that that there is nothing like home-cooked Pelmeni. 

According to Dmitry, the dough is made with a combination of flour, water, eggs and a pinch of salt. After the dough is formed, it is then flattened with a roller. Make as many little round shapes of any sizes. The ingredients include meat, herbs, seasonings, onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. He said, Pelmeni is eaten in many ways.  It is sometimes served with broth and sometimes dry – with only olive oil.

“We also eat Pelmeni with other salad vegetable and dip it in any sauce of your choice,” said Dmitry who spoke in Russian and was translated by Lada, who was the translator for the group.

 

 Translator Lada (right) with the writer during the cooking lesson.



Besides Pelmeni, the restaurant also served raw fish fillet to the delegates.  The daring ones ate it with a helping of alcohol. 

The Taiwanese delegates were impressed with the preparation of Pelmeni which has some similarities to their dumplings.

Lada said, however, the activity of making home-made dumpling is fading due to the work schedules of the younger generation.

She said seeing the delegates participating in dumpling-making session rekindled fond memories for her and reminded her of how her grandmother used to “make noise” while making the traditional dumplings in their little kitchen.

“It brings happy tears to see these foreign delegates doing hands-on Pelmeni, our national food, as it always reminds me of how we used to be when we were young,” said Lada.

The two Malaysian delegates did not miss the opportunity to do hands-on dumpling the Russian way. They had fun chopping, mincing, mixing and shaping the dough together with other nationalities.

Mary said she would make her own version of Pelmeni when she returns to Sabah. As for Nadira, it was her opportunity to make vegetarian dumplings, different from others and was not the choice of Siberians as the locals are heavy meat eaters. Apart from dumplings, Dmitry also demonstrated the preparation of native pancake. The Russians treat it as one of their traditional food. 

 

 Mary Jim in making ‘Blini (Russian pancake)’.



Lada said pancake (“Blini”) originated from an event called Maslenitsa Day in the early century.

“Maslenitsa was a day to remember the dead in the olden days.  Therefore, it was a sad day for the Russians. In order to forget the sadness, the families made varieties of pancakes,” said Lada.

Meanwhile, the foreigners were given a welcome dinner sampling authentic Russian dishes at Stroganina Bar, located near the hotel where some of the delegates were put up.

Bar owner, Natali Ababij, is one of the successful young female entrepreneurs from the city who had made a difference in the community. 

She was one of the speakers at the conference and said her bar serves many types of meat – bear, elk, deer, sockeye salmon, beloribitsa (Siberian salmon) and other native plants as vegetables.

“We want to make it a Siberian atmosphere when you are in my bar so that our visiting members would feel our way of life and the food that the Russians are consuming,” said Natali.

Apart from food, Natali also serves berry juice to the guests, a must-drink beverage as the berry seems to be available only in the country, the writer was told.

 The delegates trying their hands at making Russian dumplings.



 

 Chef Dmitry demonstrating the preparation of ingredients for the Pelmeni broth.



 

 After the cooking session, the delegates had dinner at the Soft Loft restaurant.





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