Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Potless Street Food #2: Russian Pelmeni

Street food is such a celebrated food genre and I am it's biggest fan. Normally created as a welcome cheap pitstop for lunch or an afternoon snack; it is not quite a meal but is almost always delicious. The stuff in this series aren't exactly restaurant reviews, haven't all been acquired on the 'street', and the food is definitely not home-cooked by me, but I feel the need to share my experiences on eating some of the weird and wonderful snacks I seem to encounter on a daily basis.

After a week and a half spent at Mrs Ribeye's parents place in Syktyvkar in the Russian Komi Republic (look it up - it's faaaaar away) for new year, I am proud to report on her very favouritist childhood snack...Pelmeni!!!

Where did I eat it?

In my parents-in-laws' Syktyvkar gaff. Here's what happened:

At the appropriate time every year, my wife informs me that it is time to start looking for flights to Russia to visit her parents. She spends three weeks surfing the net trying to come up with the best option for a flight between London and Moscow and a connection to Syktyvkar, a small but perfectly formed city in a former gulag in the Komi (not commie) Republic. I hum and hah and tell her that I can find something cheaper on a better time and day and then, after a long and fruitless search, concede that her option is probably OK. Then I notice that she's chosen a 'budget Russian airline' and I explain that paying an extra £25 per seat on a reputable carrier, for a 30% extra chance of arriving without dying in a drunk-pilot-blamed fireball, is probably better. We left London on December 26th for a 9 day trip. On the dearer airline, of course.

After laying over for a night in Moscow and thinking that the weather was 'bloody cold but bearable' (-8c) and then taking a Nordavia flight to the missus' home town to really know what cold is (-23c), I surmised that Moscow was actually 'bloody warm' in comparison. Being in really cold weather was a first for me. Getting off the plane in Sykky (as I call it now, naturally) was the inverse of a Londoner getting off a plane in Tenerife in the summer - except, instead of the slightly shocking blast of hot stuffy air in your face as you disembark, you are faced with a blast of super-cold chilled air. The thing is, both experiences leave you a bit disorientated and breathless. Thankfully, the in-laws were waiting in a super-heated terminal with a taxi awaiting outside.

Russia in winter is weird (summer is nice, but also weird in a different way). The buildings are kept heated to a state-subsidised +40c, while outside hovers between -20 and -30c. Which means a heat fluctuation of around 60-70c on every outside jaunt. Enough to give you a tickle in your throat. Or pneumonia.

Foodwise, the diet in a Russian winter is meat-and-dairy-tastic. I can't remember a meal that wasn't pervaded by sour cream and kielbasa (a worst-like local chicken or pork cured sausage). To break the (admittedly delicious) monotony, Mrs Ribeye suggested it was time to sample pelmeni. I had previously resisted trying it during my last trip in the summer time, because I couldn't stomach any hot food during the +40c/23 hours per day sunlight summer days (I told you summers are weird there).

This time however, I happily agreed to a steaming bowl of pelmeni served in a bowlful of Knorr chicken broth (apparently authentic - who am I to argue?) Mrs Ribeye RAVES about pelmeni. I have heard her wax lyrical about this stuff on many an occasion and have (slightly curmudgeonly) resisted her pleas for me to buy them from our overpriced miserable local Russian purveyor to eat at home in London ('no dear - they won't be the same here as at home, I promise').

What is it?

Look, I don't want to diss my wife's obsession with these iconic Russian favourite snacks of her youth, but pelmeni are basically.... frozen Ikea meatballs in pasta skins. No, I refuse to concede that maybe we bought some substandard recipe, or that in Syktyvkar the pelmeni are somehow inferior to the artisan stuff you can buy in a gastrodome in Moscow; pelmeni are the same the world over. Trust me - you can buy the exact same brand in Russian stores five minutes from my London flat for god's sake. They are Ikea meatball tortellini. Live with it.

What did it cost?

Stuff in Russia has got crazy expensive in the last few years, due to their recent obsession with Plastic Satan: Yes, the credit card. Everyone is charging everything to their cards and spending with gay abandon like sailors on leave (or like most Russians I spoke to who actually seemed disappointed that the Mayans had it 'a bit wrong' as far as 21/12/12 doomsday predictions were concerned - suckers), which means that everything in Russia is twice as expensive as it was a couple of years ago; including pelmeni. It's only about £2 for a big sack of the stuff, but that's a pound more than it used to - or should - be.

Most importantly, did I like it and would I eat it again?

Hells yeah! Pelmeni ROCKS! I love pasta, I love meatballs, I sorta like Ikea meatballs(ish), Knorr soup stock is...Knorr soup stock (and nothing wrong with that).

The thing is, there is nothing in this world better to eat on a f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g winter's day - a few miles south of the Arctic circle - than a steaming bowl of pelmeni. I wouldn't buy it from the Russian store in London to eat here - but then, it never really gets cold enough here for me to appreciate its warm comforting greasy deliciousness. Obviously if the Mayan doomsday predictors were only a few weeks out, and the world is plunged into icy blackness in the near future, I'll be firing up the Knorr and defrosting a sack of these bad boys. May have to take a trip to that local Russian store just in case...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi, looking forward to getting your ideas, suggestions and recipes here at Potless Towers. Leave a comment and we'll get straight back to you.