Pelmeni:  The Origin Of Traditional Russian Meat Dumplings

Pelmeni, a beloved dish in Russian and Eastern European cuisines, are dumplings filled with flavourful minced meat. Made with a pasta-like dough, they are boiled to perfection and are typically served with a sauce. And in Russia, they are often enjoyed with sour cream diluted in vinegar. Leftover pelmeni can be enjoyed the next day by adding a touch of butter. 

The history of pelmeni can be traced back centuries, with their origins rooted in Siberia and the Ural Mountains of Russia, where the specific shape and recipe developed. These small, savoury dumplings were initially developed as a practical and convenient way to preserve meat during long, harsh winters. It is believed that the recipe was introduced to Siberia and the Urals by the Mongols and gradually spread throughout Eastern Europe, becoming a part of Russian culture. Traditionally, pelmeni were made in large quantities and then frozen for future consumption. Over time, they gained popularity throughout Russia, evolving into a beloved comfort food enjoyed by people from all walks of life.

Culturally, pelmeni holds a special place in Russian cuisine. They are often associated with warmth, comfort, and togetherness. Pelmeni-making is a cherished activity that brings families and communities together. It is not uncommon to find generations sharing the art of pelmeni-making, passing down techniques and recipes as a form of cultural heritage.

This dish is renowned for its simplicity and convenience, making it a popular option on busy days. It can be easily prepared in advance and frozen, ready to be boiled whenever desired, making it a go-to choice for students and quick meals. On special occasions like New Year's Eve, the process of kneading the dough is given more time and attention. Pelmeni can be stored in the freezer for months, ensuring a convenient and delicious meal at any time.

The Art of Making Pelmeni

The term "pelmeni" comes from the native Finno-Ugric-Komi and Udmurt languages, meaning "ear bread" in reference to their unique shape. Similar to Chinese dumplings and Italian ravioli, pelmeni are traditionally filled with ground beef, pork, and lamb, but variations with chicken, potatoes, cheese, or mushrooms also exist.

The dough is rolled out thin, and small circles are cut out to hold the meat filling. Minced meat is a classic choice, with beef, pork, or a combination of both being commonly used. Fish, such as salmon or whitefish, is another popular option, especially in coastal regions. Mushroom fillings, often made with wild mushrooms like porcini or chanterelles, provide a delightful earthy taste. Additionally, pelmeni can be filled with a mixture of potatoes and onions, creating a vegetarian option.

In Siberia, reindeer meat or game meats are sometimes used, imparting a unique and gamey taste. In the Far East, pelmeni with seafood fillings, like shrimp or crab, are favoured due to the region's coastal influence. Certain regions also incorporate herbs and spices like dill or cilantro into the fillings, enhancing the flavour profile.

The filling is carefully prepared and seasoned with garlic, paprika, salt, and black pepper. A teaspoon of the filling is placed in the centre of each dough circle, and the edges are then folded and sealed to create the distinctive shape before being cooked.

Family traditions play a vital role in pelmeni-making. Recipes and techniques are often handed down from grandparents to parents and then to younger generations. This passing of knowledge fosters a sense of cultural continuity and strengthens family bonds. 

Pelmeni-making gatherings and celebrations are an integral part of Russian culture. Families and friends come together to participate in the process, sharing stories, laughter, and cherished memories. These gatherings showcase the communal aspect of pelmeni-making and highlight the importance of food in bringing people together. 

 Pelmeni Sauces And Pairings

Pelmeni can be served in a variety of ways, each offering a unique flavour experience. One popular method is to serve them with a dollop of butter, allowing it to melt and coat the dumplings. Sour cream is another common accompaniment, adding richness and tanginess to the dish. Some people prefer to drizzle vinegar over pelmeni for a touch of acidity. Additionally, serving pelmeni in broth, either as a soup or with a side of broth for dipping, is a comforting option. 

Traditional side dishes and accompaniments that complement pelmeni include pickles, bacon, and onion, which provide a refreshing contrast to the savoury dumplings. Sauerkraut, with its tangy and slightly fermented flavour, pairs well with the richness of pelmeni. Salads and soups can add freshness and balance to the meal, offering a contrast in textures.

These dishes are popular accompaniments for pelmeni that enhance the overall dining experience and contribute to the enjoyment of pelmeni:


It is a sour soup made with beets, potatoes, and various vegetables. Its versatility allows it to be served hot or cold, making it a suitable side dish for pelmeni on both hot summer days and cold winter nights.

Russian Olivier Salad

This is a delicious mix of cubed potatoes, carrots, eggs, sausage, and peas, tossed in a creamy mayo sauce. This salad complements the flavours of pelmeni and is easy to prepare.


A tangy Russian salad made with beets, potatoes, carrots, and pickles that gets even more flavourful when prepared a day in advance and served with pelmeni.

Koreiskaya Morkovka (Russian Carrot Salad)

Thinly sliced carrots are mixed with onions, garlic, and spices, creating a refreshing and nutritious side dish.


A chilled soup made with sour cream, eggs, cucumbers, and ham. It's a creamy and refreshing option for serving with pelmeni during the summer.

Pelmeni in Pop Culture 

While pelmeni might not be as widely referenced in international pop culture, they hold a special place in Russian literature, films, and music. In literature, pelmeni are mentioned in "Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov, a classic Russian novel. In the film "Brother," directed by Aleksei Balabanov, pelmeni play a prominent role as a symbol of home and comfort. Russian musician Zemfira's song "Pelmeni" references dumplings as a nostalgic reminder of childhood and family. 

Pelmeni-making scenes are portrayed in films, highlighting the importance of culinary heritage and communal experiences. Through these cultural references, pelmeni contribute to the representation of Russian identity and foster a sense of connection to the past. They serve as a reminder of the country's rich culinary traditions and their impact on Russian popular culture. 

Recipe for Pork Pelmeni 


    For the dough: 

    300 g all-purpose flour 

    5 g salt 

    120 ml of warm water 

    1 large egg 

    For the filling: 

    500 g ground pork 

    1 small onion, finely chopped 

    2 cloves of garlic, minced 

    5 g of salt 

    2 g black pepper 

    2 g of paprika (optional) 

    For serving: 


    Sour cream 

    Fresh dill or parsley (for garnish)


    In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt for the dough. Make a well in the centre and add the warm water and egg. 

    Gradually incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients, mixing until a dough forms. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes. 

    In another bowl, combine the ground pork, chopped onion, minced garlic, salt, black pepper, and paprika (if using). Mix well until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. 

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1-2 mm thickness. Using a round cookie cutter or a glass, cut out circles from the dough. 

    Place a small amount of the pork filling (about a teaspoon) in the centre of each dough circle. Fold the circle in half, pressing the edges firmly to seal and create a semi-circular shape. 

    Bring the two ends of the semi-circle together, overlapping them slightly, and press to seal, forming a traditional pelmeni shape. 

    Repeat the process with the remaining dough circles and filling until all the pelmeni are prepared. 

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully drop the pelmeni into the boiling water and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until they float to the surface. 

    Once the pelmeni are cooked, drain them and serve them hot. Optionally, you can sauté them in butter for a crispy exterior. 

    Serve the pork pelmeni with melted butter and a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with fresh dill or parsley. Enjoy the delicious flavours of traditional Russian pork pelmeni!