Saturday, September 10, 2005

The best 'pelmeenid' in town?

Here's another post I hinted about earlier. The answer is, I have no clue. I simply do not know..

Several weeks ago, Anne of Anne's Food wrote about her love affair with pelmeenid. It turned out that Anna's Dad is from Estonia (which makes Anna almost a fellow national - certainly some of our food memories are similar:) and was often making pelmeenid for his family when Anna was younger. Basically, pelmeenid are small, usually meat-filled dumplings or ravioli that have travelled to Estonia from the East - Russia. Although they're not strictly our 'national cuisine' they're extremely popular. There are loads of different varieties of frozen pelmeenid available in supermarkets - you can choose pelmeenid stuffed with minced beef, lamb or pork (or a combination of these), with mushrooms, with quark etc. They're real convinience food - you bring them home, throw into salted boiling water, boil for a couple of minutes until they raise to the surface, drain them, drown them in sour cream and enjoy. Chopped green onion would be a nice garnish. Or you can dip them in vinegar. Or souse in ketchup. Or deep fry in oil, sprinkle with paprika powder and dip in sour cream. If you're especially studious and good, you make them from scratch - just like Anne did. We tend to be more lazy, especially as the shop-bought ones aren't usually too bad (though they don't compete with good and proper home-made ones obviously). I guess the best pelmeenid I've ever had, were made by my dear friend Galina's mum few years ago, when she was visiting her daughter in Edinburgh. Galina's mother made trays and trays of these dainty little dumplings and these were absolutely divine. She called them 'pelmenyi' of course, and not 'pelmeenid'.

Back to my recent trip to Estonia and the question posed in the title. I think every time I've been home during the last few years, I've had these dumplings in a place called Troika. I _know_ that dumplings are on the menu of other popular Russian restaurants as well, but I've always had very-very-very good dumplings in Troika, so I head back. Maybe I'm a loyal customer type of girl? Or maybe I am just resistant to trying anything unfamiliar? A friend of mine in Edinburgh, K., says I have a peasant mentality when laughing about my persistance of sticking to safe choices (cafes I know, restaurants I visit regularly, dishes I order etc.) Thus although I may come across even better pelmeenid at some other place, I tend to go back to Troika. 'Why risk it?' I'm thinking. And hence I don't know if they actually serve the best pelmeenid in town. But I assure you they serve very good ones...

It's a cheerful place at the Town Hall Square, and the restaurant is on two floors. The ground floor serves slightly more casual fare, whereas the lower ground floor has the main restaurant with a Russian balalaika band, brightly decorated walls etc. The waiters and waitresses are dressed up in Russian folk dresses, and you get a sakuzki basket with rye bread, coarse salt and green onions while you wait for your order. Another popular starter includes salted cucumbers with honey and sour cream for dipping. And they do a fancy thing with vodka - they deep freeze the bottle, and then pour by now the very viscous vodka from high up into your shot glass - quite a spectacle!

Here's an essential vocabulary for visiting a Russian restaurant - a postcard I picked up from Troika few years ago. It's trilingual - the top word is Russian, with Estonian translation in the middle and English equivalent at the bottom:)

There are three different pelmeenid on the menu: the cheapest ones are simply boiled and served with a choice of cold dips (including the compulsory sour cream). Then there's a slightly pricier option of pelmeenid with mushrooms under a pastry lid (my choice always, and the waiter does an macho move with a knife on the table when removing some of the pastry lid). And finally, the priciest ones (at about 4GBP) are stuffed with lamb and come with blackcurrant jam, sour cream and dill sauce. All are equally nice and worthy of the trip to the establishment.

Here is my dear friend-since-we-were-seven Liina on a glorious August day sitting on Troika's terrace in the centre of Old Tallinn and waiting for her pelmeenid. Note the waitress in a Russian costume on the background. And there are no pictures of food this time, as I had forgotten to charge the camera battery:(

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Joycelyn said...

hi pille, i never fail to be amazed by the endless tantalisng tidbits you feed us about's fascinating reading...

Anonymous said...

Sigh...another Estonian story! :-) I agree wholeheartedly with J's comments!

Love that cute postcard ;-)

Pille said...

J & Joey - I'm glad you like reading my Estonian stories. Ohh, I feel under the pressure now to keep writing about Estonian foods more and more:)
Well, I will soon - mmm lots of nice sauerkraut dishes come to mind, and Xmas will provide lots of stories hopefully. Oh, and I still have that verikäkk in my fridge here, so there's plenty to come!
But for the next day or two you must settle for my Greek food stories:)

Anne said...

MUST tell my dad to go to this one on his next visit! :)

Spinning Girl said...

I have been to Troika!

Pille said...

Anne - you should! There is another good Russian restaurant, Klafira, on Vene street, which also serves pelmeenid, but I haven't tried these:)

Spinning Girl - great! Did you try the pelmeenid? And what did you think of the restaurant itself?