Pelmenaya / Пельменная
ul. Krasina 7
Metro Mayakovskaya (See Map)
Meals for $3-8
Last week my friend Nelson and I stopped by what is said to be one of the last surviving eateries from the Soviet era in Moscow, the aptly named Pelmennaya. At one time, these were staples of Soviet life: small, cheap establishments specializing in one simple dish. The average Soviet citizen did not eat out often and when he or she did, it was usually a basic lunch that above all, had to be cheap and fast.
A brief article on the Moscow website Afisha.ru alleges that the poet Josef Brodsky loved to eat there whenever he came down from Leningrad to the capital. If Brodsky returned to the café today, he would probably find the pelmeni cooked with exactly the same recipe and enjoy them in the exact same interior. The Soviet-themed cheburechnaya I visited a few weeks ago was full of kitsch, but this café was the real thing. The interior was cozy and almost charming, with simple wood paneling on the walls that resembled the inside of a banya, and some plastic flowers on each table.
This relic also seems to have something of a following among the young and hip. It has been immortalized with a digital panorama on 360cities, for instance. Many, particularly locals, say that despite all the development rising around them, despite the changes felt in the landscape and society and economy, this tiny keepsake from a bygone era seems to be immune and they hope it stays that way. It might also be worth mentioning the importance of the pelmenaya as cultural icon has been immortalized in this rather odd video and song by the Russian folk-metal group Black Obelisk.
There are no surprises when it comes to the food at this pelmenaya: they have pelmeni. Pelmeni with mustard, pelmeni with mayonnaise, pelmeni with soy sauce, pelmeni with sour cream, and pelmeni with a spicy red pepper paste from Georgia called “adzhika.” The pelmeni come in portions of ten each. Each will set you back about 50 rubles. They also have one or two kinds of salad available at 40 rubles a piece, but neither of them looked particularly appetizing on this day: something that looked like refried beans and another that was basically a plate of seaweed.
We ordered three portions and split them: one with mustard on the side, one with soy sauce, and one with adzhika. The chef in the back, who looked exactly like Steven Seagal, prepared our meal in about twenty-five seconds, which is convenient, but also a little worrying. More than 24 hours later, though, I can say that I have not suffered any ill effects, and the pelmeni were not bad at all. I’ll assume that pelmeni can be prepared in 25 seconds by someone sufficiently trained in martial arts and wearing a hairnet. They were not exquisite, mind you, but you get what you pay for—15 pelmeni were more than enough for me, and together with a can of Mountain Dew, my part of the bill came to just 180 rubles.
There are cheaper places to eat, and there are nicer places to eat, but Pelmennaya somehow strikes a nice balance between the two. Besides, you can’t help but root for Steven Seagal and his café’s stubborn refusal to change: just two blocks over we found a bookstore where they sold pens for five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars.
For groups and faculty-led tours, Pelmenaya might be a possibility, as it is, essentially, an interactive museum of Soviet daily life. It is small, but the service is fast and pelmeni, as we said before, can be eaten quickly and fill you up fast. So, it’s possible that you might be able to squeeze in 15-20 people and process them quickly enough so that the crowdedness (or eating while holding your plate) would not become uncomfortable.