pelmeni recipe history culture origin

Pelmeni - hearty and tasty - are usually made in bulk and frozen for future yumminess.

Pelmeni: A Tasty History

Published: June 22, 2020

Pelmeni (Пельмени) are Russian dumplings: small portions of ground meat and onion wrapped in a thin, unleavened dough and boiled.

While Russians prize pelmeni as a Siberian dish, “рецепт русских пельменей может на самом являться измененной версией китайских пельменей” (the recipe may actually be an adaptation of Chinese pot-stickers). Other ancient foods such as manti, native to Turkic peoples and also popular in Russia, differ from pelmeni only in size and shape. Ukranian vareniki, Eastern European pierogis and even Italian ravioli also have much in common with this simple, tasty food.

How It Got Its Name

(Почему они носят такое название?)

Most historians agree that Russian pelmeni originated in Siberia and were probably named by the “коми, коренной народностью Урала” (Komi, a people indigenous to the Urals). In the Komi language, “pelnyan” means “bread-ear,” a reference to the food’s ear-like shape. When the word crossed into Russian, it changed a bit (as most words crossing language barriers do) to pelmen(пельмен) whose proper plural in Russian is “pelmeni.” In English they are almost always referred to in the plural, perhaps because “почти невозможно съесть только лишь один из сочных маленьких кусочков” (it is nearly impossible to eat just one of the juicy morsels).

pelmeni recipe history culture origin
One of Russia’s most ubiquitous brands of frozen pelmeni, Дарья.

Families with small children often make “колдуны” (kolduny) as well as regular pelmeni. While pelmeni are often about the size of silver dollar, kolduny are usually not much larger than a nickel and have very thin shells. Thus, they are perfect for little mouths. Besides size, there is usually no other difference between them, but Russians will almost never call kolduny “pelmeni;” they are separate dishes. Interestingly, “колдун” in Russian also means “sorcerer.”

How and When to Eat Pelmeni

(Как правильно есть пельмени?)

Pelmeni were originally “пища охотников” (hunters’ food). Giant sacks of frozen pelmeni would be carried by Siberian hunters when leaving on winter expeditions (where they would stay frozen, of course). They would be “сварены в воде из растаявшего снега и часто их едят без всего или с мясным бульоном” (boiled in melted snow and often eaten plain or with broth when meat was available).

pelmeni recipe history culture origin
The trendy Pelmeshka tempts passersby with a happy pelmen ready to jump off the fork…

Pelmeni are traditionally made in very large batches in a long and tedious process. After so much work, preparation is followed by a large family meal of pelmeni, cucumber and tomato salad, fresh greens, and perhaps vodka or kvass (what could be more Russian?). Pelmeni can be “приправлены сметаной, майонезом, маслом, перцем, уксусом, почти любой другой приправой” (dressed with sour cream, mayonnaise, butter, pepper, vinegar, almost any other condiment). They can also “сервировать плавающими в мясном бульоне или даже в воде, в которой их варили” (be served floating in meat broth or even in the water in which they were boiled).

Pelmeni,  while not exactly “street food,” can occasionally be found for sale in very simple cafes in Russian cities called simply “пельмени” or “пельменная.” Many of these actually date from Soviet times. There are also more trendy cafes such as “Пельмешка,” a chain of art-house cafes in Moscow that combine cafeteria-style pelmeni with movies and art displayed on the walls.

pelmeni recipe history culture origin
The traditional Pelmeni tempts passersby with flat, bold Soviet lettering. It may not be so good, but it sure is cheap!

Pelmeni are also available in the freezer section of any Russian supermarket. They are a hearty meal that cooks quickly and easily, and even the cheaper brands tend to be quite tasty (although higher-end options such as the “У Палыча” brand are not to be missed). Traditional Russian housewives, meanwhile, consider it a question of honor to cook pelmeni from scratch. Thus, “купленные в магазине пельмени имеют репутациюхолостяцкой едыв популярной культуре” (store-bought pelmeni have a reputation as “bachelor food” in popular culture).

How to Prepare Pelmeni

(Как правильно готовить пельмени?)

There is a saying in Russian that “пельмешки не терпят спешки.” Literally this means “pelmeni can’t tolerate speed demons.” The saying is used, however, in the general sense of “good things come to those who wait.”

pelmeni recipe history culture origin
A pelmeni mold for when you just can’t wait to have dozens of juicy pelmeni…

Pelmeni are traditionally made in very large batches in a long and tedious process that can involve the entire family, including men, although the process is generally lead by the females. Preparation often involves “не один час раскатывания, нарезки, наполнения фаршем, сворачивания и скрепления кончиков” (hours of rolling, cutting, filling, folding, and pinching). This whole process is encompassed in Russian with the phrase “лепить пельмени” (to make/build/fashion/sculpt pelmeni). After cooking and eating many of them, many more are frozen for later use.

Of course, smaller batches can be made relatively quickly or one can “cheat” with a pelmeni mold. However, moving too fast will means that “тесто будет рваться в середине или не будет должным образом скрепляться на краях” (the dough will tear in the middle, or will not be properly sealed at the edges), leading to a sloppy and soggy dish.

Pelmeni are best made with fresh, whole beef, pork and diced onions run twice through a meat grinder. For those without a grinder, ground beef and ground pork may be purchased and mixed together. This mixture is called “домашний фарш” (“home ground”) in Russian and is available pre-made in most Russian supermarkets (and you are more likely to find this than plain ground beef). Home ground, mixed with finally chopped onion, is considered the most definitively Russian element of pelmeni. Don’t get it wrong.

To get the dough to right consistency, “нужно месить, пока оно не станет упругим и не перестанет быть липким” (it should be kneaded until elastic and no longer sticky). It should be rolled quite thin – which делает пельмени изящными (makes the pelmeni delicate) and allows the meat to cook quickly.

If you plan to store your pelmeni, freeze them uncooked. Especially when cooking frozen pelmeni, add a bit of vegetable oil to the water. Drop the pelmeni into warm water (not boiling) and stir them while they are still frozen until they all separate (and then stop stirring!). This will “не даст пельменям слипаться и распадаться” (keep the pelmeni from sticking together and tearing).

Пельмени вкусны, и их вкус – это истинный вкус России!” (Pelmeni are tasty and a true taste of Russia!) Try them for yourself by the following the recipe below!

Great Pelmeni Recipes

(Давай приготовим!)

See below for a free recipe for pelmeni. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

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Русские пельмени Russian Pelmeni
  • 1 1/2 стакана муки
  • 2 яйца
  • 1/2 стакана теплой воды
  • 1/2 чайной ложки соли
  • 200 г говяжьего фарша
  • 200 г свиного фарша
  • 2 средних по размеру луковицы, тщательно почищенных
  • 1/2 чайной ложки черного перца


  1. Просейте муку в большую горку на чистой поверхности. Сделайте углубление наверху и разбейте яйца в это углубление. Постепенно добавляя теплую воду, энергично замешивайте тесто. Прикройте тесто и дайте ему постоять 30 минут.
  2. В отдельной глубокой тарелке смешайте говядину, свинину, лук, перец, и ½ солей чайной ложки соли.
  3. На посыпанной мукой поверхности, раскатайте тесто в длинную “змею” диаметром около 2,5 см. Порежьте тесто с отступом в 2,5 см и раскатайте части в кружки толщиной от 3 до 2 мм. Поместите столовую ложку мясного фарша в центр кружка и сверните его, залепив по краям, чтобы полностью слепить пельмень в маленький пакетик, и скрепите углы вместе, чтобы образовать маленький круг.
  4. Вскипятите большое количество воды, в которую добавлена 1 чайная ложка соли. Высыпьте пельмени в кипящую воду. Их можно есть, когда они всплывут на поверхность.
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper


  1. Sift the flour into a large pile on a clean surface. Make an indentation in the top and crack the eggs into that indentation. Adding the warm water gradually, knead the dough vigorously. Cover the dough and let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the beef, pork, onions, pepper, and ½ tsp salt together.
  3. Working on a flour-dusted surface, roll the dough into a long “snake” one inch in diameter. Cut the dough at one-inch intervals and roll the pieces into circles 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch thick. Place a tablespoon of the meat filling in the center and fold the dough over, pinching it to completely seal the pelmeni into a small packet and turn the corners to face each other, making a small circle.
  4. Boil a generous amount of water with 1 tsp. salt. Drop the pelmeni into the boiling water. They are ready to eat when they float to the top and stay there.

Our Favorite Pelmeni Videos

Commercially produced pelmeni are popular in Russia, so advertisements for them can be seen often.

Those that search for recipes to make them from scratch will find many videos offering words like “secret!” and “ideal!” Although the recipe is quite simple, getting the dough just right, so that it doesn’t stick, doesn’t break, and yet is fairly thinly stretched over the meat, is challenging. Here’s one fairly simple video:

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About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh lived in Moscow from 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS, until 2022. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Internship Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov