Here’s some food for thought. When you travel to France you would expect to start your morning with a cup of coffee and a croissant, or maybe a piece of baguette. When you travel to India you would, probably, like to dig into rice and many vegetarian curries. In other words, try authentic food of the country, because where else if not there?
When I lived in Sri Lanka, I noticed how many locals eat out for lunch and dinner in Sri Lankan restaurants which are literally everywhere. Actually, it’s quite hard for me to imagine Sri Lankans having anything else but Sri Lankan food for lunch.
Now, when it comes to Russia something really strange happens. First of all, Russians rarely eat out in restaurants specializing in Russian cuisine. You will be surprised, but the majority of restaurants are Italian and Japanese. Pasta Carbonara and Philadelphia roll are the bread and butter of XXI century Russia.
As a result, there are few restaurants serving traditional Russian food and even fewer restaurants serving regional cuisine. Or can it be that it’s the other way around? Since there are not so many good Russian restaurants (most of them are targeting tourists with all the ensuing consequences of flaunting interior design a la russe and superficial approach to Russian culinary traditions) people tend to eat out elsewhere. Sounds like a catch-22.
Do I have to say that regional cuisine is almost non-existent? Russia is the biggest country in the world so it goes without saying that culinary traditions vary from region to region. But for some reason, neither I nor any of my friends could say what is special about, say, cuisine of Ural region, where I come from. The one and only dish anybody could come up with was Ural pelmeni, which is indeed traditional and extremely delicious but can it be all there is?
So I posted on Facebook, asking my friends in Ekaterinburg – the capital of Ural region – to advise me where in the city I can try Ural cuisine. Just about 3 or 4 people replied mostly recommending a newly opened restaurant named 26/28 that is a fusion between European, Russian and Ural cuisine. Other recommendations were mostly on particular Ural dishes that you can find here and there on the menus of different restaurants. Well, this is something to start with.
I assume the reason behind this weird pattern goes way back to the times of iron curtain when having American jeans was an elusive dream of every Soviet teenager and a lipstick brought from abroad – something to brag about. For the longest time it was common to think that imported is better than local. Crazy, isn’t it? But this kind of thinking infiltrated all areas of life, including food industry.
These days the situation is changing. Little by little chefs try to reimagine Russian cuisine and introduce regional specialties to the public. The fact that 26/28, although a fusion of different cuisines, has opened in Ekaterinburg, to my mind, is a step forward. When I meet with the Chef of 26/28 Vladimir Olkinitskiy he mentioned, that the previous restaurant he owned specialized in Ural cuisine. At the time of the opening his friends and colleagues did not believe in its success and tried to talk him out of it. Well, he didn’t prove them wrong – the restaurant did close down eventually. It was just a little ahead of its time. Now that digging into our own history and reviving traditions is a national trend, those same people are introducing long-forgotten recipes and use local produce in their dishes.
Steak House manager Natalia Fominykh agrees that this trend exists, but as it often happens, there are way too many people whose main goal is to make money out of it and promote themselves rather than regional cuisine. This is what I think as a consumer: as long as somebody tries to preserve all those recipes our grate grandmothers used every day and promote dishes made with local ingredients I don’t really care if along the way they seek out some popularity. Just, please, do it before it’s too late!
Below are the dishes I consider must-try in Ekaterinburg restaurants. It is not a compilation of traditional Ural recipes, but rather a list of foods you can only experience in Ekaterinburg.
It’s a short list so far but I will add on to it every time I travel home and discover something new. I am sure Ekaterinburg will give me a reason to be proud, as it always does.
Traditional Ural: Pelmeni at Pashtet
Let’s start with the most famous dish of Urals – pelmeni. What is pelmeni if not a cousin of Italian ravioli and Chinese dumplings? Same idea: meat wrapped up in thinly rolled dough and boiled.
Theories on origination of this dish are so confusing and contradictory that I don’t even want to cite it here. Some of the researches think that it came from China, others that pelmeni were invented by Komi-Permyak tribes that inhabited the region of Urals and made their living by hunting. And what is easier to cook for a hunter who spends most of his time in the forest but pelmeni? They can be frozen and stored for months and cooking only takes a few minutes. When Russians moved to Urals and Siberia they adopted the recipe.
The beauty of this dish is that you can find it pretty much anywhere: from a cheap student canteen to an upscale restaurant. Everybody loves it and you will too! Usually the filling is a mix of several minced meats: beef, pork and lamb. Sometimes only beef and pork, sometimes beef alone. Traditionally all three should be present, but nowadays there are many variations and you are free to choose what you like.
Pashtet – a cozy restaurant in Ekaterinburg city center – makes a classic version of this dish with all three types of meat. Pelmeni are served in broth with addition of Russian mustard, horseradish sauce or sour cream. By the way, it is very common to add a couple of bay leaves to broth while cooking pelmeni. That’s the way many housewives prepare it at home.
Read more about history of pelmeni and how to make it at home here.
Address: 23, Tolmachev street, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Hours: Mon – Fri: 10 am – 11 pm, Sat – Sun: 11 am – 11 pm
Contemporary Ural: 26/28 by Vladimir Olkinitskiy
This restaurant is a newly opened venture of a chef who cares about preserving regional culinary traditions. Having said that, I must add that the menu at 26/28 is not your classic Ural cuisine but rather a mix of European, Russian and Ural cuisines. As Vladimir mentioned himself, his goal is not to hunt down the most authentic recipes and repeat them. His goal is to rethink them and create something of his own based on traditions and history. These are words of a true artist and it means a lot coming from a person who took time to travel to distant Ural villages and personally talk to babushkas (Russian grandmas).
Most of the items on the menu will astonish you with their unexpected ingredients and unimaginable combinations (think: soup of fried potatoes and red cabbage salad with Parmesan cheese). Do try eclairs made of spelt-wheat flour with mushroom mousse for starter (on the photo above). The mains include veal cheeks, pork belly, duck rillette, and selection of fish.
And don’t miss out on the restaurant’s collection of special tea blends and designer cocktails. Just think of it: a cocktail including pine-cone jam(!) or Campari mixed with baked beetroot puree. Definitely worth a shot! Read more about chef Vladimir Olkinitskiy and his restaurant here.
Address: 26/28, Lenin Street, Ekaterinburg, Russia (it’s located in between 2 buildings with numbers 26 and 28)
Hours: 12 pm till the last guest
Historical Ural: Naina Yeltsina’s Bird Cherry Cake at 1991
Naina Yeltsina is the wife of Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin. If he was the first President can I say that she was the first First Lady? Is that a thing? In any case, Boris Yeltsin was born and raised in Urals and his political career started in the city of Ekaterinburg. Naina Yeltsina is famous for her hospitality and her recipes are widely popular with Russian women. There are several items on the menu of 1991 created by her.
The chef of 1991 personally visited the former First Lady to write down the recipes and cook it together with her step-by-step. The authenticity of the recipes was later tested at the restaurant and approved by Naina Yeltsina herself and her daughter.
The most famous of all, though, is First Lady’s Bird Cherry Cake. Bird Cherry is a berry common for the region of Urals but is not widely-known outside of Russia. So you better learn the Russian name of this berry – cheremuha – because if you ask for Bird Cherry nobody will ever understand you. The batter for the cake is made using bird cherry flour and the filling includes very rich sour cream.
Address: 3a, Yeltsin street, Ekaterinburg, Russia (inside Yeltsin Centre)
Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 am – 11 pm
Ural American Fusion: EkaterinBURGER at Steak House
In short, EkaterinBURGER is a burger made in Ekaterinburg with all local ingredients. So, technically, Ekaterinburg is the only place where you can try it. The chef of Steak House Mikhail Arakelov made a trip to USA in order to track down the original recipes and best technologies. After returning back home he worked on his own version of this classic dish.
The outcome is so good that you will have to come back to this city just to have the burger again. The meat for the patty is chopped with axes so you can see the pieces of meat in your burger and be sure nothing is mixed in. The bun is made with milk sourced from a local village. The house special sauce features mayo produced in Ekaterinburg factory and honey brought from the neighboring region of Bashkiria. I wrote a piece on this burger recently and you can read more about it and Chef Mikhail Arakelov who created it here.
Address: 69/1, Lenin Street, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Hours: Sun – Thu: 12 pm – 12 am, Fri – Sat: 12 pm – 02 am
AUTHOR: YULIA DYUKOVA
Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.