About ten days ago, during my last day in St. Petersburg, Russia, I experienced an afternoon snack attack. I had spent the day visiting churches, climbing to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and doing last-minute shopping. I wanted to stop for a coffee and treat, but I needed to get home to pack for Riga.
I took the metro to Chernyshevskaya Station, which was a ten-minute walk from my friend Carl’s apartment. Leaving the station, I walked along the lovely Furshtatskaya Boulevard (home to the US and German consulates), watching my every step as I maneuvered ice, slush, and salt.
A vision of…fried dough?
And then I saw it! There was a little green hut, steaming in the cold, and a powerful smell of fried dough. A squat woman inside the hut handed two policemen what appeared to be hot donuts, wrapped in wax paper. But they weren’t exactly donuts, as they were flatter, much larger, and didn’t have a hole. The officers took their dough, nodded and hurried off, stealing bites as they hustled into their parked car.
An afternoon donut sounded ideal. I approached the window, smiled, and pointed to the stack of donuts draining inside on a paper towel, fresh out of the grease. “One,” I said, holding up my finger and then pointing to the stack.
“Which one?” the woman gestured, pointing from one donut to another.
Was there a difference? They all looked like sugar-coated fried dough to me. But there were three stacks of them. There must be some variation I wasn’t noticing.
I pointed to the first stack. She picked it up with tongs, thrust it in a wrapper, grabbed a napkin and handed it over. She held up a calculator to show me the price… 30 rubles (a little less than US $1.00).
I walked five paces around the corner, pulled back the wrapper, and bit into the donut, bracing for a sweet and greasy sugar rush.
The “donut” was filled with savory minced pork! It took a few seconds for me to register the taste, and then, my expectations adjusted, I devoured the rest of the hot pocket.
Turns out, I was eating pirozhki, meat-filled doughy treats that are fried or baked. Fillings vary, but they’re commonly stuffed with minced beef or chicken, mushrooms and potatoes, or sweeter ingredients (cherries, apples). My version, minced meat, was spiced up with a variety of seasonings.
(Note: Don’t confuse pirozhki with pierogi, which are smaller, stuffed dumplings that are fried or boiled and popular in Eastern European countries.)
Thus, dear reader, when in Russia, I’d recommend indulging in a pirozhki. They’re cheap and tasty. Just don’t expect a sugar rush.