Eating pelmeni and varenyky in Prague: Homemade dumpling hotspots to try

Our tasting team sampled the two types of dumplings, which have different origins and ingredients, at several locations across Prague.

Ioana Caloianu

Written by Ioana Caloianu Published on 18.10.2023 14:57:00 (updated on 18.10.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

Despite their deceptively simple composition, pelmeni and varenyky (also known as vareniky, or vareniki) can be tricky to get right, especially outside of Eastern Europe. For those living in Prague, the city's thriving Ukrainian population has made it easy to access deliciously authentic versions of both.

We recently sent tasters to try pelmeni and varenyky in Prague; read about their experiences below. But first, some important differences between these two beloved dumplings and essential history to know before sitting down to your own steaming, sour cream-topped serving.

Cousins from distant culinary lands

The origin of pelmeni is either China (home of the wonton, another type of dumpling that foodies love) or somewhere in Central Asia, according to The Moscow Times, from where they spread to the nations in the Ural mountains.

Other than being relatively easy to make, the dish was also an efficient way of preserving meat throughout the winter, given that the dumplings could be kept frozen thanks to the long-lasting snow and cold. 

Judging by Russian cookbooks from the 19th century, they remained a Ural-Siberian regional dish for quite a while before gaining popularity across Russia, and then the republics that were part of the Soviet Union in the 20th century. 

Varenyky is a Ukrainian national dish, and the differences between the two types of dumplings have to do with their shape and stuffing: pelmeni are smaller are round, whereas varenyky are semicircular. Additionally, the traditional filing for pelmeni is meat-based, while for varenyky it ranges from mushrooms to potatoes, sauerkraut, cabbage, or cheese. 

When filled with fruit, vareniki turns into a dessert dish; they can either be boiled or fried in butter. Last but not least, pierogi, Poland’s national pride and joy, is similar to varenyky and also vegetarian-friendly. 

The different types of fillings also influence the cooking process; for varenyky, the filling is cooked in advance, thus they need to be boiled for a shorter time than pelmeni. Even if a cook strays from the typical varenyky recipe and uses a meat filling, the latter is boiled or sauteed instead of raw, as it is for a pelmeni. 

The similarities between pelmeni and varenyky boil down to their ingredients and cooking process: their exterior is typically made from a pasta sheet (whose ingredients are flour, eggs, and water), which may or may not have some fillings; they are usually boiled in water until cooked.

Tried and tested Two Prague pelmeni kitchens sent two staffers, a Ukrainian pelmeni professional, and a pelmeni newbie to try the local offerings. They started at Pelmeňárna, with locations in Vinohrady and Štěpánská as well as they also a stall at the farmers’ market at na Kulaťáku in Dejvice.

"The [Vinohrady] Pelmeňárna had a cozy feel, so we dined in ordering the Siberian (filled with a mix of beef and pork) and turkey pelmeni. Both were well cooked, neither too much nor too little, and tasted homemade. We also opted for the sour cream topping, which comes for an additional cost, but which added to the taste of the dumplings."

Our tester also said that if you have a bigger appetite, "beware because the portions tend to be a little small. Another noticeable detail is that the pelmeni had a rough texture, instead of being soft; making them a little softer could go a long way in also improving their taste."

Our second tester, trying pelmeni for the first time, said "As far as first impressions go, the place is unassuming, and with limited seating room. Since all the tables were busy, we went for takeout, which we savored on the benches of the Karlovo náměstí park nearby."

"We chose lamb plus venison pelmeni, which seemed identical on the outside. It was a bit of a shock to see that they came without any sauce or garnish, although sour cream is available for an extra charge. The dumplings were well-cooked, and the meat had a delicious, distinctive taste. One portion is enough if you don’t have a big appetite, or as a light meal."

"We also tried sweet varenyky with sour cherry, which suffered from the same shortcoming as the pelmeni, which was the lack of sauce. The dough seemed to be the same one as for the pelmeni, which, combined with the tanginess of the sour cherries, made them flavorful but not sweet (a plus or a minus depending on your tastes)."

Amateur mistake? "When eating pelmeni or varenyky, always get the sour cream. Or butter. Or both," said our Ukrainian tester. She also recommends jam as a topping for sour cherry varenyky.

A number of new kitchens specializing in packaged pelmeni and varenyky have also grown in recent years. One of them is Ukrainian-owned GastroOma (the name combines the German word for grandma and the Ukrainian word for specialty food shop), which sells frozen pelmeni, varenyky, and Georgian khinkali to cook at home.

Our Ukrainian tester found the dumplings from GastroOma embody the most authentic flavors of home. "The dumplings were tasty, had a nice, uniform texture after boiling, and were easy to prepare thanks to the detailed cooking instructions written on the package."

Buy pelmeni and varenyky to make at home

  • GastroOma offers frozen pelmeni, varenyky, and Georgian khinkali to cook at home. Ukrainian-owned and newly opened, it also offers delivery, which is free for orders over CZK 700 (and through Oct. 23 comes with a free order of sour cherry varenyky).
  • Multi Cook is another newly opened pelmeni-to-go shop, though you'll have to travel to Háje to pick up a wide range of frozen pelmeni and varenyky to make at home.
  • The Boršč in Vinohrady is best known for its soup (just ask Willem Dafoe) but you can sit down to hearty plates of varenyky or pelmeni as well as other traditional Ukrainian fare, or buy a bag of frozen pelmeni to go.
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