June 30th, 2003

Pelmeni XL

The day had started out sunny and clear, but by evening rush the skies were overcast. I realized as I was looking for dinner (often an adventure in a new town) what I really wanted was some comfort food. Thus, Pelmeni.

Pelmeni XL
Kalku iela 7
Riga, Latvia
tel: +371.722.27.28
daily 0900-0400

also Pelmeni Centrs
Audeju iela 16 (in the Centrs shopping center, entrance around the side on Valnu iela)
M-F 0800-2100
Sa-Su 1000-2100

Pelmeni XL and Centrs are cafeteria-style places serving a variety of pelmeni by weight. Also available are two soups: solyanka (a meat stew) and a soup of the day, which today looked like cream of beet. In addition there are some mayonnaise based salads, including "crab" and rasol (peas, pickles, ham, and potatoes in cream).

But you come here for pelmeni. The various fillings are coded by shape (hexagonal, square, triangular) and color: chicken, pork, lamb, etc. They're labelled in Latvia, but usually there's someone around who speaks English. One variety is fried, and the vegetarian pelmeni are the bright green color favored by Chinese dumpling makers for veggie dumplings.

It doesn't much matter, as the boiled pelmeni all taste pretty similar. Mix and match, at Ls. 2.20 ($3.90) per kilo. A medium-sized bowl of 15 to 30 should cost around Ls. 0.65, or about $1.15. Pile on some horseradish, some pickles, and of course sour cream, and you're good to go.

Note that they charge for filtered water (at least, I hope it was filtered, as you're told to boil Riga tap water before you drink it), so I'd recommend just buying the mineral water as you get more for the same price as filtered water. Yes, they serve beer.

Service are the usual bored teens and tweeners, although they perked right up when I looked around, realized I was keeping them from closing, snagged a take-out box, and dumped my food in. Smiles all around.

Pelmeni as fast food. Only in the former Soviet Union.

Dzirnavas

For some reason, cafeteria-style places are popular in the Baltic countries. Maybe it's the ease of ordering; you see something in front of you and point at it, so there are few surprises or language problems.

Dzirnavas
Dzirnavu 76 (near west corner of Krišjana Barona iela)
Riga, Latvia
tel: +371.728.62.04

daily, 0800-2300
breakfast buffet M-Sa 0800-1100

Dzirnavas (the name means mill) is part of a chain of buffet-style places that includes Alus seta at Tirgonu iela 6 and Vermanitis at Elizabetas iela 65 (corner Terbatas iela). They all look like Mövenpick (the Swiss cafeteria chain) restaurants. Like Mövenpick, you pick up a tray and visit a series of food stations to choose your food, then pay the cashier which you pass before you get to a table.

However, Dzirnavas is the one to go to at breakfast, because they are they only ones who have a breakfast buffet deal. Between 0800 and 1100 every day except Sunday, your food bill maxes out at Ls. 2.50 ($4.50), which covers all the food you can eat and a bottomless cup of coffee or tea. Juices are extra, and pricey: Ls 0.60 ($1.06) for carrot, Ls 0.80 ($1.42) for orange. You can really get nickel and dimed by little items (Ls. 0.20 for honey, 0.10 for sour cream, and so forth), so the Ls. 2.50 breakfast buffet is a great deal.

Unlike a lot of places they do fire up the lunch stations at breakfast time, and you can have any of the lunch entrees as part of your breakfast buffet. They serve the usual breakfast foods (eggs, bacon, sausages, oatmeal), as well as Latvian/Russian food like shashlik for lunch.

The staff are helpful and some speak English, which is good because everything is labeled in Latvian.