Photo by Ned Berke
THE BITE: Some form of dumplings are available in just about every eastern culture, and dumplings have even made their way into central European cuisine.
It’s widely held in the food community that the “dumpling” is an invention of the Chinese and has spread throughout Asia and Eastern Europe as each culture passed this tempting morsel further and further west. The Italians, on the other hand, stole them flat out, with that rascal Marco Polo poaching just about every Chinese pasta dish for reinvention in his home land, with dumplings emerging as ravioli and lasagna.
Living here in Sheepshead Bay, we get to experience almost every form of dumpling available on the planet. From the Italian ravioli to the Russian pelmeni to the Polish pierogi, it’s all here.
Vareniki are the Ukrainian adaptation of the Chinese “Shui Jiao,” or steamed dumplings. These small crescent shaped packets of heaven of unleavened dough are usually stuffed with savory ingredients such as mashed potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, cheese and/or meat, but are also prepared using a fruit filling. The Mennonites have a tradition of stuffing vareniki with hard boiled eggs.
I was introduced to the “dumpling” by my wife’s Polish aunt one holiday when she produced a steaming platter of home-made pierogi; one side overflowed with pierogi stuffed with cabbage and potato, the other pierogi stuffed with a sour cherry. I never experienced anything like it. As that was not only my introduction to the dumpling, but also my introduction to the family, I needed to exercise some restraint. Left to my druthers, I would have consumed the entire platter. I knew I had to find this again.
Luckily, with Varenichnaya (6 Brighton 2nd Street) at my beck and call, no such restraint is necessary.
While there are subtle differences between the Polish pierogi, the Ukrainian vareniki is more than an adequate substitute. Both are made from an unleavened, slightly sweet dough. Both were stuffed with a sweet-and-sour tasting filling of the whole, pitted, sour cherry, along with its juice. Both were served alongside a version sour cream.
Both are simply delicious.
However, I think the vareniki at Varenichnaya has the advantage. The dough is lighter, yet fuller, which may be due to the Ukrainian addition of sour cream, or its Russian equivalent, smetana, in the dough. The sweet-and-sour punch of the cherries also seemed much more balanced, with neither the sweet or sour flavor overpowering the flavor of either the dough or the cherry fillings.
Verenichnaya offers up a steaming plate of vareniki with cherry for only $6.95. It makes me wonder why I eat anything else.
And here’s some useless information that might just help you clinch Jeopardy; the world’s biggest dumpling (varenik) was 123 cm long, 81 cm wide and weighed 67.3 kilos. It was created for the Ukrainian Varenikis Festival in 2002.
Varenichnaya, 3086 Brighton 2nd Street, (between Brighton Beach Avenue & Brightwater Court), (718) 332-9797.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
Correction (1:50 p.m.): The original version of this article misspelled the establishment’s name. It has since been corrected. We regret any confusion this may have caused.