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Stolichnoe: Chechen soul food

Tucked away in a Prenzlauer Berg side street you'll find the gem that is Stolichnoe, where homemade Soviet classics like borscht and dumplings are served up with love by the ladies of a family from Chechnya.

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Photo by Rasa Urnieziute

You could be excused for walking right past Gleimstraße 18 without stopping. Stolichnoe barely stands out from every other P’Berg bubble tea outlet, except for the strange Moscow cityscape stencils on the large windows and a glimpse through the door of ladies with Soviet peasant headscarves knotted behind their heads. We immediately suspected a secret gem (it is impossible to find on the internet!) with great food made by authentic housewives from the Russian steppe. We were half right.

The women are not from the vast Russian plains, it turned out, but from the Caucasus mountains – Chechnya, to be precise. On the other hand, the female members of the family make all the food completely from scratch.

They started off with bubble tea, complete with suitably plasticky decor and pastel interior. Five months ago, they decided they should try some food. Leila (photo) and her daughters-in-law take turns behind the stove.

The limited menu is a list of Soviet classics, mixing traditional Russian meat-or-potato dumplings (pelmeni and vareniki, €4.50), Georgian chebureki (fried meat pockets, €2), Uzbek pilaf (plov, €5) and central Asian manti (€6). We started with that eternal favourite: borscht. The large bowl of velvet red beetroot-cabbage-potato soup (€4.50) hit the spot: simple and hearty, served in adequate portions with a dollop of smetana (sour cream) – no fuss, great results.

The Olivier came as a mound of no-less-traditional ‘Russian salad’ of boiled beef, egg, potato, carrots and pickles for a hint of sourness, dressed in mayo. Both the pelmeni (and manti) are handmade and stuffed with the same ground beef concoction, delicious if on the salty side and served in big portions with a little salad. The difference? Pelmeni are smaller and boiled, like Italian ravioli, and served with sour cream. Ask for real Russian smetana – it’s sourer than German saure Sahne. The manti are larger, steamed and served with a bright tomato-paprika-carrot sauce (photo).

Tea is served Russian-style in a large cup with typical Russian bonbons to sweeten the brew; chances are you’ll also get a complimentary slice of jam tarte, not unlike a Linzer torte. The blinis are also homemade – ask for cream or honey (nutella and jam feel a bit too German for this place). Despite the name, there’s no vodka at Stolichnoe – no alcohol at all, in fact. But here you can get your hands on a bottle of Tarhun – a popular bright green soda made out of tarragon extract – or Borjomi mineral water, two Soviet-era classics from Georgia and still popular all over Russia… or else a bubble tea!

Originally published Issue #116, May 2013