Hot-Dog Dough Pastries: Eastern Europe’s Iconic Streetfood

Dough pastries are the ultimate comfort food of Eastern Europe. Their Ukrainian iteration Kyivska Perepіchka has become an icon in Kiev.

Kiev’s culinary highlight will set you back less than 60 cents. It’s a fried sausage dumpling called Kyivska Perepіchka, which roughly translates to Kiev pastry. Served at Kiev’s first fast food restaurant of the same name, Kyivska Perepіchka has been around since 1981 (in contrast to luxury restaurants, which rarely experience their first anniversary). The dumpling exudes a unique Soviet-era aura—from the fierce babushka who sells them to the sparse ingredients—and has spread through the entire former Eastern Bloc in countless variations. They are the ultimate Eastern European comfort food, after all. In Kiev, a cheap sausage in fried dough attracts particular attention.

On the corner of Khreschatyk and Khmelnyskyj, right in the center of Kiev between tourist bars and expensive boutiques, there is a 15-square-meter store. Bearing neon signage and a small window that resembles a McDonald’s drive-in, Kyivska Perepіchka marks a departure from the inner-city’s noble image. People of all different walks of life gather here—students, craftspeople, and mothers with their children, alongside men with briefcases and women perching on spiked heels—all queuing up for a freshly deep-fried dough sausage.
Kiev's iconic street food is served every minute
From 8:30am to 9:30pm, one such hot dog dumpling is served every minute. At peak times, there are such long queues that it may take half an hour for the coveted dish to arrive in your hands. It is so shiny and greasy that it could probably clog entire arteries—and yet it has become an icon of an entire city. Every family has its own recipe for dumplings, but the recipe for this one remains a secret.
Even so, the dumpling is the streetfood of the post-Soviet world. It has many names; amongst them Belyashi, Cheburek, Pichki and Piroggi, and while the dough coat connects them, it’s the fillings that separate them. Some come with meat, some with cabbage or other vegetables; this Kiev iteration comes with a sausage, in a way an equivalent of the American hot dog. Nobody knows exactly where Eastern Europe’s dough pastries originate from. Some researchers claim they are related to the Burek. What is certain is that, due to the unity of the Soviet Union and the mixing of eastern cultures, they can be found everywhere today.

These humble pastries are as warm, simple and good as the people of Eastern Europe themselves. They remind us of annual family gatherings at New Year’s Day or on birthdays. At parties, or in the course of everyday life: made of salt, flour and water, these doughy delights are always a fleeting affair of the heart. Kyivska Perepіchka plays on this nostalgia. Who doesn’t remember the snack that was their childhood favorite, or that they lined their bellies with after long nights out as a teenager? These days, in a time when the world has become so much more complicated, the simple dough sausage offers a comforting feeling of security and warmth, as if life itself were swaddled in a thick layer of dough.

But Eastern Europe’s fried dough pastries are also threatened by growing commercialization: abstract variations are increasingly sprouting up in Kyiv. Vegan sausages, sweet fillings, large neon signs, and shops filled with hip young things are threatening Kyivska Perepіchka’s very existence. But it is precisely the original that draws in today’s youth, who come to be reminded of the warmth of their grandmothers’ kitchens. Every bite expresses the desire for normality; for a symbol of stability in our tumultuous times.

In Kyiv, Kyivska Perepіchka is a cultural time machine for young and old alike—even for tourists who are taken aback by the long queues spilling out of the store. Even in Germany, similar pastries are available in larger Eastern European supermarkets; only cafés and restaurants have not yet discovered them. Yet they have long since become a bridge between the diaspora in the West and the countries of the former Soviet Union. This deep-fried dough pastry has what it takes to join the ranks of food fads in the hip gourmet circles of the world’s metropolises. And it is proof that the hot dog existed in the East, even before the East itself knew about it.

Artur Weigandt is a freelance journalist with roots in the East. His works have been published with Zeit Magazin, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Welt.