A Day Trip to Brighton Beach – M&I International and Varenichnaya

Taken place on October 10, 2009.

Way back last month with Ruskie and I were determined to go to Brighton Beach while he’s in town for the sake of curiosity of the Russian food culture (for me, at least) and for him, a nostalgic moment of re-visiting a Russian community since he was born and raised in Russia and haven’t went back in decades. We embarked on an hour and a half subway ride from his place in the Upper East Side over to Brighton Beach.

Once we left the subway station at Brighton Beach, it felt like we entered in a different world. It’s sort of like when you leave the Main Street station in Queens from the 7 train and step out to the streets, you’re surrounded by Asian, mostly Chinese, people except we’re surrounded by Russians (the majority).

Eventually, we found the place where we wanted to embark our Russian food fest, M & I International Food.

M&I International Food M&I International Food

This huge grocery store that has everything from prepared foods (baked, salad-based, or pickled) to sausages, smoked, salted, or cured fish.

Meat counter Vobla
Meat counter & Dried fish

Pastries Pickled watermelon
Pastries & Pickled watermelon

Eventually, we settled on starting off our eating binge with a Russian-style cole slaw. The difference between this style and the American stuff is that it isn’t made with mayonnaise. It’s light, tart and a refreshing way to start off.

Russian type of cole slaw
Cole slaw-like salad

Then we progressed with pastries, both savory and sweet. The savory one was filled with a hefty amount of cooked, pulled pork (I think) and the sweet one, made with cream cheese, isn’t remotely sweet compared to the American version. The pastry itself is a bit chewy for my liking but it’s not bad. All of these were very inexpensive.

Pastries Meat-filled innards
Sweet and savory pastries and innards

To continue the Russian food theme, our beverages are from Russia. I had the Kvass, a slightly fermented drink made of rye, that Ruskie claimed that there’s practically no alcohol in this drink. Except, I started to feel the tingly, light-headedness (indicating there’s alcohol) about 20 minutes after I finished it. Yes, sometimes it amazes me how sensitive I am to alcohol.

As for Ruskie, he gotten himself beer. It’s a really light ale that he would consider it the Bud Light of Russian beers.

Kvass Ruskie's beer
Russian beverages – non-alcoholic and beer

Then we got up and walked around for any source of inspiration that we’d like to eat or try, we ended up getting a trio of smoked fish – hot and cold sturgeon and hot smoked salmon. I like the natural oiliness of all the fish. My favorites were the hot smoked ones because it’s more intensely flavored.

Smoked fish

Also, there’s vobla, a small dried, salted fish that is a huge favorite of Ruskie’s. It’s all about nostalgia for him on this fish snack. Basically, there’s a whole series of steps to eat this thing like tearing off the head, separating the fish into two halves, etc. Eventually, you’ll get sections of salty, dried fish meat that is meant to be served with beer or dipped in it, like I have. As interesting this snack is, it’s way too salty for my preference that I gave up eating about half the fish. Ruskie, on the other hand, bought himself about a pound’s worth of it home with a huge bottle of beer.

Plate of Vobla About to eat...
Not the most photogenic thing but it’s Vobla and a piece of it

Then we had grabbed our own pastries to go. He wanted a poppy seed pastry (I don’t know the Russian name) which has the same sugar content of the cream cheese pastry we had earlier and it tasted like the same pastry/bread exterior like the aforementioned.

Pastries Poppy seed pastry
Russian pastries on display; one on Ruskie’s hand

While he was on line for the poppy pastry above, I gotten myself the famous (amongst my friends like Robyn and Kathy, according to this post) “Russian” carrot cake.

What I learned from Ruskie that there’s no such thing as carrot cake in the Russian food culture. Perhaps it’s an Americanized thing that the people demanded it and they created it? Way back when I read the linked post, I thought this was something dreamy and amazing. Incredible, moist cake meets shredded carrots and a touch of walnuts and raisins.

Frankly, I don’t feel the same what my friends do. To me, it tasted like a cross between carrot cake and the fruitcake everyone wanted to avoid every Christmas. It’s very dense albeit moist. It does have a lot of carrots, walnuts, raisins, and miscellaneous dried fruits but it doesn’t appeal to me at all. I placed it aside in my bag after taking two bites.

Carrot Cake
The “Russian” carrot cake

Wait! There’s more…

Despite the fact we’re pretty full, Ruskie insisted upon getting Russian-style dumplings, also known as pelmeni. We waddled across the street and down half a block over to Varenichnaya.

Well knowingly the fact that I know absolutely nothing about the Russian food culture, I let Ruskie choose the dishes.

Menu at Varenichnaya

Ruskie ordered for us two dumpling dishes, one was called Siberian meats pelmeni and potato vareniki ($6.50 per plate). The meat filled one was served with a generous pat of softened butter and sour cream. Both condiments are commonly served with pelmeni. These wee little dumplings were about 3/4 the size of a wonton (at least the ones my family and I make from scratch). They tasted very good; not too thick skin and the filling was meaty and moist.

As for the potato filled ones, they’re topped with sautéed onions and melted butter that it leans on the sweet spectrum (and if I remebered correctly, there’s a touch of raisins in the filling). Interesting and delicious.

Potato dumplings Siberian meats dumplings
Russian-style dumplings

Then to top off this gluttonous day, we shared a lula kebab ($3.95), basically a ground up mixture of meat (I think this was pork and beef) and spices shaped around a metal skewer. I liked how robustly seasoned and juicy this kebab was. (On the side, there’s a small raw onion salad, which I’m not too crazy about because it’s really onion-y.)

Lula kebab
Lula Kebab

This was an epic day filled with Russian food. All I wanted to do when we left Brighton Beach was to take a nap.

M & I International

249 Brighton Beach Avenue
(between Brighton 1st Pl & Brighton 2nd St)
Brooklyn, NY 11235

3086 Brighton 2nd Street
(between Brighton Beach Ave & Brightwater Ct)
Brooklyn, NY 11235


I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.

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