A Hot Pocket by any other name

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By Gazelle Emami

It’s hard to define piroshki, though there’s no doubt they’re a Russian food. I say “food” because it’s a little ambiguous as to whether it’s a pastry, snack, or meal. Whichever group(s) it falls under, with its thick, deep-fried dough stuffed with an assortment of fillings ranging from meat to vegetarian-friendly options, You might call piroshki the Hot Pocket’s granddaddy.

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Owner Galina Galant and her father pose with racks of the piroshki they make fresh every morning.

You won’t find piroshki too easily in these parts—Paramount Piroshki, open since 1956, is one of the only places around to dedicate itself wholly to the traditional Russian treat. Owner Galina Galant and her family came to San Francisco from Russia in 1983 and bought the business from its previous owner. The building used to be in the style of a coffee shop, but given Potrero Hill’s industrial landscape, the Galants converted it into a factory and are mainly in the business of selling to other businesses.

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Galina Galant's mother toys around with a new cottage cheese piroshki invention.

Now, Paramount Piroshki doesn’t have a welcoming exterior—just looking at it wouldn’t exactly get the appetite going, and, as factories go, walking in doesn’t really change any of that. Moreover, the place looks like it’s closed all the time…probably because it usually is, as they stay open only until 3 p.m. daily. But according to Galant, this doesn’t deter people in the area who know the place from dropping by and getting their piroshki fix fresh from the factory.

“There’s a middle school up the street, and kids who used to come here 30 years ago are now bringing their kids,” Galant said. “When we make them fresh every morning, neighbors smell it on the block and they come by. Bus drivers, firemen, and policemen in the area come here regularly.”

Paramount Piroshki is looking to further increase its community appeal, offering a range of piroshki fillings, from the traditional potato, beef, and mushroom, to spinach and cheese, which Galant claims is more suited to American tastes.

I tasted their deep-fried spinach and cheese piroshki, and I can’t say I’m now a piroshki convert. Any flavor was overpowered by how fried the piroshki itself was, giving it an unusual aftertaste. But perhaps I’m jut weak in stomach—Galant noted that while they do offer healthier, baked piroshki, the traditional, fried ones remain the most popular. And as cultural foods can go, perhaps what I call an unusual aftertaste others call an acquired taste.

(Note: In December of 1999, Paramount Piroshki had an incident with salmonella poisoning in their piroshki, which they were forced to recall. When asked about how this had affected their business, Galant said: “We had a new D.A. inspector and she picked up the piroshki without a glove. We tested the same product again, and there were no problems. It was the first time, and we couldn’t understand how it happened. I wouldn’t say it has affected our business; people were just upset and confused. We clean much more than we cook, and the product is always good quality.”)