is as ubiquitous in Russian life as it is in literature. Street corners are dotted with hawkers selling their pies hot from portable ovens; cafés offer meat pies along with bowls of soup. The importance of the pirog cannot be underestimated: in one of Gogol’s Dikanka tales the narrator is alarmed to find that his wife has made off with half the pages of his book to use as baking paper for her pies, which, he confesses, are indeed the tastiest around.
The practice of enclosing all sorts of fillings, both savory and sweet, in an envelope of dough is an old one, and very characteristic of the Russian cuisine. The pies range from the complex and extravagant (the many-layered salmon kulebyaka, for instance) to the simple and plain (deep-fried half-moons of dough stuffed with leftovers). The large pies are called pirogi. They are usually square or rectangular in shape. Their diminutive cousins, the pirozhki, are pocket-sized and oval. All can be made from a variety of doughs—yeast, short or flaky pastry—depending on which suits the filling best.