I’m back in Canada after five weeks of travelling that flew by. At one point I was flying to Russia and it seemed like the next day that I was already leaving. Time just goes quickly when you enjoy everyday. It’s a very tangible feeling. Anyways, over the next couple of weeks I will finish a series of posts related to the trip. Access to the internet became pretty spotty while traveling, plus admittedly, what I needed more than anything was a break.
Baikal (above) really is the pearl of Siberia, the world’s largest lake and a UNESCO world heritage site. However, it was mostly too cold to enjoy the time we were there. Apparently, it’s still early in the season. After spending several weeks in and around Lake Baikal, I had enough opportunities to sufficiently try out Buryat cuisine as well as learn about some of the history behind it. All cuisines reflect the culture where it originates, whether it is in the choice of ingredients, prevalence of certain cooking styles and influx of foreign cuisines.
Today the Buryats (above) are a minority in Russia and Mongolia, however, they are also the largest indigenous group in Siberia, mainly concentrated in the Buryat Republic in and around Lake Baikal, which are all part of the Russian Federation. The capital of the Buryat Republic, Ulan-Ude, is where I spent the majority of time during traveling. Traditionally, the Buryats, like the Mongols, were nomadic and lived in traditional yurts. The yurt is a special kind of tent that can be assembled and disassembled in an hour, keeps internal temperatures warm in winter and cool in summer. The yurts are circular and each place in the yurt has a specific purpose. There’s a hole in the centre of the roof to allow for venting.
In Mongolia today, many people still live in yurts (called “gers” there), however, they have been supplemented with SUVs and satellite TV. In Buryatia, however, as a result of Sovietization and the tragic history of the 20th century, tribes were forcibly settled, many lost their lives in a struggle for maintaining their identity and many emigrated.
I went on a mission to find a book of Buryat recipes to replicate the most well-known Buryat dish of buuza / бууза, which are large steamed meat dumplings (called pozy / позы in Russian). You will find the same dumplings in Mongolia as well as throughout Central Asia with the addition of some vegetables which changes the texture (manty / манты). The only books I could locate on Buryat cuisine in the entire city of Ulan-Ude were housed in the National Library Rare Books Collection. That’s right, there aren’t any books in Russian much less English featuring Buryat recipes.
Luckily, as is a general theme throughout modern Russia, the internet fills a void where political control and interests cannot fully eradicate. And in my research I found numerous recipes for buuzy (none of which have been translated that I could find). How exciting it is to stumble upon something that isn’t on the internet! Well, it will be now, stay tuned for a future update when I attempt to replicate these in my kitchen.
Today’s update is all about the Buryat foods I tried…
If you find yourself in Ulan-Ude and want to sample local cuisine, you will have ample opportunity. Buuzy, Khuushuur and other Buryat dishes are served in many places. Furthermore, there is a fast food cafeteria chain called “Shene Buuza” (Шэнэ Бууза) which specializes in all number of Buryat as well as Russian specialties. And the prices are very reasonable.
Shulen : a very meaty (read: fatty) soup with chewy noodles. Where you find fat, you find flavour. Beyond the flavour of meat however, there is very little.
These are the famous buuza (meat dumplings) I write about above. Don’t they look like little yurts? They are not just picked up with a fork and eaten however. Buryats mix sauces in the dumpling’s opening, such as spicy mustard, sour cream or mayonnaise, this mixes with the juices from the meat that are collected when the dumplings are steamed. You pick up a buuz with your hand, make a small hole in the side of the buuz and suck out the juices mixed with the condiments. Then continue eating!
I love getting to experience local food while traveling, what has been your favourite culinary encounter on the road?
Until next time!