by Maria Stepanova
The smell of fresh pastries is difficult to confuse with anything else: that scrumptious and persuasive smell of yeast, dough, chicken and potatoes, mixed with the sweet notes of almond and cinnamon.
Several saleswomen are bustling behind the counter, serving at least ten visitors in the bakery. Everyone is talking loudly, choosing which potato dessert is best to take. Yeah-yeah, you heard it right. In Tatarstan, the traditional dessert consists not of raspberries or cream but of chicken, rice, beef, raisins, cottage cheese and potatoes. There are at least ten types of desserts displayed in the window. An embarrassment of riches, as one might say. The man next to me advises taking an uchpochmack and elesh. He says, "It's a sin not to try!" and I go for them.
The national cuisine of Tatarstan is undoubtedly unique. It is different from what you can try in the European part of Russia. Tatarstan dishes are mainly of Turkic origin: nourishing stews, cheese pies, dried fruits and honey sweets for tea. Every tourist should try these delicious and flavorful dishes to better understand the identity and culture of the Tatars. Food has a history of its own!
BAKERIES, CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
Not every tourist has deep pockets. You’ve got to know the places.
Where in Kazan can you have tasty and cheap food?
Firstly, pay a visit to cafe "Tyubetey" to try their signature burger “kystyburger” and the "queen of Tatar desserts”, gubadia pies .
Secondly, pop in hip bakeries, which offer hearty Tatar desserts for every taste. Below is a list of dishes that every tourist should try:
1. Echpochmak, a Tatar and Bashkir national dish, a baked pie made of yeast dough with a filling of potatoes, meat (beef, lamb, goose, duck or onion).
2. Balish, a dish with pieces of fatty meat mixed with half-cooked millet, rice or sliced raw potatoes.
3. Kystybyy, a baked flatbread stuffed with porridge (more often millet porridge) or stew, and, more recently, mashed potatoes.
Thirdly, visit "Zhar-Svezhar" bakery on Bauman Street, whose artisanal breads and pastries are among the best in the town. Buns are inexpensive, about 60-120 rubles each, but they are very nutritious. So, don't take more than two or three.
Like any other major Russian city, Kazan can boast of an abundance of quality dining restaurants, but not all of them specialize in Tatar cuisine. Those worth visiting include the fancy restaurant "Yam-Yashel", where guests are offered a Tatar-style azu, which is made of stewed meat with tomatoes, onions and potatoes in a hot sauce. Also, you can try their tea served with an exquisite jam made of cones.
The next culinary stop should be made at "Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda", an amazing place in the center of the capital, where you can find spacious wooden huts with their own courtyards, livestock, and all other imitations of a rural residence. In “Tatar Manor” restaurant, an absolute must-eat dish is tokmach with chicken (a belly-warming bowl of chicken soup).
SHOPS AND MARKETS
“Have you already bought the Bugulma balm?” asked a taxi-driver, when I got into the car with my heavy shopping bags. Embarrassed, I had to admit that it was the first time I heard about that balm. Then I asked the driver what else was worth buying and he came up with quite a huge list, which I have narrowed down to five items:
1. Chak-chak, an oriental flour cookie made of deep-fried dough pieces mixed with honey syrup.
2. Bugulma balsam, a drink based on various herbs (dushnitsa, Hypericum, sweet clover, motherwort, etc.).
3. Baursaks, a dessert made of strips of dough, deep-fried and soaked in honey or sugar syrup.
4. Halva, a dessert of Oriental origin, made from sugar and nuts or seeds. Halva is not considered a national dessert of the Tatars, but I decided to add it to the list because only in Kazan I tasted a truly delicious signature halva, "Jojo".
5. Talkysh Kaleve, cones made of sugar threads that melt in your mouth. This is one of the most difficult dishes of Tatar cuisine. Dessert is made from honey-sugar caramel, which is pulled into sweet threads. They are fixed in this state with a mixture of flour and melted butter.
In Kazan, farmers markets are still flourishing. Number one among them is the Central Market, located on Martin Mezhlauka Street in the Vakhitovsky district. Markets are crammed with affordable dishes, attracting a steady stream of hungry customers throughout the day. Tourists usually buy home-made horse sausage, fresh and organic, which is supplied in large amounts by local farmers.
There is also a supermarket of homemade food "Bahetle'', where you can buy Bugulma balm and chak-chak.
Walking along Bauman Street, make sure to visit the shop of traditional Tatar products "Tatproduct", where makers source top-notch ingredients from artisanal producers to create immaculate desserts. On the shelves, you can find original “Jojo” halva, Talkysh Kaleve, baursaks and a lot more.
On my way to the airport, I popped into the market to buy some sausage. The kind saleswoman offered me to try different sorts of sausage: "Appetite comes with eating. Once you try this sausage you will come back for more!”
Guess what? She was absolutely right! I will definitely go back to Tatarstan for more.