Historically, the Tatars have treated food with a great respect and cherished the traditions of hospitality. So it is not surprising that you will have many opportunities to eat delicious food in Tatarstan. It does not matter whether you prefer a meaty or a vegetarian diet, whether you are Muslim or have special dietary requirements. Do you want to dive into the Tatar cuisine or treat yourself with exotic Asian food? We will be sure that you eat enough and receive real gastronomic delight.
The Tatar Cuisine
Through the ages, Tatars have been inventing and compiling their own original recipes, and creatively improving the most popular cooking traditions of their neighbors as well. The Tatars inherited their love of various types of meat (mutton, horse meat, beef, and poultry) from their nomad ancestors. A rich broth named shulpa is made from meat, and it can be easily converted into a thick soup with noodles, dumplings or potatoes. Among the meat dishes are the famous Tatar horse sausage kyzylyk and the dried goose. The pilaff was borrowed from Central Asian cultures, and pelmeni, originally a Chinese invention, was, too, adopted by the Tatars.
The second pillar of the Tatar cuisine is dough. Most tourists begin their acquaintance with Tatar food with pastry: rich echpochmaks, peremyaches, balishes, elishes, and sweet chak-chak and baursak. The third important ingredient is milk. Baked sour milk, called katyk, is a delectable drink, a meat sauce, and an ingredient in other dishes. If you dilute katyk with water and add some spices, you will get a refreshing ayran. Soft syuzma, quark cheese, is made from katyk, and ‘red’ quark cheese, called kort, is made of syuzma. Kort is indispensable for cooking a wedding cake called gubadia.
Whatever culinary preferences, dietary taste, and religious traditions you may have, you will definitely find dishes in the Tatar cuisine that will remain in your heart forever.
Things to try
Tatar bread ikmek
As a rule, the Tatars have always baked bread from rye and rarely from wheat. In the past, they used sour dough from hops and honey instead of leaven because it gave the bread a special flavor.
Outside Tatarstan, peremyach is more commonly known as belyash. It is a round pie made of unleavened or yeast-leavened dough with a hole in the middle. Peremyaches are fried in oil or baked in an oven. In any case, you will get a light pie with a mouth-watering, meaty aroma.
It is the so-called Bermuda Triangle of the Tatar cuisine. It has potato, meat and onion filling, placed on a thin flat cake made of yeast-leavened dough, then it is folded into a three-cornered pie with decorative braids and a small hole in the middle.
“Zur-balish” in Tatar means “a big pie”. It is usually cooked on special occasions – for festivities or unique guests. The dough for this culinary miracle is made based on sour cream, and potatoes, meat and onions are used as a filling. Zur-balish is cooked in a deep round pan, and its main secret is the meaty broth which is poured inside through a special hole in the middle of the pie.
This is a large round pie with a unique filling, and usually cooked on big holidays, particularly for weddings. The traditional filling for gubadia includes quark cheese and rice, however they also make gubadia with meat filling served as a second course, and gubadia with quark cheese and fruit for dessert.
A flavorful soup made from golden chicken broth with whole chunks of hen, homemade noodles called tokmach, and herbs. As a rule, the broth and noodles are poured into bowls while the meat and herbs are served on a separate plate so that everyone can take as much as he or she wants.
Roast meat in a Pot
This is one of the most popular dishes in the Tatar cuisine and you can easily cook it at home. Meat and vegetables are not baked, but rather broiled in a pot in order to soak up the juices and aromas.
For one full pot, you need the following:
mutton or beef flesh 150 g
potato 150 g
onion 25 g
tomatoes or tomato paste 50 g
meat broth 100 g
fat or butter for roasting 20 g
prunes 20 g
salt, pepper, bay leaf, garlic to taste.
Preheat the oven to 200° C. Prepare the ingredients for roast meat: cut the meat into small pieces and fry it on all sides; peel some potatoes, cut them and fry until they are half way done; peel some onion, chop and fry; wash some prunes under cold water, chop some tomatoes. Put all the ingredients into a pot in the following order: meat, potato, onion, prunes, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and some broth. Cover the pot and put it into the oven for 40-45 minutes. Take it out of the oven, add some bay leaf and chopped garlic. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then serve it.
The Tatar Azu
There is no doubt that azu is the king of the Tatar cuisine. According to one theory, the name of the dish ‘azu’ originated from the Tatar word ‘azdyk’ which means ‘food’. Classical azu consists of small pieces of meat stewed with onion, potato, spicy tomato sauce and pickles.
The Tatar Baursak
Baursak is a deep-fried, round or diamond-shaped pieces of yeast-leavened dough. Tender and airy baursaks are served with powdered sugar or syrup.
Every cook has their own recipe for how to make these pancakes. They are cooked with wheat, buckwheat and oat flour, with leaven or kefir, and every time they are different but always delicious. Koymaks taste better when they are still hot with sour cream, jam or honey.
If you happen to see mysterious white pyramids, do not pass by them. Earlier, this fibrous halvah was cooked only on weddings, but now you can taste it anytime, though to cook it one must be very talented.
Chak-chak is an icon of the Tatar cuisine in the world of desserts. Crispy, deep-fried pieces of dough covered with a thin layer of honey can win the heart of anyone even if you are indifferent toward sweets.
To make chak-chak, you need the following:
wheat flour 1 kg
milk 100 g
sugar 20 g
salt to taste
vegetable oil 500 g
honey 900 g
sugar 200 g
Mix the eggs and milk, add some salt and sugar, add some flour and knead the dough. If you want soft chak-chak, you should add some baking soda. Separate the dough into 100 g pieces and roll them into braids 1 cm thick. Cut the braids into balls as big as cedar nuts and deep-fry them until they are golden. In a different bowl, boil honey and sugar. You know the glaze is ready when a tester drop gets firm. Put the fried pieces of dough on a wide plate, pour the mixture of honey and sugar on them and mix. Afterwards, put your chak-chak on a tray, wet your hands, and make any shape you like.
Perhaps the best present you can bring back from Tatarstan is a gastronomic box from Muslyumovo. It is a high quality wooden box decorated with national ornaments containing thirteen masterpieces of the Tatar cuisine: wild strawberry jam, real village sour cream, fragrant honey, curative herbs with origanum and rose-bay, the sweet treasure chak-chak, semi-transparent leaves of Tatar pastila, slices of dried and smoked goose meat, thin slices of horse fat, the flavorful sausage kazylyk, special non-yeasted bread with bran, ‘red quark’ kort, and a special, light choux pastry with soft sour cream sauce.
Where can I try them?
Tatarstan is sincerely proud of its cooking traditions, so you will have many opportunities to try the Tatar cuisine and fall in love with it forever. In festive restaurants, affordable cafes, and even fast food restaurants, you will feel that you are a respected guest and will enjoy the gems of the national gastronomy.
One of the oldest national restaurants, called The Dom Tatarskoy Kulinarii (The House of Tatar Cooking), is located on the perpetually jam-packed Bauman Street. The restaurant cultivates haute cuisine in a luxurious Tatar palace. They still stick to ancient recipes that were compiled in Tatar towns and villages in the middle of the previous century.
If you would like to see or even experience how people lived and worked in Tatar villages 100 years ago, then have dinner bearing the appetite of a hard-working man, you should visit the ethnographic open-air museum called the Tatar Avyly. At the local halal cafe you will be treated with fragrant azu, golden chak-chak, gentle katyk and other traditional Tatar dishes.
The Tugan Avylym complex in Kazan has been responsible for the promotion of the Tatar cuisine for more than ten years already. Wooden houses, green plants, and a pond would be a wonderful addition to a Tatar national meal. You can choose between ornate pancakes, cooked on a wood-burning stove, made using a secret recipe, juicy smoked kebabs, or a genuine Tatar dinner with shulpa, bishbarmak and a couple of echpochmaks.
A new complex named The Tatarskaya Usadba (The Tatar Estate) has recently opened in the Staro-Tatarskaya village. In this complex you can try Tatar and European cuisine. The real pride of the restaurant is the wooden-burning stove built to emulate old stoves found in Bolghar. Meat that is cooked on this stove is particularly juicy and flavorful.
In order to try real Tatar tea, you should visit The Chak-Chak Museum. The interior reproduces the atmosphere of a wealthy home around the end of 19th, beginning of the 20th century. While drinking your tea and eating homemade chak-chak, you will hear stories about the life of the Tatars and the secrets of cooking this symbol of the Tatar cuisine.
A tourist's life is so busy that it is often difficult to find time for a substantial dinner at a restaurant. A network of fast food restaurants called Tyubetey has recently opened for such tireless people and fast food fans. In skull-cap-shaped pavilions, you can invigorate yourself with a Tatar pastry, soups, sweets and tea. In short, all the dishes in Tyubetey are in accordance with the strict standards of halal.
If you plan on coming to Tatarstan in summer, you should try to arrive in the capital of the Republic during the gastronomic festival called ‘Vkusnaya Kazan’ (‘Tasty Kazan’). For several days, the Staro-Tatarskaya village turns into a Mecca for culinary enthusiasts. Neat houses that are catering representatives of some famous Tatar restaurants will entice you with appetizing dishes and reasonable prices. At the festival, you can try various Tatar, Georgian and other national dishes, and learn how to cook them yourself from the best chefs in Kazan.
If you want something more
If you miss familiar food or want more variety, you are guaranteed to find anything you wish in Tatarstan. The Tandu Restaurant offers authentic Chinese food. A chain of cafes named Khinkalnaya cooks bright Georgian cuisine, and its main pride is khinkali – with tender, juicy meat filling and fragrant broth. You will find a variety of oriental cuisine in the Rubai Restaurant. Visiting the Malabar Restaurant is a real trip to mystic India.