How Tatarstan becomes “the tastiest” Russian region again

The republic is taking the lead in the gastronomic rating by NatGeo

How Tatarstan becomes “the tastiest” Russian region again Photo: Maksim Platonov

The online National Geographic Traveler voting is held every year to choose the most attractive regions in Russia and around the world for our tourists. The current voting will end on 12 October. But it seems that Tatarstan has already won in Russian Food Tourism nomination: as of 17 September, the republic has scored 51% of votes having noticeably gone ahead of its rivals. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent tried to find out why our gastronomic tradition was so unique.

Neither Dagestan nor Moscow Oblast will catch up with us

Tatarstan also was the most attractive region for domestic food tourism in the online rating of National Geographic in 2018: then the republic scored 40% of votes. Sakhalin Oblast with 19% and Vladimir Oblast with 15% were next after Tatarstan.

This year the voting will end on 12 October. It seems that our tourist likes our chak-chak and triangle pastry even more: by 17 September, the region already had 51% votes, Moscow Oblast with 16% and Dagestan with 14% were after it. 10% of Rostov Oblast and 9% of Novosibirsk Oblast don’t concern Kazan.

In 2018, Yummy Kazan festival got Grand Prix in Russian Event Awards-2018 in Best Event in Gastronomic Tourism. Photo: Maksim Platonov

People in Tatarstan love to not only cook well but eat with appetite: Yummy Kazan 6th Food Festival has recently taken place here. Its guests ate 15 tonnes of food for three days. In 2018, this festival got Grand Prix in Russian Event Awards-2018 in Best Event in Food Tourism.

Big melting pot

The central position of Tatarstan on the gastronomic map of Russia seems to be quite deserving: only local, completely usual products for the central part of Russia are used here, but something completely different from traditional Russian cuisine comes out of it. Tatar culinary includes nomadic traditions of jerk meat (kazylyk, dried goose meat, pastirma) and Bolgarian love for honey (chak-chak) and Middle Asian pilaf (thanks to Muslim students) and Eastern sweets (talkysh kaleve). And European culinary culture added here in the late 19th century. What we now call Tatar cuisine was cooked in this “big melting pot”.

Realnoe Vremya asked Liliya Gabdrafikova, doctor of historical sciences, specialist in the history of Tatar everyday life, why it is different from culinary of neighbouring regions. She assumes that probably a lot of baked goods and meat attract tourists:

“Tatar cuisine has anciently been based on meat and dairy: here, unlike peoples from Christian regions, Muslim Tatars didn’t have strict fasting without meat. In fact, they ate what they wanted. The nomadic past left us traditions of dried meat our neighbours didn’t have. There are unique milk products, for instance, kort, kaymak. Vegetables that are habitual for the neighbours came to the Tatars’ table quite late, for quite sound reasons already. This is why the culinary tradition turns out quite original.

The central position of Tatarstan on the gastronomic map of Russia seems to be quite deserving: only local, completely usual products for the central part of Russia are used here, but something completely different from traditional Russian cuisine comes out of it. Photo: Maksim Platonov

I think the abundance and diversity of baked goods also plays a role — it is filling with a lot of meat. For instance, well-off Tatar families ate peremech (fried dough with meat) for breakfast in the 19th century. Tatar cuisine has few fish dishes, and mushrooms were considered as poisonous food in the early 20th century. This is why our traditional dishes differ from Russian cuisine, though it doesn’t have exotic ingredients apart from horse meat. Only pilaf can be considered as a really exotic dish that Muslim students from Bukhara brought in the late 19th century and that entered Tatar cuisine recipe books. In general I think we should ask tourists themselves what attracts them in our cuisine.”

Tatar fast food steals foreign tourists’ hearts

Kazan experiences an inflow of foreigners every year: in 2018, World Cup fans arrived here, this year it is WorldSkills competitors and experts. Tatar cuisine becomes a discovery for them: they were ready to see Russia shchi soup and pryanik — instead, they got noodle soup, ten types of pastry and chak-chak. Some experts say that ochpochmak and elesh were especially loved by the foreigners having become a good alternative to European and Eastern fast food. Ochpochmak isn’t burger, and kystyby isn’t shawarma. It is something completely different but at the same time it has a very simple taste: our peremech and vak belish don’t have hot spices, excessively bright accents, but it is a good snack.

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Some experts say that ochpochmak and elesh were especially loved by the foreigners having become a good alternative to European and Eastern fast food. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
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Melissa Sauter, who worked on Germany’s stand at WorldSkills, told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent about chak-chak. She said she had never eaten anything similar, but it was yummy. In Germany, they eat schnitzel and chocolate, so our food was a big surprise to them.
Michael Mells, an engineer from New Zealand, was amazed at the “triangle pastry with beef and potato” and complained that he couldn’t eat it in his homeland.
Marina Buldyk, a guest from Belarus, visited Yummy Kazan this year and praised that meat very much: “Beef isn’t usually eaten in our country, and we tasted it yesterday with pleasure. Dried horse meat and jerk goose are surprising exotic for us, we like it very much!”.

Guests love ochpochmaks but they anyway take chak-chak from Kazan in 86% of cases

Dilbar Sadykova, director general of the Tatarstan Tourism Development Centre ANO shared statistics on guests’ voracity and their preferences with Realnoe Vremya:

“The Tatarstan Tourism Development Centre regularly depicts the portrait of a tourist coming to the region. Food accounts for 25% of our guests’ main costs, they spend 5,500 rubles on average for 2-3 days in Tatarstan. Together with highlights and hospitality, guests of the republic mention national cuisine. The Tatarstan Tourism Development Centre held a survey that helped to understand what was the most popular dish among travellers.

It turned out that tourists, first of all, preferred ochpochmaks. And as a gastronomic souvenir 86% of tourists took national sweets (mainly chak-chak), 56,8% did local pastry, 25,4% — kazylyk, 18,3% — Tatar tea, 12,9% — honey, 6,5% — dried goose meat.

By Lyudmila Gubayeva. Video: Kamil Ismailov
Tatarstan