Good Manners and Good Food: A Home-Cooked Meal in Siberia
During my years of travel with MIR, I’ve been served lavish birthday dinners in both Iran and Uzbekistan, dined at Moscow’s venerable Metropol Hotel, coped with the gooey football-shaped potato cepelinai (think Zeppelin) in Lithuania, and been seated at the damasked dining tables of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. But there’s nothing like dining in a private Siberian home.
I’ve eaten meals with Siberian families at homestays in Irkutsk and Ulan Ude, and enjoyed a feast with a family of Old Believers in the village of Tarbagatay. Each was thoughtfully prepared and graciously offered, and came replete with leisurely and engrossing conversations about our respective countries, families, kids, professions, and travels. These intimate repasts have been highlights of my travels in Siberia.
A bread and salt welcome at an Old Believers’ village
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta.
Siberian Cuisine: Farm (and Forest) to TableMost Siberians are locavores. Living in this former wilderness, they’ve learned to eat as much locally-sourced food as possible, and today they pride themselves on the quantity and freshness of the homegrown, home-preserved, and locally-foraged dishes on their tables. Even the city-dwellers like to get out into the woods to pick berries and mushrooms in the fall, or to fish in the rivers and streams.
A homemade Siberian cake covered with wild cranberries and whipped cream
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
Farther out of town, the meat on a Siberian table may be wild, or it may have been raised right around the corner or out in the backyard. Certainly the potatoes will have been: a lush potato patch sprawls over most rural backyards.
Meals as Different as the Families that Serve ThemAside from the wonderful food, a meal with local people gives you the chance to get a glimpse of how people live. This is especially fascinating in Siberia, with its reputation of being a cold and dismal place. You find that it’s anything but – yes, people have their challenges out here, but they rise to them with grace and flair.
High tea in Siberia: blini, bulachki (sweet buns) and tea with jam. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
Irkutsk: Baikal-StyleIn Irkutsk, on the west side of Lake Baikal, our dinner started with steaming soup, homemade pickles, and dense rye bread, and ended with Russian tea in fragile china cups, sweetened with a spoonful of homemade preserves made from cranberries picked in the taiga.
A few traditional Siberian dishes
Photo: Douglas Grimes
Ulan Ude: Buryat-StyleIn Ulan Ude, east of the lake, it was Buryat green tea with milk, evidence of the indigenous Buryat peoples’ Mongolian background. This was accompanied by pozy, Buryat dumplings. They’re like round raviolis as big as eggs, filled with savory ground meat and steamed in salted water. You eat them by hand, biting them and then letting the soup-like juice run down your throat before finishing them off in another bite or two. Delicious.
A Buryat welcome
Photo credit: Michel Behar
Tarbagatay: Old Believer-StyleMy lunch with an Old Believer family began with a bowl of fresh backyard tomatoes lightly steamed to remove their skins, flavorful sheepshank soup, and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and green onions picked a few minutes before. Then came handmade piroshky, fried yeasted buns stuffed with a mixture of meat, potatoes and cabbage.
Preparing a feast at an Old Believers’ village
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen
Dining Tips: How to be a good houseguestAs in the rest of Russia, it’s good manners to bring a small hostess gift when you’re going to a home – maybe something you’ve brought from your own home, such as a calendar or postcards of your city or state. Otherwise, chocolates, wine or flowers are appropriate. Don’t bring an even number of flowers, though – it’s unlucky. Present your gift at the door, and remove your shoes. Your hostess may or may not encourage you to put on a pair of her slippers.
It’s also good manners to try some of everything on the table, even if you think you won’t like it. Bring your appetite, and eat as much as you can – it shows your hosts that you are enjoying your meal. Remember, though, if you’re getting full, leave something on your plate. If you finish everything on your plate, you’re going to get a second helping, like it or not.
Relax and allow your hosts to serve you. If they’ve invited you into their home, it means they’re happy to show you the best that Siberia has to offer.
Toasting winter with vodka in Siberia
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
Experience Siberia Like A Local with MIR
MIR is your Siberia travel expert – with 30 years of travel experience to Siberia, Russia and with affiliate offices in Ulan Ude and Irkutsk (both in Siberia), as well as in Moscow and St. Petersburg.Enjoy a Meal with Old Believers in Siberia
Meet and dine with Old Believers in one of their villages on a small group tour or Trans-Siberian Railway rail journey by private train through Siberia.
You can also travel on MIR’s independent private trip Essential Siberia, or hand-craft a custom private journey that includes a meal in a Siberian home.Find the Trip You’re Looking For
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Compliments to the cook in Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
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30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations. For more information about what to know before you go, check out MIR’s insider’s guide into travel to Siberia’s Lake Baikal and Buryatia Region.
Top photo: Dine with a village of Old Believers in Siberia. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen
PUBLISHED: February 7, 2017