Tatars are descendants of Turkic-speaking tribes; they took a lot of values from them: culture, traditions, and customs. Tatar cuisine’s history started in times of Volga Bulgaria, the mother of Kazan. Even in the XV century, this state was a great developed one. It was a commercial, cultural and educational city where people of different cultures and religions lived together. In addition, a great trade route connected East to West was passed through it.
All these facts affected the modern traditions of the Tatars, including Tatar cuisine, which can be characterized by the great diversity of nourishing food, which is simple and complex at the same time, and, of course, it has an extraordinary taste.
The Tatar cuisine has been developing for centuries under the influence of different cultures: both the forest North and the steppe South, the Russians and the Turks, Christianity and Islam. That has imposed very peculiar characteristics, which make it possible for the Tatar cuisine to preserve its identity.
Beef and lamb are the most commonly used types of meat, whereas pork banned by Muslims is still not welcome. As for horse meat dishes that used to be popular once have been gradually receding into the past. Among vegetable dishes of the Tatar cuisine, there are few delicacies. Mushrooms are hardly ever used in traditional recipes, while dairy products are big in number.
Basically, the traditional Tatar cuisine is based on dough dishes with various stuffing and topping. Well, let’s find out more about this tasty and delicious cuisine. Here are some of delicious foods from Tatarstan.
Translating to triangle, echpochmak are triangle pastries stuffed with mince and potatoes. Once the dough has risen and has been stuffed, the corners are folded back slightly so there is a small hole at the top of the pie. Halfway through the baking process, the echpochmak are taken out of the oven and a spoonful of stock or broth is poured into the filling via the hole. This ensures the meat – which is stuffed raw – remains moist and tender and delicious to eat.
Echpochmak is the symbol of the Tatar cuisine. This triangular pie is the king of multifarious Tatar pastries. It is made from yeast dough, with the stuffing of lamb, potatoes and onions. Less often, poultry is used. Its main peculiarity is that the stuffing is put inside the pie when uncooked yet and is baked together with the dough. You can find echpochmak everywhere in Kazan and other cities of the Tatarstan Republic: from ordinary canteens to posh restaurants. As they say, the one, who has not tasted echpochmak, has ever visited Kazan.
Smetannik (i.e. sour cream cake) is a dainty melting cake, which is very similar to cheesecake, both in appearance and taste. The secret of the Tatar sour cream pie is that there is no cottage cheese in it. As its name says, smetannik has a filling based on sour cream. This is one of the most common desserts in Kazan.
Tokmach is a traditional Tatar noodle soup. It is from the Tatar cuisine precisely that this dish was adopted by the Russians. I t s n a m e , Tokmach, is translated as noodles and determines i t s m a i n ingredient. Tokmach can be cooked with meat, chicken, or mushroom broth. Sometimes even milk is used as the liquid base of this national noodle soup. The same concerns other components: at times the soup is cooked with potatoes and vegetables added, and sometimes t h e r e i s nothing but noodles and broth in it. This dish serves well as an appetizer to a hearty portion of pastry or as the main lunch course.
Beshbarmak is a meat dish that Tatar women traditionally cook for their hard working husbands. Historically, beshbarmak was cooked and eaten by nomads. It is eaten with hands and cooked right before serving. The dish consists of lamb broth, boiled and cut lamb meat, dough cut in small rhombuses in oil, boiled jacket potatoes that are peeled afterwards, onion rings, and chopped green onions. Just a few minutes before serving, the ingredients are combined in a special way. All the ingredients should not be cooked together or combined long before serving – otherwise the dish will lose its taste.
Pelmeni (Meat Dumplings) for the Groom
This special dish of Tatar ravioli is an indispensible element of the Tatar wedding ritual. After the most important part of the wedding ceremony, the mother of the bride offers little meat dumplings in broth to her son-in-law. These ravioli are special for super tender and low-fat meat and extra thin dough sheets they are made from. Usually this ritual dish is served along with katyk, a traditional Tatar dairy product similar to kefir. Today, however, you can taste these special dumplings even if you are not a groom and not even a wedding guest. On a Kazan tour you will surely find this dish at the best restaurants of the capital city of Tatarstan.
Served at celebrations, weddings and festivities, this is probably the most iconic Tatar dessert. There is even a museum in Kazan dedicated to this sweet, sticky delight. Flatbread is rolled up into hazelnut sized balls and then deep fried. The balls are then drenched in honey, and then either assembled into individual portions or stacked similar to a profiterole cake. You can either decorate chak-chak with nuts and dried fruit, or you can add them to the mixture.
Reflective of Tartar nomadic origins, Kazylyk is horse meat sausage. Traditionally cured by air-drying in the steppe sun and wind, it is still most commonly prepared cured, although it can be boiled, baked or fried, and is often spiced with cumin and coriander. Thin slices with pickled sliced onions are served as entrees, and are considered to be a delicacy. The cured version is hard to stuff up, so try it anywhere.
This is a stuffed sweet and salty, layered cheese pie of sorts that is also brought out for festivities. Layered inside half a pie shell is rice, cottage cheese or quark, minced beef or lamb, boiled egg, and then raisins or mix of dried fruits such as figs, prunes and apricots. Melted butter is poured over the filling before closing the pie, which is then baked. Leave out the mince and you have a dessert.
This is the national dish of the Crimean Tatars and a popular street food across the Russian Federation – testament to how delicious these deep fried turnovers are. Traditionally filled with meat – beef or lamb – and onions, they are now often stuffed with cheese as well. Similar to a South American empanada, they are also made out of unleavened dough. Additionally, you can find them served as an entree.
Not as we know it in the West, Tatar sherbet is a sweet drink made from fruits and honey and turned into a kind of cordial that doesn’t last long, so drink it fresh. It is commonly made with cherries, strawberries and raspberries, as well as raisins and dried apricots.
These are Tatar dumplings made from either spiced lamb, beef, or horse mince. Depending on the region, pumpkin and squash are also added to the filling. Usually boiled or steamed in their own juices, they are served with butter, sour cream or an onion sauce. If served as a street food they can be served plain, with a sprinkling of red pepper powder.
This is another beloved dessert, although you need to be a dab-hand in the kitchen to master this recipe. Honey and sugar is spun into a kind of stringy, hard fairy floss which is then coated in a powder of melted butter and flour to set it, but not before it is shaped into miniature cones. It is served with a cup of hot tea to cut through the sweetness.
Belish is a pie, and you can either devour a small one (vak belish) all to yourself, or share a big one (zur belish) with friends. Hard crusty pastry shells are usually filled with a grain-potato-meat combination and then another strip of pastry is placed on top like a lid. They are usually made with fatty meats such as duck, goose and beef, for their flavour and their tendency to not dry out. If you come across a goose-stuffed belish, don’t pass it up!