Buryatia is one of the unique national republics of Russia. This land, being included in the Russian territory, looks like a completely different place to travelers. It has its traditions, a way of life that had not been changed since ancient times, and a cuisine that is unique and rather delicious. Luckily, Buryatia is situated very close to Lake Baikal, so if you go there, do not miss to explore this small but interesting place. However, you can still try all the dishes of the Buryat cuisine in Irkutsk, as I'll elaborate in this story. It is hard to imagine the taste of Buryatia without trying its most famous dishes. If you want to try this authentic cuisine, be ready to feel a true Siberian taste at the tip of your tongue!
Although Buryat people are Russian by nationality, they have always proudly distinguished themselves with unique language, culture and, of course, food. This clash of cultures happened as early as the 18th century when the Russian Empire established definite borders with China. Then-Buryat people (there were many Mongolians among them too), became Russian citizens by chance. The problem was that Buryat people were used to living as nomads. They worked on their pastures in severe cold circumstances.
They had to eat well. They also were eager keepers of ancient traditions, which, for us, means that Buryat food had not been changed since the time of their nomadic tribal life. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are cooked following the centuries-old traditions. More often than not, their cuisine consists of three key ingredients: meat, milk, and flour.
Buryat people prefer to eat horse and lamb meat. They cook soup and broth and prepare sausages. One of the most famous Buryat meat soup is bukhleor. Imagine a very thick broth with huge meat pieces sided with entire onion bulbs (sometimes they can be halved), spiced with traditional Siberian herbs. Bukhleor is so delicious, that the very smell of it can make you want to try it even if you are not particularly hungry!
The best place to try it is the Uluus Restaurant in Irkutsk.
Buryat people consider milk to be sacred. Partly, it can be explained by its color. White color symbolizes purity, happiness, and wealth in the Buryat culture. If you happen to visit a Buryat's house, they will offer you milk treats for sure. The most popular milk product is airag - fermented goat's milk. Locals compare it to koumiss, a Kazakh popular drink. However, Buryats make airag from the horse milk too, adding honey, sugar, and some raisins. Buryats believe that airag is a drink that cures many diseases. I am not sure if it is completely true, but airag is very invigorating. Another milk dish is khuruul, a special cheese made from goat's curd. Buryats drink tea with this cheese. Not a single Buryat meal can be done without drinking tea. Buryats prefer green tea with milk, of course, but they spice their tea with salt and, curiously, butter.
Yes, you have read correctly, Buryats drink salted tea with butter, and you can enjoy it in the Cafe Dali in Irkutsk as well!
Buryatia is a special and unique place, as well as its cuisine. It would be a crime for any gourmand not to try something from Buryat cuisine while in Irkutsk! That way, you can have an authentic Siberian taste at the tip of your tongue!
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