With March at the threshold, Russia gets ready to begin the 40-day Great Lent fast. As a fest of pagan Slavic traditions, Maslenitsa marks a week when people usually bid farewell to winter. Apart from playing various traditional games and burning the Maslenitsa doll, everyone also indulges into the pancake delights. Blini or Russian yeasted pancakes are not only the main symbol of this fest but also probably the most common and beloved dish among those who grew up in Russia or former USSR. Here are three places in Irkutsk to try the best blini during Russian Maslenitsa.
A modern interpretation of old traditions, Rassolnik Restaurant offers a truly authentic culinary experience you might expect as a foreign traveller. Opened back in 2012, this cozy restaurant is styled in the Soviet flat of a typical intelligent family. Located just in the middle of the historical 130th Quarter, it is easy to reach it from any hostel or hotel located in the city centre of Irkutsk.
Once you cross its doors, you feel welcomed to go with the soulful talks and cheerful feasts. The restaurant offers all the types of pancakes, salty and sweet, plain and filled with cowberry or tvorog (Russian cottage cheese). Prices vary between 180-220 rubles for a portion.
A more budgetary option expects you at Lenin Street. A cozy eatery with a self-explanatory name is a great introduction to Siberia and the overall Siberian cuisine. A delicious rich broth (Buhler in Buryat) served as a first course also can be dished up here as an accompaniment to the juicy buuza, steamed dumplings filled with the minced meat. For a full culinary experience, order the blini with ground cowberry and sour cream. A portion costs 90 rubles.
One of Irkutsk’s other home-style cafes that celebrates Maslenitsa is Papa Blin Café. This small, privately-owned local café has a prime location and is an oasis of some delicious home-like Russian food. The outside look of the café is rather tedious, but don’t let it walk you away. This simple café serves great pastry, salads, and even vareniki, traditional half-moon shaped dumplings, so much loved by Russians. The blini served here are usually offered with various fillings or covered with butter, sour cream, marmalade or jam. The prices for a portion vary between 160-200 rubles. Add to this a great view over the Angara River at some of the tables by the windows.
Now, as you know the major pancakes' fleshpots of Irkutsk, consider one more thing. Maslenitsa is not only about eating Russian pancakes. The celebration has grown into a whole week full of events, from dancing in a circle and playing traditional games (tug-of-war) to setting the table for husband/wife’s parents. There is one day though when both locals and visitors can be equally involved and entertained.
This day is known as Forgiveness Sunday when people usually ask for forgiveness from their friends and family for any insults of the past. To wash away these sins, many also go to the banya (Russian sauna) in the morning. In the evening, everyone gathers at the main square to burn the effigy of Maslenitsa, a ritual that symbolizes the bury of winter and cold. So, join the crowd on Sunday, eat some blini and cheerfully celebrate the beginning of spring, especially now as you know where to try the best blini in Irkutsk during Russian Maslenitsa.
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