Nosh Some Khuushuur, Taste the Steppe!

Khuushuur. (Who-shúre): the approximate pronunciation of this culinary tidbit from the cooking fires of Buryat Nation here on their home steppe; stretching across recognized international boundaries from Central Siberia down into China and Mongolia.

Khuushuur? How good could it be? Well, you consider yourself adventurous, so heck, you decide to order one up. Without delay a piping golden half-moon meat tart is placed before you. It looks OK, I mean Van Gogh isn’t going to go into spasms and rave over it’s appearance, but face it kid, this isn’t art for the peepers, it is art for your tum. And when you bite into it’s crisp yet soft dough, in a moment of intense clarity you will recognize your terrible mistake . . . Only a silly fool orders one!

For khuushuur, tucked into with proper timing will make your kisser moon-eyed in desire for more. You will find yourself surreptitiously seeking another cache of these meat pies, desperately eyeing surrounding tables, chairs and purses for the greasy hint that might reveal a secret stash or looked over morsel. Hopefully casting glances toward the dark doorway of the kitchen from which this fried pastry made it’s debut, you will khuushuur to fly in squadrons from the frying pan to land on your plate. Your hand creeps toward your neighbours plate ever-so-imperceptibly to free him of the burden of eating another. Perhaps, that is why Buryats traditionally had knives hanging on chains of silver from their belts, ever within immediate reach in case some coveting hand needed skewering. Aha! I believe I have just stumbled upon the etymology of the word skewer! Who knew the core of its meaning centers around hungry Buryats keeping paws off plates filled with delectable khuushuur?

Now I know there are a lot of you somewhere out there that are packing their bags even now, tryin’ to get to the khuushuur. I want you to sit down! Breathe . . . breathe . . . and learn something, mainly cause I don’t want to be gettin’ in fights with you out here in the streets of Ulan-Ude because you are all like “He lied about the khuushuur! I flew eight thousand miles, and got me some clammy uninspired khuushuur!” Let’s just avoid that sticky situation, shall we? As I said above, proper timing is KEY! You have got to get that fresh khuushuur! I made my way to this city in 1999, and let me tell you, I have eaten some poor khuushuur! But I didn’t know. I was ear deep everyday in Russian studies, just trying to keep from telling people I flew here from America on a teapot. (Trust me, in Russian it is hilarious, like fall off your chair and gasp for air in the middle of Russian class hilarious). So when it comes to food, I’m buying what the ladies who set up little food stands on the University grounds are selling. They made it last nite at 7 pm. 7:01 pm is when I should have been on that khuushuur. But at seven O’ one pm, I was trying to round up last nights dinner, not lunch for today! So yesterdays khuushuur becomes my lunch. At that time my culinary interpretation of khuushuur was a brief query in my mind “why do they eat this stuff here?” And then a “beggars can’t be choosers” shrug as I considered the economic state of students in Russia, myself included.

OK, I see you didn’t really calm down like I asked. I can see by the burning angst in your eyes, the famished set of your lips that you are dying to know just where to get that fine fresh khuushuur. Let me show you fresh khuushuur central.

Voila. This little ger, number 23, is among a hundred here in Dadal, Mongolia. This is khuushuur alley, all these gers are selling them to the revellers and competitors at Altargana 2014.

To learn about Altargana, click here.

Below from left to right we see Sosfseren, Olgonbayar, and Saruulbayar the owner-operators of this little tent of nourishment. Come on inside with me and have a look at their enterprise.

Proprietors of Ger # 23, tasty Khuushuur and whatnot.

Proprietors of Ger # 23, tasty Khuushuur and whatnot.

Station #1: This is where the dough is made, cut, rolled out, and shaped. The fellas of the Khuushuur crew got this all under control. (See next photo.)

Station #1: This is where the dough is made, cut, rolled out, and shaped. The fellas of the Khuushuur crew got this all under control. (See next photo.)

Ganolzii and Mendbayar making that dough!

Ganolzii and Mendbayar making that dough!

Station #2: This is the meat mixing station. Khuushuur demands a sharp eye, and measurements are strictly adhered too! Here, we get a dash of onions.

Station #2: This is the meat mixing station. Khuushuur demands a sharp eye, and measurements are strictly adhered too! Here, we get a dash of onions.

And a dash of salt.

And a dash of salt.

Mix it all up.

Mix it all up.

Gangannavz rounds that meat into shape.

Gangannavz rounds that meat into shape.

Here we have a quick break to check the action in the ger. Some industrious gentleman in brown is making my friend Natasha laugh. Good on 'im.

Here we have a quick break to check the action in the ger. Some industrious gentleman in brown is making my friend Natasha laugh. Good on ‘im.

Saruulbayar lays out the Khuushuur ready for the frying pot, while his mother applies the needed treatment.

Station #3: Prep for frying station. Saruulbayar lays out the Khuushuur ready for the frying pot, while his mother applies the needed treatment.

The Matriarch of this production manning (womanning?) the fry pot, tea pot and steaming pot, for buuz all with a wry sense of humor.

Station #4: Frying. The Matriarch of this production manning (womanning?) the fry pot, tea pot and steaming pot, for buuz all with a wry sense of humor.

In like 2 seconds it will be THE time to get your teeth around these Khuushuur, which I'm about to do.

In like 2 seconds it will be THE time to get your teeth around these Khuushuur, which I’m about to do.

And they are done. Clear a spot at the table I am diving in!

And they are done. Clear a spot at the table I am diving in!

Happy khuushuur noshers. With proper timing to get the freshest khuushuur, this is how good they go down!

Happy khuushuur noshers. With proper timing to get the freshest khuushuur, this is how good they go down!

Nosh some khuushuur, taste the steppe!

Irkutsk: Paris of Siberia

Winter sunset, Irkutsk, Siberia

Pervomaiski region of Irkutsk. This scene continuously reverberates inside my head as a city on the very edge of the earth. Probably not what you expect from the Paris of Siberia, but striking all the same.

The Paris of Siberia, that is Irkutsk. I wrote on the wonders of Irkutsk several years back, it is worth a read. Here are some beautiful photos of the city who rests on the banks of the blue Angara river.

http://tigersontearoad.wordpress.com/cities-on-tea-road/irkutsk-paris-of-siberia/

Orthodox church in Irkutsk.

A lovely vision off the beaten path.

 

Flooding in Siberia

Dramatic floods hit Altai with fears of worse to come

Source: Siberian Times

These pictures in the link below are from the Altai Republic of Central Siberia. Several regions in Siberia have experienced serious flooding this spring, but Altai particularly so. Siberia’s housing shortage is an ongoing problem dating back to Communist times. For most families in Siberia, losing a home is catastrophic. Home owners insurance is virtually non-existent, and many of the homes that have been inundated are very old, what insurers would deem un-insurable.

Moscow Times Article: Altai Flooding

Krasnoyarsk Olympian Killed in Crash

Sad news Monday from Krasnoyarsk. Nikolai Khrenkov, twenty-nine year old bobsledder, dies in head on collision. Full story here: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/death-of-russian-athlete-nikolai-khrenkov-a-great-loss-olympic-teammate-says/501266.html

Saturday Night Live in Siberia!

A micro lesson for SNL on Russian names: A woman’s last name virtually always ends with an a, or aya making our dear Olya above Olya Povlatskaya. (Source: Yahoo.com)

 

View Saturday Night Live’s Olya Pavlotsky here.

This SNL skit makes me laugh. And right it should. Kate McKinnon’s humor in the visage of “Olya Pavlotsky” takes full advantage of the west’s cultural stereotypes of Russian life in a Siberian village. Let’s see, we’ve got extreme cold, suffering eternal, ravenous wolves, ravenous bears, a headscarf over a dumpy sweater, line waiting for provision, and marauding packs of dogs. SNL’s Siberia is a regular barren wasteland trapped in the 1930’s. Kate’s commentary on Russian culture calls forth mirth dependent upon our perception of what Siberia is. And it is based on some historical truth, it is a mixture of what Siberia was like in the first three decades of the twentieth century, when exiles and prisoners labored in camps, when the hooves of red and white forces thundered across the frozen Asian taiga in Civil War, when State engineered famine struck in the twenties, and after the Great Patriotic War (WWII) through the fall of Communism, when it was normal for people to line up for hours grasping ration cards to trade for life-necessities such as soap, sugar, baloney sausage, and underwear, yes, underwear to name a few.

 

soviet-underwear_41

Supporting the luxury of support will require those ration cards ladies! (Source: http://oadam.livejournal.com/310827.html)

If anyone could appreciate making light of tragedy and suffering, it is Russians. That is an art the people mastered. Humor lightened the load, and kept hope alive. How strange it is to laugh at deeply dark and violent things, and yet cathartic, enervating the body, launching us toward restoration.

While Kate’s portrayal of a young Siberian woman is absurd and whimsical, if we settle for that Siberia, we miss out on the vast richness that is Siberia today. Siberia has it all: arts, culture, unexplainable beauty; bursting with berries and fruits, alive with the hustle of sprawling urban cities, and her sunburned summer days lengthen long into the evening.

Take Chelyabinsk for example. The screaming fireball of a meteor (most filmed meteor in history) that streaked her morning sky, rumbled over a population well north of a million. You can see cars, trams, and buses locomoting the streets of the city, sorry, no wolves, no bears here. Flowering trees, flowerpots and tech-savvy, smart phone-toting teens in the flower of youth spring up from parks, benches and sidewalks. Chelyabinsk is home to opera, ballet, an art museum and twelve universities. The time-lapse video below is full of remarkable city vistas you might encounter in any of the large cities that call Siberia, home.

So laugh with Olya! And remember Siberia, she is enchanting.