Food is an important part of travel for me. To be blunt, I like eating, so naturally this is an attractive way for me to learn about another culture. This summer in Russia I had the opportunity to explore the food of both Russian and Buryat culture.
Last summer I lived in Georgia (the country) studying Russian. While I was there, I ate Russian dishes in addition to Georgian ones. My host mother loved to cook, and she often made Russian food. I ate a lot of grechka (buckwheat) in particular. Still, in Georgia I didn’t eat a lot of Russian food outside of my host family’s home, so this summer – my first time in Russia – has been my first real major experience with Russian cuisine.
This summer I almost exclusively ate Russian food, including pirozhki, vareniki, pelmeni (types of dumplings), shasklik (like a shish kebab), and blinchiki (crepes). In the dorm where I was staying, I consumed a lot of frozen vareniki. I ate western food here and there, but not often. Maybe this was part of me trying to immerse myself in the culture. In comparison to last summer, I tried to blend in more in general, meet more locals and speak Russian most of the time. This was a good decision, I think, especially now that I have been abroad multiple times.
Lastly, I have to talk about Buryat food. After all, I did come to Irkutsk to study Buryat, not Russian. Buryat cuisine as a whole leans heavily toward meat and dairy, a reflection of their traditional lifestyle. The most popular dish by far is buuzy, a type of steam dumpling filled with meat. These are ubiquitous throughout Irkutsk oblast and Buryatia. Some of my favorite dishes, however, where shulen and salamat. The former is a simple meat and noodle soup, while the latter is a porridge made from fatty smetana (similar to sour cream) and flour. It’s tasty, and also quite different from what most Americans would be used to.
Overall, I ate a lot of delicious food over the course of the summer, and I immersed myself in the culture doing so. Studying abroad has been a tremendous experience in general. For anybody planning to go abroad, I would recommend trying to explore the host culture’s cuisine instead of sticking to the familiar. It is part of the experience, and maybe it even helps you feel less like a tourist and more like a resident.
By: Tyler Lee
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program, Irkutsk, Russia
Term: Summer 2019