During thefirst part of our Tran-Siberian Tasting Trailacross Russia, we’ve travelled more than 3000 km from Moscow, across the Ural Mountains into Asia, and tasted some fine treats along the way. Now we roll on through Siberia, eastwards to the charming city of Irkutsk, the breath-taking Lake Baikal, and the port city of Vladivistok at the end of the line.
From Barabinsk, the train heads through Novosibirsk, Russia’s third most populous city, which originally grew around the Trans Siberian railway bridge across the River Ob. From here we pass through Tomsk, once written off as a “boring” town by the playwright Anton Chekhov, himself no stranger to the Trans Siberian Railway, before alighting in…
1. Irkutsk – The Capital of Eastern Siberia
Once known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’, Irkutsk is a pleasure to spend a few days in, with its ornate timber cottages and its intimate vibe. It’s a small city with a big culinary culture. Because of its popularity with Trans Siberian travellers as the gateway to Lake Baikal, it has many restaurants that cater for a broad range of tastes.
For some Soviet nostalgia, Rassolnik in the 130 Kvartal shopping and entertainment area ticks all the boxes with its kitsch-lined walls and shelves stacked with pickled vegetables. But it also offers an organic ‘farmer’s menu’ featuring wholesome dishes like veal tongue, fern salad with milk-agaric mushrooms (used in traditional Siberian homes to repel flies), or Baikal pike fish cakes with fresh pea and basil puree.Tochka is another Soviet throwback in a cosy, slightly ramshackle timber tavern. Admire the collection of beermats adorning the walls as you tuck into pelmeni with sour cream. Meanwhile, Old Café isn’t quite so old, but offers traditional Siberian food in a modern style.
130 Kvartal, 3 July Street, 3. IrkutskWebsite
Due to its proximity with Mongolia, Irkutsk and the wider Baikal area has many Mongolian influences. The Buryat people are the Siberian descendants of the Mongols, dating back to the nomadic warriors of Chinghis Khan, and their cuisine can be found all over the region.
Don’t be surprised to be greeted with a shot of tarasun, a milk-based alcoholic tipple used in Buryat religious ceremonies. Milk is a key ingredient in all Buryat cuisine, including kurunguru pancakes with sour cream, and salamata, a sour cream porridge rich with melted butter. Staple Buryat dishes include buuzy (also known as pozy), or dumplings stuffed with minced meat and vegetables, buhler, a kind of mutton broth with chopped onions in an intense stock, or tsuivan fried noodles with meat.
In Irkutsk, you can try Buryat-Mongolian cuisine at Kochevnik, a meat-heavy traditional restaurant offering exotic sounding dishes such as Nine Warriors of Chinghis Khan (grilled beef ribs), Fire Man (spicy beef salad), or for the more adventurous carnivore, horsemeat soup.
Most Trans Siberian travellers use Irkutsk as a base to explore Lake Baikal. The world’s oldest, deepest and most voluminous lake, it is salubriously pure, and contains nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh, liquid water. It is home to a number of fish that form the basis of many local delicacies. Omul, black and white grayling, Baikal sturgeon, pike, perch and taimen freshwater salmon can all be fished in its crystal clear water. The buuzy around these parts will be just as likely to have fish as meat, and gruzinchiki is another dumpling variation with fish, which is fried.
Proshly Vek Café in the lakeside village of Listvyanka is a great place to try Omul in all of its traditional variations, from dry smoked, salted (solyoni) or cured, to grilled or baked. The Ukha fish soup is traditionally made with fresh Baikal water taken straight from the lake.
Proshly Vek Café
Ul Lazo 1, Listvyanka
+7 395 249-69-84
From Irkutsk, the Trans Siberian Railway winds around the shore of Lake Baikal, offering one last stunning view, before the long haul east, through the Buryat capital Ulan Ude, across the mighty Amur River at Khabarovsk, towards Russia’s Pacific coast and…
3. Vladivostok – The End of the Line
Set among the peaks rising up from Golden Horn Bay, Vladivostok is some 9288km east of Moscow. It’s a thriving port linking Russia with Japan and the Far East, but although it’s as far from the capital city as it’s possible to get, there’s still plenty of good old-time nostalgia here. Stolovaya No.1 has all the classic dishes and kitsch you’ve come to expect, with an added youthful vibe.
More interestingly, much closer to Vladivostok than Moscow is the border with the DPRK, more commonly known as North Korea. To sample the wares of the infamously secretive and authoritarian Democratic People’s Republic, don’t apply for a travel visa, simply visit Pyongyang Cafe instead. There, the all-female staff will keep you entertained with excellent Korean classics such as kimchi, bulgogi, and bibimbap, with a side order of banchan and a few patriotic North Korean songs blasted out over the karaoke system. What better way to bring your Trans Siberian adventure to an end?
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