For a long time the peoples of Siberia were fed with nature’s gifts from the taiga and lakes. Cooked meals did not excel in variety, but were nutritious and practical. Hunters and fishermen know lots of exotic recipes cooked on fire, with the help of hot stones and coals. Meat and fish were smoked, dried and salted for future use. Berries and mushrooms were processed for winter supplies.
Siberian-style dumplings and taiga meat are widely known and popular. In the old days, when locals went off for hunting in the taiga in wintertime, they had frozen dumplings with them and could boil them fast and easy when hungry. At the restaurants near Lake Baikal, you can order Siberian dumplings cooked according to a more complex recipe: in bone broth with a liver, inside of pots closed with freshly baked dough. Fried dumplings are also very delicious.
A special feature of “Siberian-style” meat cooking is taiga seasonings of fern and wild garlic, which are rolled into meat. Such taiga meat is traditionally served with oven-baked potatoes and frozen berries, often cranberries.
The combination of fish, game and taiga seasonings distinguish Siberian cuisine from European cuisine. These differences are more pronounced when tasting traditional Siberian dishes on the shore of Lake Baikal, though some of them are available at restaurants as well.
Low-Salted Baikal Cisco aka Omul
A special local highlight is the low-salted Baikal cisco fish, famous for its soft and delicate taste far beyond Siberia. The freshly salted Baikal omul is so gentle that it goes eaten fast in big amount, even by those who usually avoid fish. Among gourmets, it is highly valued as an ideal appetizer for chilled vodka.
Numerous tourists try to bring omul from Lake Baikal to their relatives and friends. For transportation it is recommended to buy cold-smoked omul and pack it in paper instead of plastic covers so as to avoid its spoiling.
Dry Low-Salted Omul
The omul is cut open, carefully cleaned in and out and washed with running cold Baikal water. Afterwards it is salted from inside the gills and head, back and sides. A wooden container filled with fish is put under pressure so that the fish gives brine. After 1-1,5 days, a low-salted omul is ready to be eaten.
For sun-drying, ripped low-salted fish is stretched on wooden beams that piercing it across, and suspended in a dry, well-ventilated place.
Where to buy low-salted omul: at any restaurant in Irkutsk or along the Baikal Highway, as well as in tourist places on the shore of Lake Baikal, such as Listvyanka, Kultuk, Maly Sea, Khuzhir in the Olkhon Island, etc.
Cold Smoked Omul
Low-salted fish (1.5 days) is well washed in flowing Baikal water from the remains of brine and large salt grains. Then it is hung in the shade in a ventilated room for 1-2 days. With proper drying, the surface of the fish becomes dry, but the internal moisture remains in the fish, so the fish gets golden colour after smoking. Fish is subjected to cold smoke in a hermetic container for 2-3 days.
Where to Buy Cold Smoked Omul: in the central market of Irkutsk, in the Village of Listvyanka, Kultuk, Khuzhir in the Olkhon Island, etc.
For hot smoking it is recommended to use the bark of apple and bird cherry as firewood. It is best to eat freshly cooked fish, when there is still hot juice left (usually in the first 20 minutes of cooking). Storage time is limited, so hot smoked fish is not meant for long-term transportation, like from Baikal to Moscow, for instance.
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Author: Vera Ivanova