Siberia: pelmeni and surviving in the cold
You can tell an ordinary Russian and a Siberian apart in the blink of an eye, wrote one 19th Century anthropologist.
In those days, Siberians wore different clothes, ate different food, and hunted different animals.
But what about now?
Tyumen is a big city is all shiny oil-funded skyscrapers and shopping malls, much like any other prosperous Russian outpost. And Yalutorovsk is a small town just outside.
Famous pelmeni – those humble meat dumplings – came from here to dominate Russian cuisine.
But only in Siberia do they put them in soup, or fill them with cabbage and jam, making sure you can have pelmeni as a starter, main dish and dessert.
“At the beginning of winter the whole family gathers at the table every evening to make pelmeni. Once we have made enough, we freeze them outside, and eat them the whole winter,” says local resident Evgenia Gopinenko.
But is it the authentic Siberian experience? Off we go to the taiga, the wild coniferous forest that carpets the local landscape.
Laitamak is in the middle of a swamp, only accessible by air transport in the summer months. In winter, a path is cleared through the ice.
It is inhabited by Siberian Tartars, a large Muslim Turkic minority that migrated there before the Russians.
“I was born here. I grew up here. I don’t like city life. I used to have a job driving a tractor,” says farmer Iskander Abdullin. “But now times have changed. There are no jobs. I just live off what I grow and catch.”
Leila Tuktabaeva, an ethnic Tartar who owns a restaurant in the region, says observing traditions is very important for Tartars, as it keeps their culture alive for future generations. Tuktabaeva thinks that, despite some tension between Muslims and Christians living in Siberia, people have still been able to preserve peace and mutual respect.
This is the real Siberia – maybe not the stuff of tourist brochures, but distinctive enough to show that after all these years, Siberia is still not quite like anywhere else.
Siberia is first of all about how to live in this piercing cold, says local journalist Agrippina Palamarchuk.
“As we say, Siberian men are not those who don’t feel the cold but those who know what to wear,” she said.
Maria Kondratovich, a radio presenter who works in Tyumen region, says the Siberian climate plays a huge role in how locals plan their lives. Preparing food for the winter (e.g. preserves) is an essential part of a Siberian diet during the cold season.
And expat Amanda Boatwright says the people are the main feature of Siberia’s identity.
“They don’t let the weather stop them!” she says.