The Buryats are native to the Irkutsk area. Their food can be found quite easily locally – particularly the buuzy (sometimes called pozi). These are meat-filled dumplings that are a broadly popular and widely available local delicacy. Below are three ways, from fast-food to comfortable sit-down ambiance, that SRAS students have found to enjoy the culinary and ethnic diversity of the area. Note that not everything on all the menus (and not everything pictured here) is Buryat – make sure to ask the wait staff what they recommend as well!
1. Poznaya 38
Poznaya 38 is a chain of restaurants across Irkutsk that has a variety of Russian, Central Asian, and Buryat foods. It is very inexpensive, very fast, and the best part, very tasty! Meals here run 300-500 rubles ($4-8). There are several locations all around the city, including near the dorms and university.
After walking in and seating yourself, you’ll have a few minutes to look over the menu. Each location is exactly the same; the menu shows pictures and a short description of all the choices in Russian. The waiter or waitress will come to take your order after a few minutes, and then you pay as soon as you have ordered your food. After waiting a few minutes, your tasty meal arrives!
They ahve pozy (Buryat dumplings), cheburek (a Central Asian fried, savory pastry), and pelmeni (Russian dumplings) which everyone I have asked say are delicious! Their most underrated item are the soups. They are always so incredibly good, and there are several different types. My favorite is the kharcho, a Georgian soup that features beef and rice and a lot of spices. The borsht (traditional Russian beet soup) is also a big hit. While the soups usually come out piping hot, there were a few occasions where they were luke warm, and if you don’t like that, you can always ask them to heat them again.
I also really like the vareniki (Ukrainian dumplings) with potatoes and mushrooms. They also have several types of salads and other appetizers, including eggplant, carrot salad, Greek salad, calamari, and Caesar salad. In addition, there are also many meat dishes, including a lot of goulash type meals.
Overall, Pozanaya 38 is a really good location if you are looking for an inexpensive and quick meal!
Shedite Khanza (Шэдитэ Ханза) is Buryat for “magic box/treasure chest.” The menu is mostly Buryat, and all the classics are represented—various soups, meat dishes, pozy. But there’s also a good selection of so-called “European” food—mostly Russian, with some American-ish dishes thrown in for good measure. There’s no English on the menu, but there are pictures of all the dishes. There’s also a very long drinks menu, including a very wide variety of tea.
At around 2 on a weekday afternoon, it was nearly empty, so it was a great place to sit alone for a while and read—it was very quiet and the staff was more than happy to let me be. Service was weirdly slow at first—I didn’t get a menu for a while, and wasn’t sure if I was supposed to order at the counter (common in Irkutsk), but it evened out after that. My waitress was super friendly and smiley, though she spoke so quickly I could only catch a fraction of the words.
I ordered tsuivan (цуйван), a noodle dish that reminded me a little of the Central Asian lagman. It had vegetables and beef, and some amazing spice that I don’t think I’ve ever tasted before. It was great—unusual, extremely filling, and just generally tasty and oily and satisfying. (My highest praise is that I’m usually one of those people who has to eat at least every three hours, but this kept me full for the entire afternoon, which is honestly almost unheard-of for me.) I also got the traditional Buryat tea (ногоон сай) to go with it: it’s apparently green tea brewed in milk. It came in a teapot and was perfect after the Siberian cold. I’m not usually a big tea person, but I liked this, probably more than your standard green tea.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend Shedite Khanza, and will go back if I can handle the walk—it’s probably about twenty or twenty-five minutes from Kirov Square by foot. But the combination of good food and a new cultural experience in a calm, comfortable setting was well worth it for me. It felt pretty upscale, especially as cafés in Russia go, though with nice décor that I assume evokes or is meant to evoke Buryat culture. There’s a wide variety of food, so most people can probably find something (although it’s pretty meat-heavy). And it felt pretty off the beaten path—it’s outside the main city center on a somewhat desolate street, though it’s near the Central Park, if you’re heading that way.
Dali offers all the culinary delicacies of Mongolia right in Irkutsk, only a 10 minute walk from the dormitories. Mongolia is 100 miles from Irkutsk and the Mongolians and local Buryats in Irkutsk are closely related. So, some things on the menu are recognizably Buryat. However, the cafe prides itself on its Mongolian flare.
While Dali is close to the IGLU dorms, like many things in Irkutsk, it is somewhat difficult to find, as the cafe is actually not very close to Trudovaya Ulitsa. The best way to get to Cafe Dali is from Volzhskaya – walk down Volzhskaya away from Baikalskaya. After you pass Ulitsa Karla Libknekhta, take the first alleyway on the right and then curve around to the right where you should see Cafe Dali on the left side of the courtyard. While in Irkutsk, 2gis is a map app you should check out.
Once inside, Dali is set up like most poznayas in Irkutsk. You order up at the counter and pay up front, then take your beverage and sit down at a table where you wait for your food to be brought out. Dali has a nice seating area with spacious, clean tables and reasonably quick service. Their menu is definitely their strongest point, with a very large variety of traditional Buryat and Mongolian dishes. The most popular options are pozy and buuzy, two different varieties of dumplings which can be filled with lamb, beef, pork, or horse. You could also try local delicacies like bukhlyor, a cyclopean chunk of fatty lamb swimming in a bowl of meat broth, or khorkhog, meat cooked with hot stones (watch out for small rocks in your food). For the less adventurous, I highly recommend tsuivan, a dish of flour-and-water noodles stir-fried with meat and veggies. All of the dishes are quite reasonably priced. The food is all delicious and the dumplings in particular are very fresh.
D. Garrison Golubock