The national festival Ysyakh is a celebration of summer, which brings abundance of food and provisions after long cold winter months. Traditionally, the festival was a place of gathering, festivity, and of course, food and delicacies.
The Sakha cuisine is full of calories but healthy and unique. Any festival guest would be impressed by a variety of products and dishes on offer. The Sakha cuisine includes traditional recipes of dairy products, red meat, game, fresh fish, and baked products.
The favorite drink of the Gods, who come down to feast with ordinary people during the festival of Ysyakh, is called Kumys. It is made of fermented mare’s milk and is incredibly refreshing and energizing. Kumys is a symbol of wealth and abundance. The preparation process requires certain customs turning it into a quasi-religious routine: you are not allowed to speak loudly as if in a church or spill the drink that was believed to be bad luck.
One of the delicacies of Ysyakh is foal’s meat. Quite like veal or lamb, this meat is extremely soft, succulent and full of flavor. It is easy and quick to cook making it a popular dish. There are many more meat products that are loved by Sakha people: beef tandoori (yteheleekh et), blood sausage (khaan) or roasted beef shank or beef leg (myuhe).
Duck is another decorative dish of the feast. Sakha people also like fresh-water fish caught in rivers and lakes, it is cooked in a variety of ways: boiled, fried, baked or BBQ-ed. All the above delicacies are accompanied by delightful breads, traditional pancakes and waffles.
According to Sakha beliefs, a rich and lavish table at Ysyakh symbolizes prosperity, wealth and brings luck to the household.
FOOD OF GODS
In Sakha mythology the holy food, or ‘white food’, and the food cooking process symbolize birth of the universe and the humanity. Food and culture are celebrated as the main elements of the festivities at the ceremony of Ysyakh. Food is a metaphor for Gods – holy or ‘white’ food. During the blessing ceremony the Gods of Aiyy send a kut (a blessed spirit) through holy food. The ritual of drinking kumys is an important part of the celebrations. Kymus and butter are considered living substances and represent ilge – yellow ilge is butter and white ilge is milk. According to a legend, an egg-sized butter dropped from heavens into the bowls of kumys, was a gift from the Gods.
Dairy products (white and yellow ilge) were considered the original elements of the universe. Turkish ancestors believed milk was a vessel for spirits and an origin of humanity. Sakha people retained those beliefs to this day.
Kumys is mentioned in the Sakha epic of Olonkho as having magical energy. Those who drink this fresh, warm drink would rid of sadness and fatigue and satisfy their thirsts. At Ysyakh, the alyschyt uses a sacrificial spoon to share kumys with the Gods from a ritual bowl. Fire is a mean of communication between the one performing the ritual and the divinities.
It was forbidden to spill the ‘white’ holy food because it would bring bad luck. Some believed by pouring kumys on the ground, apart from the ritual act, would mean ‘ridding of their own happiness’. It was also considered bad luck to drink kumys without leaving some at the bottom of the bowl and symbolized emptying of other people’s happiness and wealth.
Like in other nomad cultures, drinking bowl were mostly made of leather, ‘siri’. Dishes, barrels, bowls of different sizes were made to store, serve, and transport kumys. Transportation was very important, hence the containers had to be to sturdy enough to withstand long distance horseback journeys.
During the group dance of Osuakhai, the lyrics refer to nine young men and eight young women (bitii dancers) offering the holy drink to the Gods and spirits while praising and bowing to them. Food and drink along with algys (process of blessing) are intertwined into one whole with the people and the Gods and represent an inextricable part of life cycle of Sakha people.
First and foremost, you need mare’s milk to make kumys. To milk a mare, one needs to be very quick. Unlike a cow, a mare usually would not stand still during milking, you would only have 20 seconds at most. It required to milk a mare 4-6 times a day.
The milk is poured into a clean wooden dish to improve its smell and flavour. Leaven from an earlier kumys is added to clean milk and stirred over an hour at room temperature (18C to 20C). Once well mixed, it is poured into half-litre bottles, firmly closed with taps and left to brew in a warm room. There are three types of kumys based on the fermentation time:
- Mild (5-6 hours of fermentation)
- Medium (1-2 days)
- Strong (3 days)
Kumys has less fat and proteins compared to cow’s milk but has 1.5x more sugar. Mild kumys would have less than 1% of alcohol, while medium has 1.75% and the strong one would reach 4.5% to 5% of alcohol.
Byyrpakh is similar to kumys but made of cow’s milk.
- Boiled water, cooled to room temperature – 3 tbsp;
- Sorat (kefir or yogurt) – 2 cups
- Sugar – 1 cup;
- Rice – ½ cup.
You will need a container that could be tightly closed. Place rice and sugar together, then add sorat and water and beat well using a wooden whisk beater (ytyk). Leave it to brew in a warm place for 8-10 hours.
When bubbles appear at the top, beat it again and leave for another 2 hours.
After the brewing process is finished, strain it through a fine sieve, add single or double cream to taste and serve in choroons or cups. Leftover byyrpakh can be stored in glass bottles in a fridge.
Shake well before serving. Leftover rice can be used to make a new batch or could be stored in a fridge. Instead of leaden (sorat) you can use evaporated milk – 1 can of evaporated milk with 3 litres of water and ½ cup of rice.
Kyerchekh is one of the favourite staple dishes of Sakha people. It is a whipped cream that is served with sourdough or flat breads (lepeshka). It’s airy and soft and could be served for breakfast or snacks. Kyerchekh is made of cooled cream and could be sweetened by adding homemade jams. To make it slightly thicker we use black currant or wild strawberry jams.
- Milk (at least 3.2% fat)- 250g
- 35% fat cream (it could be double cream)
- Sugar and jam to taste
Pour milk and cream into a large bowl and whisk using wooden beater ytyk until it is hardened. It will look airy and puffy and almost double in size. Add a small amount of jam and beat again. It will slightly change the colour and taste. If you like, you can also add a bit of sugar. Some prefer not yto add jam or sugar and leave it to its original taste. Kyerchekh is prepared just before serving as it doesn’t store well. You can freeze kyerchekh by placing 2-3 spoonfuls on a flat surface. It is sort of an ice-cream and called “martyshki”.
There are several different ways of preparing yryme – milk foam.
Ingredients for 400g yryme:
- Milk – 800g
- Melted butter – 5g
Boil the milk, reduce heat and continue boiling until you see foam on top. Keep removing the foam, drain it and place it on a flat plate. After the foam is slightly dried, cover with a thin layer of melted butter. Repeat with each batch layering the one on top another. Once finished, place it in a fridge.
Once the yryme is cooled, cut into 4-6 pieces and serve it with tea.
You can make salamaat using sour cream, clotted cream, butter with cream, milk with cream, or butter with water. Barley, rye or wheat flour can be used.
Ingredients for 1 kg of salamaat:
- Clotted or soured cream – 850g
- Milk – 150g
- Flour – 75g
Place cream in a large pot, boil it and add sieved flour in a thin flow constantly stirring. As the mixture thickens, add hot boiled milk and cook until you start seeing melted butter on the top. It usually takes 15-20 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid clumps. To preserve the taste of milk and butter we do not add salt. Once cooked, pour into wooden bowls, kytyia, and serve hot.
Ingredients for 1 litre of sorat:
- Whole milk – 1 litre
- Soured cream – 100g
Boil milk in a large pot on low heat. Remove from heat and leave it to cool at room temperature. Once cooled to 36C add soured cream and beat with wooden whisk beater ytyk or a beater made of horn. We need to beat until it’s airy and bubbly. Tightly cover, wrap with a large towel and leave in a warm place for 2-3 hours. Once it thickens, place it in a fridge.
To sweeten, you can add icing sugar, fresh clotted cream or warm melted butter (100g of butter for 1 litre of sorat). Mix well before serving in cups or bowls before bedtime. You can eat it for breakfast or after lunch as well.
It’s a popular drink in uluses on the east riverbank. Sagebrush grows on old fields and is collected in June before flowering and stems hardens. Sagebrush is dried in a dark airy room and stored in small cotton bags.
Ingredients for 5 litres:
- Dried sagebrush – 300g
- Buttermilk – 3 kg
- Water – 2 litres
- Flour – 5g
- Cream – 100g
Place dry sagebrush in a pot, cover with cold water and boil for 10-15 minutes on low heat. Drain through sieve to remove water and cut in tiny pieces.
Boil buttermilk and water by adding boiled sagebrush in small amounts and constantly stirring (or using a mixer). Once it boils, add flour in a thin flow to avoid clumps, constantly stirring. Once ready, cool it and add cream before serving. In winter it can be served hot.
- Milk 300ml
- Water 100ml
- 1 Egg
- Flour – 400g
- 180 g of vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
Mix water, milk, egg and salt in a large bowl. Mix well. Add well sieved flour to the mixture. It should be similar consistency as a soured cream. Heat oil to piping hot and pour the dough using a ladle. Fry on both sides.
Another type called ‘suorgannax oladyi’. You can place oladyi on a place and pour over with melted butter and scatter a few wild strawberries.
- Milk – 300 ml
- Water 100ml
- 2 eggs
- Flour – 500g
- Vegetable oil and salt
The flour for waffles tends to be thicker than for oladyi. Heat the waffle maker iron until piping hot. Bruch vegetable oil on the both sides of the waffle maker before pouring in the dough. Cook on both sides. Once cooked, removed from the waffle maker and place them standing side by side to cook. You may cut the edges using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors.
Waffles were considered a special food made for special guests. Sometimes you can put wild strawberries on a melted butter and poured it over cooled waffles.
- Milk – 300ml
- Yogurt (iejegei) 350g
- Flour – 810g
- Salt to taste.
Mix yogurt, milk, salt together. Add flour and knead well. Spread it over to make a circular or square shape and place it on a baking tray. You can decorate they way you want. Brush the top with milk and bake in the oven at 200C for 20-25 minutes.
- Milk – 100g
- Flour – 780g
- Lard – 100g
- Salt to taste.
Make a dough using fresh milk, flour and salt. Melt lard on a pan and brush the baking pan with it. Spread the dough on the baking tray and bake at 200C for 20-25 minutes.
Water 1 litre
Melt butter in a pan. Add flour and cook until light yellow colour. While it’s boiling, add water and beat using wooden whisk ytyk rigorously. Cook until you see butter on top of the salamaat.
SOUR CREAM SALAMAAT
Sour cream – 600ml
Sorat (yogurt) 200 ml
Stir in sour cream, sorat and flour together. Place in a iron cast pot on heat. Once it boils, reduce heat and continuously stir and cook until you see melted butter on the top. Pout think and yellowish salamaat in wooden bowls (kytyia) and serve hot.
SALAMAAT WITH MELTED BUTTER
- The bottom of the melted butter – 800ml
- Wheat flour – 80g
Mix melted butter with flour and pour it into a ironcast pot. Cook until you see melted butter on top.
Clotted cream – 1 litre
Flour – 75g
Mix and beat flour with clotted cream. Pour into a hot pot. Stirring continuously cook until you see melted butter on top. Serve in the pot. This is the simplest version.
Water left when making butter – 1litre
Boil the water from butter, constantly stirring. Pour in flour gently in a slight flow while constantly stirring to avoid clamps. Once it start boiling you reduce heat to minimum If you boil hard, the flour could become sticky. Serve hot or cold. Sometimes, they add homemade jams. Some could add dried fish.
Sorat (yogurt) 400g
Milk – 200g
Sugar – 200g
Mix water (boiled and cooled) with milk and sugar well. Add sorat. Beat using wooden whisk (ytyk) until you see bubbles. Cover tightly and leave it for 8019 hours in a warm place. Once you see bubbles on the top, beat it rigorously again and put it back to ferment for another 4-5 hours. Mix before serving. You may add clotted cream or double cream before serving.
ROASTED FOAL’S RIBS
Wash the ribs in cold water, if you want separate the ribs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Brush with vegetable or olive oil, cover with foil all over and bake for 30-40 minutes at 200C. Once it’s almost ready, pour over the juices released to keep it moist. To see if it is ready, cut using a tip of a knife and if the juices released are clear.
- Lungs, tripe, heart, kidneys, intestines, liver – 700g
- Salted chives – 1 tbsp
- Water – 3 litres.
- Flour – 2 tbsp
- Salt, pepper to taste.
Place cleaned, washed and sliced offal, apart from liver, in a large pot and cover with cold water and boil on low heat. Once boiled, remove the foam, add salt and continue cooking on medium heat. After 1.5 to 2 hours of slow boiling reduce the heat.
Remove 200ml of broth to cool. Once cooled, constantly stirring add flour in a very thin flow to avoid clumps. Once all smoothed, add it back to the main pot, again constantly stirring. The amount of the flour will determine the thickness of the soup. Boil for another 5-10 minutes.
When almost ready, add chives, bay leaves and salt. Serve hot.
Tilapia lake fish – 1kg
Water – 2litres
Milk – 200 ml
Salt to taste.
Clean the fish, descale. Cut between 3rd and 4th rib make a 3cm cut and remove the guts and intestines. Place all fish in a pot and over with water and bring to boil. Remove the foam, once boiled. Reduce heat to minimum and cook for 30 minutes. Just before fully cooked, add salt and milk. Once cooked, remove the fish from the broth and place on a large plate. The broth is served in cups.
You can also fry the fish on a pan. Fill the pan 1/3rd with vegetable oil and head the oil. Cover fish with salted flour and fry on both sides until fully cooked.
KHAAN — BLOOD SAUSAGE
Blood sausage is cooked from fresh beef or foal’s intestines filled with blood with milk. Before cooking the blood is let to settle in a large container for a day or two. The upper layer is used to prepare subai — a finer better-quality blood sausage while the lower layer used to make a ‘black’ sausage. For 5 ladles of blood add 4 ladles of milk. Add salt to taste. For a ‘dark’ blood sausage use 4.5 ladles of milk for each 5 ladles of blood.
Subai is generally softer and more flavoursome. ‘Black’ sausage is of a darker colour and has less flavour. Also, it’s important to know the quality of blood sausage depends on the quality of the animals’ blood and its fat. Foal’s blood sausage has a very light colour.
Once the intestines are clean and ready, pour in the mixture of blood and milk filling about 3/5th of the intestines. Release air using your hand and tie tightly by the ends.
Use a large pot to boil khaan. If it was frozen it needs to thaw thoroughly before cooking. Boil water and reduce heat and add salt to taste. Carefully lower khaan into a hot but not boiling water and constantly monitor it. If the water boils hard, khaan could explode. Turn it around very gently and once it’s bouncy and tight and floating on top of the pot, it might be ready. You can use a toothpick to poke and see if it is ready. Fully cooked blood sausage will release clear juices, while if you see darker blood, it’s not quite ready. It’s also important to test in a couple of places to make sure it’s fully cooked.
Once it’s cooked, remove from the water and place on a large plate and remove the ties. It is best to serve khaan piping hot. Use a very sharp knife to cut khaan into small circles. Do not cut before serving.