on USSR / Russia · travel

First Trip to Kazan and Last Trip with My Job


Before this gets any older and less relevant, this is my post on Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan Republic, Russia. The city counts no less than 1000 years of history. Felt a bit like traveling to another country – local language, narguilé places, women in foulards and long skirts… A true mixture!

Baumana Street

And now this is a double memory for me – my first trip to Tatarstan and my last job trip as University coordinator. Would you believe my dear reader that I’m unintentionally but very deeply sorrowfully unemployed? Oh yes. This time I was NOT the initiator, everything just went down unexpectedly, unjustly and … well, with lots of UN. No there’s one great company less in Russia, one place less to feel at home, understood and always welcome. Well, there’s this emptiness inside me as if I’ve lost a family, I just need to come back to life.

So let’s travel back to that week when I was still ‘over twenty and employed’. My already ex-job gave me lots of opportunities to see my own country, understand it better (although I really struggle to understand it anyway, especially now), see other ways and try to adjust to them. This last trip to Kazan was one of the longest in terms of duration and also very… talkative as I had to work three days in a row at the local educational fair plus communicate with my volunteer and people that I met there, so here lay quite a challenge for me : )


The first day (evening) when I got to Kazan I – quite not surprisingly – went straight away to the food place. My hotel was just opposite a large supermarket where there was a wall literally, shelves upon shelves of all sorts of chak-chak, the traditional Tatar fried honey dough treat (see explanation here). The thing you’re bound to take home for all you friends… which I did not. I don’t like deep-fried dough, sorry, no place for it in my luggage. Instead I bought some sunflower brittle bars, baklava (see first picture) and tea.

Kazan Village bread

Enormous Village Bread at the supermarket. It looks small on the photo but boy was it huge! Also spotted: milk and kefir of mostly 4% fat (in St Pete the most popular type is 2.5%), slabs of cheese worth 500 g minimum, lots of fried things – apparently the preferred way of cooking.

All the way during my trip I was listening to Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen (an audiobook read by some not very familiar with Russian language person). The book gets a bit too much at the end but it was also hilarious at times, sometimes really sad and very revealing – lots of things that I knew already got somehow linked into a picture. I know that anybody who has lived through that period has their own picture, but this one was quite close to what I imagine. I haven’t tried any of the recipes that come along with the book (mostly meat), but I would recommend you the book part if you REALLY interested in the USSR, otherwise you might get bored with the details of the Soviet byt if you don’t have a slightest idea about what that word means.

USSR museum

As if to complete the picture I also visited the Museum of the Socialist Way of Life (or as they put it the Soviet Lifestyle Museum, here), as I was strongly advised to do when I get to Kazan. Well, this is a place to go if you have time to look at every object on display and better still if you have some personal memories attached to these objects. Otherwise the museum will look like an attic of all things Soviet. Sometimes not smelling nicely : 0 I got some pictures of the Soviet kitchenware for you + just some Soviet stuff here:   

Rice Kasha

Canned baby food with rice. Developed by the Academy of Medical Science of the USSR. And yes, Soviet little girls wore dresses exactly THAT short plus those thick tights (not always very tight and not fitting you most of the times). Apparently they could buy things already at the age of consuming mostly baby food 😀

famous glass bottles

The famous glass bottles for dairy products. The color of the foil cover told you what was inside – milk, kefir, ryazhenka. And that was the only part which was not recyclable! Cause the bottles, you returned them for a small fee, and that’s how they got used again.Yes, USSR lived almost without the problem of getting rid of all the waste as it was diligently recycled (reused) by the Soviet people themselves. BTW, the monkey at the bottom of the picture was a common toy, we had one too.

roly-poly toys

Talking about toys: these are the famous roly-poly toys every Soviet child had.


Though matreshkas were not that accessible for the children – I remember that our matreshka was to be played with only on special occasions when Grandma would take it out from the top shelf. Ours was a more … voluminous version of a matreshka.

Soviet pots

Two enameled pots from the 60s and the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

school bag

Anti-glamour WOODEN school bag from the 1940s. Guess that was a hard job to go to school back then…

School chairs

And as if that was not enough you had to sit on these wooden school chairs (I remember sitting on such at school). Seeing these objects from the past made me shrug because just several days prior to visiting this museum I went to one of the best public schools in the city with obviously very generous funding (Moscow schools suck compared to that school!). I guess children will just not believe these used to be school things in several years. 

basketball mini game
And this is our our favourite game with my sis! I forgot to tell you about it in my Novosibirsk post – we went to the Soviet arcade game museum in Moscow on my way back home (here’s their website – you can even play on some of the machines online!). And this is a mini (baby) version of the famous basketball arcade game. It’s a pity I was alone in the museum – cause on of its perks is that you can touch any object on display.

from school menu

Well, from this picture one would assume that the Soviet school children were supposed to eat such luxurious treats at school. From the book School Food (Nutrition). I wonder what the Soviet children now grown up and full of memories would say when seeing this mystification .)

At a local canteen

I did not have a chance to try those treats from the ideal Soviet childhood but I did go twice to a local self-service canteen decorated – as many Soviet and post-Soviet cafes are – with artificial flowers. This is Dom Chaya (Tea House), a photo of which you can see right at the beginning of this post, a very democratic place to eat if you’re a student, an employee working nearby or just not afraid of somewhat canteen look inside.

At a local canteen

Yes, those are artificial peaches : ) And yes, most likely someone tried to chew on the second to last peach. The desiiiigner of the place should have been very imaginative when it came to the floor desiiiign. Artificial flowers, photo-wall papers – this is the choice for a post Soviet canteen.

There I tried two traditional Tatar (and Bashkir) dishes – Qistibi (pictured beneath) and Gubadia (a sweat pastry treat with traditionally cooked cottage cheese called kort, raisins and rice – they say the compete version contains… meat!). Qistibi is a deep-fried flat bread with mashed potatoes.


Well, to give you a more glamorous glance of what one of the Tatar and generally eastern treats you can try in Kazan, here’s a photo of baklava (pronounced in Russian as pakhlava), a very nutritious phyllo dough treat, the tradition of making which is shared with some other Eastern countries like Greece and Turkey, for example.


Looks gorgeous. Lots of calories per milligram. But worth every one of them.


One year ago – Crostata and Challah, United

Two years ago – Novgorod Borkannik or Carrot Pie

Heading on to the sunny future, aren’t we.

Just wait for more.



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