I love the term "sweet" for its myriad of meanings. It can refer to almost every essential component of life - taste, smell, sound and the overall essence of a person or soul. During my visit to Kazan, I spent an afternoon in a "living" museum in which almost all applications of the term "sweet" are embodied in a single place - the Chak-Chak Musem.
Typically, I'm not a fan of museums, filled with artifacts or paintings, and plaque written descriptions explaining their significance. However, this museum is different because it's small, in a cozy home and almost everything contained within it has personal significance to the couple who developed and run the museum. Pictured here, Ravshana, holding a hand-carved spoon made by her husband's grandfather. She's a beautiful and vibrant woman, enthusiastic and eager to tell foreigners about native Tatar culture and ancient traditions...
1. Ravshana and her husband Dmitry have strong ties to Tatarstan, and aim to keep the cultural traditions alive and perserved, even in the heart of the city. They invested their own money into building this museum, and for this they have my utmost respect. They're trying to make Russia more accessible for guests around the world, to share the culture in a pleasant and language friendly way such that more people can travel to and begin to understand the "real Russia." This cannonball artillery shell belonged to the army of Ivan the Terrible. When placed in your hand, you feel the depth of its actual weight and function. Btw, Dmitry's also a musician, always an attractive skill for a man (at least for me). If you're lucky, perhaps he will play an instrument or sing a tune during your visit.
2. Before I spent time in Kazan, I had never heard of chak-chak or tasted it. It's served in almost every cafe in the region, and is a local delicacy. In the museum, Ravshana explains all the ingredients and how the dessert is made. She claims her recipe and chak-chak are the best in the city, and in fact it's true, based on the variations I tasted during my visit. The dessert is made from unleavened dough, cut and rolled into balls which are then deep-fried in oil and later drenched with honey.
3. The fried balls are stacked to create an impressive and artistic culinary masterpiece! Ravshana's version is covered in nuts and dried fruits are also sometimes used.
4. The reason I don't like most museums is that they're too impersonal. In many places, you're simply looking at objects behind glass frames, or roped in areas. In the Chak-Chak Museum, absolutely everything can be picked up, touched and felt. Not only do you learn about the dessert, you get taken into a cozy and vibrant room to taste it! Ravshana brought out a plate filled with three Tatar sweets - chak-chak, a pastil with nut and some type of sweet bread. I can't remember the name, but I think it may have been baursak.
5. On this day, it was cold and dreary, so it was a welcome relief when I was offered a warm cup of tea. It was not brought out in some sterile, boring cup, but instead poured from an authentic samovar. Very cool! The samovars are also accompanied by decorations, including this well-dressed doll. She appears to be a blue-eyed, blond-haired American rather than Tatar, but charming nonetheless. :)
6. My gracious host in Kazan was local blogger udikov, really I can't say enough nice things about this guy. A complete gentleman, very kind and knowledgeable about Kazan. His blog is dedicated mostly to this city, if you wish to read more about it. You can see in his photo that the room was filled with authentic and colorful Tatar artifacts, passed down from Ravshana and Dmitry's grandmothers and grandfathers. Just beautiful, absolutely nothing stale or boring about it when you learn the origin of the items, and the importance of the object to its original owner. You can ask Ravshana and Dmitry almost any question during the tour, and they will gladly answer. All of the bright colors were a welcomed change of pace after walking around so many depressing, grey cities and trudging through puddles, ice and snow in the preceding days.
7. Even an old gramophone, on which festive and lively tunes spin.
8. The scope of topics covered during a visit far exceed chak-chak, and routinely change. So, it's possible to visit the museum multiple times, and always learn something new. On this day, Ravshana brought out a large poster and told the story of a legendary female spirit named "Touran." According to Tatar tradition, she was one of the most powerful spirits - a spirit of love! She created a perfect state, but bad spirits built a high wall, which blocked sun from people. Fellow good spirit Mardukan broke the wall, but died. He was the husband of another good female spirit "Chak-Chak", she was the daughter of Touran and a spirit of sunrise, family, well-being and hearth. Did you know all of this? :) Thus, chak-chak, as a dish, symbolizes that wall, ruined by Mardukan for the sake of human well-being and happiness. This should make you feel better, next time you put this decadent treat in your mouth! :)
9. I wish to thank Ravshana and Dmitry for their time, dedication and insight into Tatar culture. I really wanted to venture out of Kazan city and spend time with a local Tatar family in a village, but unfortunately it wasn't possible during my brief stay. Next time I'm in the region, it will be a priority. However, it was nice to get a brief glimpse into this unique part of Russia, particularly from such warm and caring people. From a foreigner's perspective, the work Ravshana and Dmitry do to make strides in Russian tourism are highly appreciated. I only wish there were more folks like them in the country. Perhaps then, people would not be so intimidated or hesitant to visit and explore Russia on their own.
If you're in Kazan, be sure to visit the Chak-Chak Museum! It's located in the city, in the Old Tatar Settlement, at Kayum Nasyri 11. Full website and details here. Please be sure to tell them I sent you there!
I'll have a bigger post about Kazan later in the week. In the meantime, please share with me more insight into Tatar culture. Also, do you like chak-chak? It reminded me very much of the popular U.S. sweet - "Rice Krispies Treats." :)
P.S.: On an unrelated note, my date went very well! He too was sweet, just like chak-chak! There will be another! :))