Chicken and beef shashlik, a good alternative to the usual pork shashlik

Staying Kosher in Irkutsk

Published: September 18, 2019

Khinkali, Georgian dumplings made from beef

Having grown up Jewish, I stopped eating pork when I was around 5, and have not eaten it since then. Coming to Irkutsk, I was very curious to see if not eating pork would be a challenge, or if it would be simple to avoid.

Spending six weeks in Siberia, I have realized that a lot of common foods served in Russia include a mixture of pork and either beef or lamb. For example, the main Buryat food is buuzy (a type of dumpling which is widely available here) and it usually contains pork along with some other type of meat. Out of dozens of buzzy places I have been to, I have only found one that has an all-beef version. However, this was outside of Irkutsk on Olkhon Island. The same is true with pozy (another type of dumpling common to this area), which usually has a mixture of beef and pork.

Колбаса (kolbasa) and сосиски (sosiski) (both types of sausage) also seem to always have pork in them. In fact, Слата (Slata), the main grocery store chain in Irkutsk carries only pork-containing sausage (and I have even asked several different stores). Even if it not always fully pork, there was not a single one that didn’t have at least some pork in it. I found myself missing my local Russian store in Seattle that sells еврейская колбаса (literally “Jewish sausage”) that features no pork.

A meal that the group had all together, and the only thing I could not eat was the Olivier salad (in front) because it had pork in it.

I was eventually advised to try the центральный рынок (central market), which has a wider selection of foods. There, I was able to find a stall that sold all beef sausage. I bought half of one (about 6 inches long) and ate the whole thing in the middle of the market with such joy! While I was lucky with the first stall I asked, I believe that there would have been several more stalls that sold non-pork sausage.

But besides missing these two specific foods, it has been very easy to avoid pork in restaurants. Most menus make it very clear on what kind of meat is used, and if not, the servers usually know.

Something that I have found very interesting is that whenever I told people here that I don’t eat pork, they always assumed I was Muslim. In all my years, I have never had people assume that since I don’t eat pork, I was Muslim, and not Jewish. Whenever I told people that I was actually Jewish, it always came as a surprise to them!



About the author

Katya Grigerman

Katya Grigerman is an undergraduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is majoring in Political Science, and double minoring in Russian Language and Russian Culture. She is currently spending the year studying in Russia; the summer in Irkutsk, the fall in Saint Petersburg, and the spring in Moscow. After graduating, Katya hopes to work with Russia-US relations.

View all posts by: Katya Grigerman