About Yakutsk and the Sakha Republic

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The Sakha Republic has an area nearly the size of India.  However, the population of the republic is less than a million.  Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic and the largest city in the Republic, has a population of over 300,000.

Yakutian Culture

The Yakutian New Year, or Ysyakh, occurs around the summer solstice which is around June 21 every year.  The holiday will be celebrated generally on the closest weekend to the actual solstice.

This event attracts tourists from all around the world.  Yakutian culture is on full display for all to enjoy during Ysyakh. 

Feeding the fire ceremony

Yakutian New Year (Ysyakh)

Ysyakh is the most important holiday in Yakutian culture

If you want to experience Ysyakh for yourself, make your travel plans early.  Bed & Breakfast Bravo! is usually fully booked months in advance.

Yakutian New Year (Ysyakh)

Ysyakh is the most important holiday in Yakutian culture

The Yakutian New Year, or Ysyakh, occurs around the summer solstice which is usually around June 21 every year.  The holiday will be celebrated generally on the closest weekend to the actual solstice.

This event attracts tourists from all around the world.  Yakutian culture is on full display for all to enjoy during Ysyakh. 

Feeding the fire ceremony

If you want to experience Ysyakh for yourself, make your travel plans early.  Bed & Breakfast Bravo! is usually fully booked months in advance.

The cultural influence of the indigenous peoples of the Republic of Sakha is valued and preserved today. The Yakuts have their own language, which is widely spoken in the Republic of Sakha. Yakut is the first language for about half of the population, and Russian is the second language taught in schools. The Yakut language belongs to the Turkic group of languages, and a number of words in the Yakut language coincide with Turkish.

Yakutian National Costume

Во время Ысаха и других праздников или важных событий якутяне носят свой национальный костюм.

Yakut national costumes and jewelry are made to order and, as a rule, no two are alike. There will be certain similarities that are recognizable, but each will have individual details that represent the life of the person who wears it.

Yakut jewelry is usually made of silver, but gold is also used. Jewelry may include precious or semi-precious stones. These items are usually handmade and each one is unique.

Yakutsk national costume
Якутские национальные костюмы и украшения изготавливаются на заказ и, как правило, не бывает двух одинаковых. Будут определенные сходства, которые узнаваемы, но у каждого будут отдельные детали, которые представляют жизнь человека, который его носит.

Religion in Yakutsk

All religions except atheism, which was the state religion, was officially banned until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a revival of religious organizations and their adherents. Today, about 35-45% of the population of the Sakha Republic identify themselves as Orthodox Christians.

Indigenous peoples, in particular the Yakuts, Evenks, the two largest indigenous peoples of the Republic of Sakha, have traditionally practiced Tengrianism – shamanism – for centuries. In the second half of the 19th century, Bishop Innokenty Veniaminov introduced the Orthodox faith among the beliefs of the Yakut people. Those who practice shamanistic traditions do not consider shamanic and Christian rituals to be mutually exclusive. Many Yakuts believe that they have dual faith.

Although Orthodoxy and shamanism are the two religions with the largest number of adherents in Yakutsk, at the same time there are smaller religious communities in Yakutsk.

In addition to several Orthodox cathedrals, Yakutsk has a Catholic church, Protestant churches, a Buddhist temple and an Islamic mosque. Although there is a fairly large Jewish diaspora in Yakutsk, there is currently no Jewish synagogue.

Yakutian Cuisine

The cuisine that one finds today in Yakutsk and the Sakha Republic draws on the several distinct indigenous nations that make up the population of Yakutia as well as the ethnic Russians and Jewish peoples that settled in the Sakha Republic.  The diaspora from a number of Eastern Asian countries have also brought their own culinary influences.  

As with all ethnic cuisines, the Yakutian cuisine makes use of locally raised produce, livestock, and the abundant fish and game found in the territory. The Yakut people have been traditionally horse herders.   Horse milk and meat have a significant place in Yakutian cuisine.   The Evenk people have been traditionally reindeer herders, and reindeer meat is also quite common.

Yakutian cuisine is not typically heavily seasoned with spices.  Salt and black pepper are common.  Fresh dill and parsley which are grown locally both commercially and in many  gardens, are also used extensively.  Cilantro and celery can be grown locally, but are not as common.

It is impossible to cover all aspects of Yakutian cuisine here, but this will provide an overview:

Fish

The Sakha Republic has many lakes and rivers.  Because of the low population density and the relatively low industrialization of the republic, most of these fresh water bodies are ecologically clean.

Many people, when asked what they think of when they think of Yakutian food will immediately mention the fish.  Fish is clearly a major part of what makes Yakutian cuisine Yakutian.

Some of the variety of locally produced smoked fish available in the market in Yakutsk

Stroginina is a fish dish prepared by slicing thin strips off the frozen fish.  Yakutians make special Yakutian knives which are perfect for this task.  The fish is eaten frozen raw, usually with salt and pepper.  Vodka is considered de regueur as an accompaniment since only dogs could eat stroginina without vodka.

Indigirka is similar in that it is frozen, raw fish.  But it is cut into cubes and is prepared as a salad.

indigirka
Some of the amazing variety of fresh fish to be found in Yakutsk

During the winter time, freshly caught fish can be immediately and quickly “flash frozen” right on the ice.

Fish that is caught in the summer is often smoked to preserve it.  

Some of the popular fish varieties that are found in Yakutsk include:

  • Taimen

  • Chir (Broad Whitefish)

  • Nelma

  • Omul

  • Crucian carp

Stoginina is prepared by slicing thin strips off the frozen fish.

Yakutian fish pie is a delicious way to enjoy the local fish.  Every Yakutian housewife has her own recipe, but most have rice in addition to fish.  Onions and cabbage are also pretty common ingredients for the filling.

Yakutian fish pie is a delicious way to enjoy fish.

Fish

The Sakha Republic has many lakes and rivers.  Because of the low population density and the relatively low industrialization of the republic, most of these fresh water bodies are ecologically clean.

Many people, when asked what they think of when they think of Yakutian food will immediately mention the fish.  Fish is clearly a major part of what makes Yakutian cuisine Yakutian.

Some of the amazing variety of fresh fish to be found in Yakutsk

During the winter time, freshly caught fish can be immediately and quickly “flash frozen” right on the ice.

Fish that is caught in the summer is often smoked to preserve it.  

Some of the popular fish varieties that are found in Yakutsk include:

  • Taimen
  • Chir (Broad Whitefish)
  • Nelma
  • Omul
  • Crucian carp
Some of the variety of locally produced smoked fish available in the market in Yakutsk

Stroginina is a fish dish prepared by slicing thin strips off the frozen fish.  Yakutians make special Yakutian knives which are perfect for this task.  The fish is eaten frozen raw, usually with salt and pepper.  Vodka is considered de regueur as an accompaniment since only dogs could eat stroginina without vodka.

Indigirka is similar in that it is frozen, raw fish.  But it is cut into cubes and is prepared as a salad.

Stoginina is prepared by slicing thin strips off the frozen fish.
indigirka

Yakutian fish pie is a delicious way to enjoy the local fish.  Every Yakutian housewife has her own recipe, but most have rice in addition to fish.  Onions and cabbage are also pretty common ingredients for the filling.

Yakutian fish pie is a delicious way to enjoy fish.
jhirebyatina or young horse meat

Local farmers do raise cattle, and pigs for meat.  Most of the cattle are primarily dairy cattle, but the steers and veal calves are butchered for meat.

Chickens are also raised both for eggs as well as for meat.

The local production of beef, pork, and chicken is not sufficient to satisfy the local demand, so a lot of meat is brought in from other regions of Russia.

Although there are not any significant numbers of reindeer in the immediate areas around Yakutsk, reindeer herding is very common in other parts of the Sakha Republic.  Reindeer meat, olenina, is readily available in Yakutsk, both from wild reindeer as well as domesticated reindeer.  The taste of olenina, as with all venison, is highly dependent on what the animal has been eating.  Domesticated reindeer have a milder and more consistent flavor because of the more consistent diet, but wild reindeer is also quite delicious.

olinina resized

Khaan, or blood sausage, is a very popular Yakutian dish, especially for holidays and festive occasions.  It is made from horse or beef intestines and filled with blood and milk.

Khaan or blood sausage

Meat

Jhiribyatina, or young horse meat, is quite popular in the Sakha Republic.  It is enjoyed cooked, but it is also enjoyed as raw, frozen strips – basically horse straginina.

Yakutians value the fattiest pieces.  Young horse fat is high in Omega 3, and is considered to be a healthy fat.

Raw frozen young horse meat

Many Yakutians love to hunt, and there is an abundance of game animals in the Sakha Republic.  

Moose, Siberian sheep, arctic hare, goose, duck are some of the more common game animals that one might find on the table.  That being said, in Yakutsk today, such game animals are becoming less commonly consumed.

Dairy products

Dairy products are a significant part of the Yakutian diet.  Most of the dairy products consumed in the Sakha Republic today are from cow’s milk, but certain specialty products are from mare’s milk.

A wide variety of dairy products are produced in the Sakha Republic, many of which are common throughout Russia and in many parts of the world.  Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, kefir, fresh cream, sour cream, and ice cream are all popular.  But there are also some dairy products that are common in the Sakha Republic, but virtually unknown in most of the rest of the world.

Kierchekh is whipped cream and berries
Kumis or fermented mare's milk

Kumis is a drink from fermented mare’s milk and is often part of festive or ceremonial occasions in the Sakha republic.  The alcohol content can vary from less than 1% up to 5% depending on how long it has been allowed to ferment.

Byyrpakh is a similar drink from cow’s milk.

Kyerchekh is a favorite in Yakutian families.  It combines fresh berries, usually gathered locally, with whipped cream.

Meat

jhirebyatina or young horse meat

Jhiribyatina, or young horse meat, is quite popular in the Sakha Republic.  It is enjoyed cooked, but it is also enjoyed as raw, frozen strips – basically horse straginina.

Yakutians value the fattiest pieces.  Young horse fat is high in Omega 3, and is considered to be a healthy fat.

Raw frozen young horse meat

Local farmers do raise cattle, and pigs for meat.  Most of the cattle are primarily dairy cattle, but the steers and veal calves are butchered for meat.

Chickens are also raised both for eggs as well as for meat.

The local production of beef, pork, and chicken is not sufficient to satisfy the local demand, so a lot of meat is brought in from other regions of Russia.

Although there are not any significant numbers of reindeer in the immediate areas around Yakutsk, reindeer herding is very common in other parts of the Sakha Republic.  Reindeer meat, olenina, is readily available in Yakutsk, both from wild reindeer as well as domesticated reindeer.  The taste of olenina, as with all venison, is highly dependent on what the animal has been eating.  Domesticated reindeer have a milder and more consistent flavor because of the more consistent diet, but wild reindeer is also quite delicious.

olinina resized

Many Yakutians love to hunt, and there is an abundance of game animals in the Sakha Republic.  

Moose, Siberian sheep, arctic hare, goose, duck are some of the more common game animals that one might find on the table.  That being said, in Yakutsk today, such game animals are becoming less commonly consumed.

Khaan, or blood sausage, is a very popular Yakutian dish, especially for holidays and festive occasions.  It is made from horse or beef intestines and filled with blood and milk.

Khaan or blood sausage

Dairy products

Dairy products are a significant part of the Yakutian diet.  Most of the dairy products consumed in the Sakha Republic today are from cow’s milk, but certain specialty products are from mare’s milk.

A wide variety of dairy products are produced in the Sakha Republic, many of which are common throughout Russia and in many parts of the world.  Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, kefir, fresh cream, sour cream, and ice cream are all popular.  But there are also some dairy products that are common in the Sakha Republic, but virtually unknown in most of the rest of the world.

Kumis or fermented mare's milk

Kumis is a drink from fermented mare’s milk and is often part of festive or ceremonial occasions in the Sakha republic.  The alcohol content can vary from less than 1% up to 5% depending on how long it has been allowed to ferment.

Byyrpakh is a similar drink from cow’s milk.

Kyerchekh is a favorite in Yakutian families.  It combines fresh berries, usually gathered locally, with whipped cream.

Kierchekh is whipped cream and berries
Yakutian lepyeshka

However, Yakutian cuisine has its own unique character which shows up in its products.  One of these is the Yakutian lepyeshka.

Yakutian oladi look similar to pancakes – and there are some similarities, but the taste and texture is different.  Every Yakutian housewife has her own recipe and interpretation.

pelmeni

Pelmeni are loved all over Russia, and similar kinds of  “dumplings” can be found in many countries.  That being said, the pelmeni that you can get in Yakutsk is different from other places.  Taste the difference just once and you will understand.

racctegai

Rasstegai are also made in different parts of Russia, and the filling can vary.  However, in Yakutsk, these are most often made with a fish filling using one of the local fish.

Food made with flour

Since human civilization began, people have been making all manner of interesting dishes from flour and water.  In Yakutsk, there is all varieties of breads and baked goods that one could find anywhere in Russia.

oladi

Oladi can be eaten alone, but often will be served with fruit jam or preserves or with fresh sour cream.

pirozhki

Similarly, pirozhkis are enjoyed everywhere in Russia.  It is typical Russian fast food.  But certainly Yakutians have made the pirozhki their own.

Food made with flour

Yakutian lepyeshka

Since human civilization began, people have been making all manner of interesting dishes from flour and water.  In Yakutsk, there is all varieties of breads and baked goods that one could find anywhere in Russia

However, Yakutian cuisine has its own unique character which shows up in its cereal products.  One of these is the Yakutian lepyeshka.

oladi

Yakutian oladi look similar to pancakes – and there are some similarities, but the taste and texture is different.  Every Yakutian housewife has her own recipe and interpretation.

Oladi can be eaten alone, but often will be served with fruit jam or preserves or with fresh sour cream.

pelmeni

Pelmeni are loved all over Russia, and similar kinds of  “dumplings” can be found in many countries.  That being said, the pelmeni that you can get in Yakutsk is different from other places.  Taste the difference just once and you will understand.

Similarly, pirozhkis are enjoyed everywhere in Russia.  It is typical Russian fast food.  But certainly Yakutians have made the pirozhki their own.

pirozhki

Rasstegai are also made in different parts of Russia, and the filling can vary.  However, in Yakutsk, these are most often made with a fish filling using one of the local fish.

racctegai

Locally grown produce

The Sakha Republic has a very short growing season which limits the local production of fruits and vegetables to those which can grow and mature quickly.  Some of the local produce is shown in the carosel below.

Yakutsk during the Great Patriotic War

The Republic of Sakha suffered greatly during the Great Patriotic War. Many men were mobilized and sent to the front. Many did not return. The remaining civilian population suffered from hunger and poor conditions. Every family has a story about at least one family member who was lost during the war.

Yakutsk played an important role during the Great Patriotic War. As part of the lend-lease program between the USSR and the United States, the Allies delivered more than 8,000 American fighters and bombers to the Soviet Union.  American combat aircraft were ferried from Fairbanks, Alaska to the front lines with intermediate stops. One of the most important such stops was the airport in Yakutsk.

Today it is in rather poor condition, but the original barracks, where the American and Russian ferry pilots rested, has survived to this day.

The Yakut soldiers distinguished themselves. Since many were civilian hunters, many Yakutians became snipers. While the German soldiers were freezing, the Yakut soldiers were in their element.

Various aircraft were delivered to Russia under the Lend-Lease program. Russia received medium bombers and fighters from the United States, one of the most important of which was the Bell P-39 Airacobra. A monument with a copy of the great P-39 welcomes arriving passengers at the Yakutsk airport as soon as you turn onto the main road into the city.

Today it is in rather poor condition, but the original barracks, where the American and Russian ferry pilots rested, has survived to this day.

The Republic of Sakha suffered greatly during the Great Patriotic War. Many men were mobilized and sent to the front. Many did not return. The remaining civilian population suffered from hunger and poor conditions. Every family has a story about at least one family member who was lost during the war.

The Yakut soldiers distinguished themselves. Since many were civilian hunters, many Yakutians became snipers. While the German soldiers were freezing, the Yakut soldiers were in their element.

Yakutsk played an important role during the Great Patriotic War. As part of the lend-lease program between the USSR and the United States, the Allies delivered more than 8,000 American fighters and bombers to the Soviet Union.  American combat aircraft were ferried from Fairbanks, Alaska to the front lines with intermediate stops. One of the most important such stops was the airport in Yakutsk.

Various aircraft were delivered to Russia under the Lend-Lease program. Russia received medium bombers and fighters from the United States, one of the most important of which was the Bell P-39 Airacobra. A monument with a copy of the great P-39 welcomes arriving passengers at the Yakutsk airport as soon as you turn onto the main road into the city.

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