Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

Siberian Sampler: Background information when reading Travels in Siberia

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Travels in Siberia

by Ian Frazier

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier X
Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2010, 544 pages

    Sep 2011, 560 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
Buy This Book

About this Book

Siberian Sampler

This article relates to Travels in Siberia

Print Review

Ian Frazier encounters a diverse range of Siberian foodstuffs on his journey, from the salmon he helps to catch in the Bering Sea off Chukotka, to the linty sausage he pulls out of his luggage time after time on a long train trip.  Here is a sampling of morsels from the culinary landscapes Frazier explores.

Ukha – A brief hop from Alaska, Frazier enjoys his first taste of wild-caught salmon on the other side of the Bering Strait.  When the fish start running, there are salmon steaks and a basic fish and potato soup called ukhaUkha is made all over Siberia with whatever local fish is at hand.  Russian soups are legendary; borshch is the more familiar combination of beets and cabbage (often flavored with dill) and should not be confused with shchi, which omits the beets and lays on the cabbage (or even sauerkraut).  Both borshch and shchi often contain meat, and seem incomplete without a generous dollop of sour cream on top.

Seal – A spotted seal becomes a special-occasion meal when boiled up with some pasta.  Frazier pronounces that "seal meat tastes like the beef of a cow fed on salmon."  The Yupiks of Chukotka, with whom Frazier is staying, are traditional seal hunters and salmon fishers.

Omul – On Lake Baikal, far to the south of Siberia, omul, a salmon relative, is the fish to try.  Frazier has it for the first time in Ulan-Ude, served with "a traditional Buryat dish called pozhe, which are dumplings stuffed with ground lamb and chopped wild onions."  Unfortunately, the omul of Lake Baikal have been seriously overfished.  The famous sturgeon that produce ossetra caviar are not doing so well either.  Lake Baikal is thought to be more than 25 million years old, making it the oldest lake on earth. It holds about 20% of the world's fresh water and is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which are unique to the area - and it needs help.  According to the New York Times, when an Irkutsk environmental group began to criticize the government's decision to re-open a pollution-spewing paper plant on the shores of Baikal this year, the government suddenly decided to seize all the organization's computers for allegedly violating Microsoft's copyright. 

Butter – Who knew that the dairy cows of Siberia used to supply top-notch butter to Western Europe? Frazier tells us that, "The butter and ice cream of Siberia are the best I've tasted anywhere."  When Lenin lived in England in the early twentieth century, he found that the English were well acquainted with Siberian butter and cheese.

Tvorog so smetanoi – cottage cheese with sour cream.  This creamy combination is Frazier's fast-food of choice on the road in Siberia. It's easy to get, filling, and full of protein.  Frazier reports that he and his traveling companions begin to smell like sweaty, grown-up babies from all the dairy. He speculates that they probably smell a lot like Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde, who also subsisted on milk in all its forms.

Koumiss – fermented mare's milk, "the Mongol's favorite alcoholic beverage and a part of their court ceremonies." Frazier doesn't come across any koumiss, but he can imagine it.  He does discover that the descendents of the Mongols, the Buryats he meets in Ulan-Ude still eat horse meat as a regular part of their diet and use canned pony meat in a pinch. 

Salo – slabs of salted pork fat (or fatback), often eaten on bread. Frazier's guide Sergei thinks that if he chases the pork fat with hot tea, the fat will pass right through him.

Chai – black tea.  Russian tea is hot and strong, and sweet if possible.  The old-fashioned way to sweeten tea is with homemade jam.  At one particularly protracted tea-drinking session, Frazier gets to thinking about the role of tea in Russian life:  "I am thinking that Russians can sit at a supper table drinking tea and saying brilliant or ridiculous things longer than seems physically possible; further, this trait may explain Russia's famous susceptibility to unhealthy foreign ideas, with the postmealtime tea drinking providing the opportunity for contagion; and further yet, I am wondering whether tea perhaps has been a more dangerous beverage to the Russian mind, overall, than vodka."  In a civilized home, tea comes with zakuski, or snacks – dishes like pickled garlic, caviar on toast, or salted mushrooms.  Vodka and zakuski also go hand in hand.  In Frazier's telling, it's hard to tell what social nuance distinguishes vodka hospitality from tea hospitality.  Certainly it isn't time of day – one travel mate happily offers him a vodka pick-me-up first thing in the morning.

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Travels in Siberia. It originally ran in November 2010 and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    by Richard Powers
    In 2019, Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory, a sprawling novel whose characters...
  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, a new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.


Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.
Who Said...

Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.