Tatar's national dessert chak-chak is a hit in Kazan
KAZAN, Russia (AP) — There are arguably more chak-chaks for sale in Kazan's shops, cafes and restaurants than fans attending World Cup matches in the colorful city on the Volga river.
Traditionally eaten at weddings in central Asia, the sugary treat has become the national dessert of Tatarstan, the oil-rich region which promotes itself as the "Land of 1,001 Delights."
In the lively Bauman pedestrian street in downtown Kazan, vendors from the fast food chain Tubetey, which specializes in halal Tatar cuisine, are handing out the dish made from soft deep-fried dough, sugar and honey.
"When I was a kid, my parents, my relatives, used to make them at home. I grew up with chak-chaks," said Nourbek Batulla, a 30-year-old dancer told The Associated Press. "I would not say that I eat chak-chaks every day, but this is typically the kind of thing I bring when I'm invited somewhere."
Chak-chaks come in different shapes, most often in mounds, pyramids or noodles. During the World Cup, they are on display on the shelves of dozens of souvenir and food stores as Tatarstan's tourism officials use the dish to promote their region.
But it's not just for the tourists. Chak-chaks are truly loved by locals. Expensive in the ancient times because honey was a very rare commodity, chak-chaks are sold for about 30 rubles in Kazan's cafes — the equivalent of half a dollar — making them a very affordable pleasure. During the mild summer evenings of the World Cup, families sit at cafe terraces to enjoy the delicacy in the city located about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Moscow.
Chak-chaks are also very popular during Kazan's big events. In 2005, when the city celebrated its 1,000th birthday, a chak-chak weighing 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) spanning across a 13,266 square meters area — almost twice the size of a soccer field — was made. More recently, a four-ton chack-chak, probably the biggest ever made, was baked to celebrate the start of the World Cup.
In Kazan, one of the 11 Russian cities hosting matches, the debate over the best makers and recipes of chak-chak has yet to be settled. Batulla recommends Khlebzavot 3, a factory where customers can buy their favorite dessert directly from manufacturers.
A good place to try the sugary dish is the chak-chak museum, a private place located in a refurbished 19th century wooden mansion just a stone's throw away from the Old Tatar district, on the left bank of the picturesque Kaban Lake.
There, Lisan Yarullina is taking visitors on a tour documenting Tatar's daily life before the 1917 Revolution that culminates with a degustation of chak-chaks and tea.
"There are so many recipes," she said. "Because it used to be a family-made thing, everyone has their own recipe, they are passed down through families. But the main ingredient is love. Without a good mood, it's impossible to achieve something tasty."
American tourist James Aguirre, in Russia for the World Cup, was among the group of about 10 people attending the visit at the museum earlier this week.
"It sorts of reminds me of Rice Krispies," he said.