Tatar cuisine is very diverse, and its diversity is a result of the influence of ethnical traditions as well as the cuisine of neighbouring peoples and peoples which were used to pass through the region. Many meals were inherited from them: katyk, bal-mai, kabartma from the Bulgars, pelmeni and tea from the Chinese, pilaw, and pakhleve from peoples of the Middle East region.
Special eating norms and rules were imposed by Islam. By the Shariat, it is forbidden to use for food pork, birds such as falcon, and swan which was considered to be sacred. In the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan, all Muslims older than 12 took a 29-30-day fast – uraza – completely abstaining from food and drink in the light time of the day. The Shariat calls for moderateness of meals in everyday life too. The end of Ramadan – Uraza-Bairam – is celebrated with various delicious meals and drinks.
One of the main food bans is wine and other alcoholic drinks. The Koran says that wine, similar to a gambling game, has good and bad points, but the latter dominate.
Early days each meal was conducted according to Adab – Islamic ethics. It started with hand-washing. A prayer was obligatory before and after it. Men and women ate separately. A set of table rules according to Tatar scholar and scientist Kayum Nasiri: “Sit down at to table as soon as a meal is served, do not keep people waiting. Eat with your right hand, if there are respectable people at the table, do not touch food ahead of them – it is impolite. The moderate meal is of great benefit – it promotes a healthy body, sharp mind, strong memory”.
The basis of a meal was meat, mainly mutton, lamb, and poultry, and dairy and vegetable food. Milk products which were widely used – cream, butter. Fermented milk was made into a favorite Tatar drink – katyk, which was used to prepare Tatar curds syuzma. Other sorts of curds – yeremchek and kort, which were used in many meals.
There were and still are a typical range of meals: soups and broths (shulpa, tokmach) meat, dairy, and lenten; and baked pastry with meat, potatoes, or porridge filling – belish, peremech, ochpochmak, sumsa, and others. Tea had an important role in the table ceremony. Tea with pastry can replace breakfast or supper. The first thing a visitor was treated was tea which usually was served with sweet pastry – chak-chak, kosh tele, honey, and katlama.
Tea was a part of all ceremonial traditions. It was served differently for every occasion: at a child’s birth – pure-alba, wedding – bal-mai were made of honey and butter. Sherbet – sweet fruit and honey drink – was a part of the wedding ceremony, during which a bride sent sherbet to visitors, who drank it and put money gifts on a tray.
Kazan cuisine, which absorbed the culinary traditions of East and European influence, as well as neighbouring regions, which are also so different in their culinary traditions, is rich in most varied dishes of everyday and festive cooking. The cuisine is a reflection of national culture and hospitality and has kept its authenticity to these days.