The Bashkirs are one of the Turkic-speaking peoples of the Volga-Ural region, located at the junction of Asia and Europe. The majority of Bashkirs live in Bashkortostan (or Bashkiria) and there are diaspora groups outside it. Bashkir is a Turkic language belonging to the Kipchak branch. (See the corresponding Wikipedia articles.)
The basis of the traditional food of the ancestors of the Bashkirs, the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of the Southern Urals, was meat and dairy products. Right up to today, Bashkirs have retained long-standing and stable skills of preserving products including dairy in everyday their life.
Fig. 1. Eating katyk by crushing bread in it. Irgizly, 2023. Photo by Albina Abdulmanova.
Milk as a perishable product required special processing in order to prolong its use as much as possible. Among the dairy products intended for long-term storage is a specially fermented cow’s milk, the common name of which is katyk. Katyk is used in everyday life and in the food industry. Among the Bashkirs of the southeastern and mountain-forest regions of Bashkortostan this product is known as oyotkan.
Katyk as a type of fermented milk retained its taste and all useful trace elements, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Food was eaten both as fresh “young” katyk, soso katyk or sey katyk, and with a more sour taste ese katyk. More bland katyk was usually used in everyday nutrition, and the sour version was used to add to fatty soups. This dish is still widespread today. By adding water to oyotkan or katyk, they made ayran, a sour-tasting refreshing drink that was especially consumed in hot weather. In addition, meat soups were seasoned with them.
Fig. 2. Drinking ayran. Kotan, 2023. Photo by Aygul Gazina.
The process of preparing this product has retained its traditional features. To prepare katyk, a special starter is added to the boiled and cooled milk at body temperature (in Bashkir kan yilylygyn, ‘blood temperature’) as katyk, oyotkos, oyotmos (there are different local names). Traditionally, the previous katyk or the sour buttermilk that remained after churning butter was used as a sourdough starter. For fermentation, a couple of pieces of rye or yeast bread are also placed in milk, and the so-called “live bacteria” from pharmacies are often used (one teaspoon of live bacteria per one litre of warm milk). After that, milk with sourdough must be thoroughly mixed for an even distribution of the starter, otherwise the product will turn out to be “pieces”. Afterwards, the vessel is wrapped and placed in a warm place until ripening and it should not be “disturbed”; i.e. not rearranged and not mixed . In this case only it turns out as a thick tasty product, i.e. the “real” katyk. In a cooler place, it will take longer to ripen. A small portion of this katyk is poured into a small jar for the next sourdough starter and stored in the refrigerator. Ready-to-eat katyk is stored in a cold place, in a cellar or refrigerator.
Fig. 3. Katyk with raspberries. Irgizly, 2023. Photo by Albina Abdulmanova.
Freshly prepared katyk (soso katyk) is eaten as a dish, and with bread, crackers, sugar, muesli, adding sour cream, berries (raspberries, currants, strawberries, strawberries). If it is liquid, then it may be taken as a drink or diluted with water make the beverage ayran.
Fig. 4. Eating katyk with bread. Irgizly, 2023. Photo by Albina Abdulmanova.
Oyotkan / katyk was used as a ritual dish during the early spring ritual of Karga tuy, Karga butkahy – ‘Raven/Rook Wedding, Raven/Rook Porridge’. This archaic rite marked the welcoming of spring and was purposed for veneration of birds. The ritual feeding of birds, especially crows, was accompanied by prayers. To do this, on the stones, on the branches of trees (but not on the ground), oyotkan / katyk was poured or placed in a vessel. This rite has survived to this day and is still performed in many villages of Bashkortostan.
Author: Margarita Suleymanova, Assistant Professor, candidate in history of sciences, ethnologist, Ufa University of Science and Technology. Ufa, Bashkiria.
Editor’s Note: This contribution from Margarita Suleymanova is part of an on-going series that began in collaboration with The Ritual Year Working Group of the S.I.E.F. (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore). We especially thank Tatiana Minniyakhmetova, author of the article on Udmurt yoghurt, for encouraging Margarita to join us with her contribution.
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