If you are in Russia and visiting Kazan for World Cup 2018, you must put sampling the deliciously sweet chak chak on your list of things to do. Pervasive throughout Tartarstan and other parts of central Asia, it is hard to miss this honeyed dessert – there is even a museum dedicated to it! Beloved by Tatars, it is recognised as the region’s national sweet, so just how did this delicious treat work its way into a peoples’ psyche?
Chak chak has been served at Tatar festivities for generations, and the dish has become inherently linked with celebration and joy. Tatarstan loves the dessert so much it made a massive one for Kazan’s millennium celebration in 2005. Weighing in at 1000 kilograms, it was the biggest ever made.
Like all Tatar recipes, how to make chak chak is passed down through families, and while it is a fairly straight forward and simple sweet, families have their slight variations, adding their own personal flair to the dish.
Flat bread, often sweetened with cognac, is rolled into to small balls which are then deep fried and drenched in a honey based syrup. Usually these balls are stacked, similar to a profiterole cake, in a tower. Alternatively they are assembled into miniature towers for individual portions.
Sometimes nuts and fruits are added to the mix before coating with honey, other times candied fruit, nuts, poppy seeds and dragee, colourful candied almonds similar to Jordan almonds and Italian Bomboniere, are added as decoration along with bright flowers. Alternatively, the syrup, which is essentially honey and sugar, can have a spice added to it, to give it an extra flavour dimension.
Pastries and baked goods are fundamental to Tatar cuisine. Gubadiya, another celebratory dish, is a layered pie that can be made either savoury or sweet and there are a gamut of savoury morsels wrapped up in various doughs, and chak chak keeps in line with this tradition. These bread based dishes are are warming, comforting and easy to share, which is a reflection of Tatar hospitality.
As they are traditionally nomadic people, Tatar cuisine pulls together elements from other regional clans, who through the course of history and the flux of empires and khanates, have come together. As evidence of this chak chak is often on the table as part of Eid celebrations in much of the Islamic world, a testament to just how tasty this unassuming, but much loved stack of bread and honey is.