Where in Europe do people share a common birthday? What is the largest Buddhist temple? Where can you find the cheapest marble meat? There is one answer to these questions, and that answer is Kalmykia. One of the lesser-known regions of Russia, Kalmykia is home to the Kalmyks—the only ethnic Mongolian group in Europe. Tune in to the discussion and hear firsthand from the podcast producer, who was born and raised in Kalmykia.


  • From migrating in the 17th century to enduring hardships in Soviet times to the present day, how has Kalmyk culture changed, and what is the status of the language?
  • How do Asian and Eastern elements find expression in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia?
  • Spirituality and connection to ancestors: How is everyday life deeply influenced by the lifestyle of ancestors?

Enjoy the episode!

[AI-generated transcript]

Jianggan 0:00
Hello, welcome to the Impulso Podcast. And today we are switching roles. I’m Jianggan – CEO of Momentum Works. And today I will be the host. Over the last few how many episodes? over the last few months that you have seen this, this lady that have been diligently recording every session during the introduction, but not talking much. So today we are going to switch roles and Dalia who have been producing, narrating and, and publishing in the podcast of the last five months will introduce yourself.

Dalia 0:37
Hi, everyone, after producing so many episodes, I’m really excited to be finally a guest on the podcast, and to talk about my culture. So my name is Dalia and I come from Russia more specifically from Republic of Kalmykia, which is home to ethnic group called Kalmyks. And this is where I was living for the majority of my life up until 2019. When I decided that I actually want to, I want to study in Germany. And that’s how I ended up in Munich, where I am studying up until now during my bachelor in management and technology. And it’s actually through my studies that I decided to make an exchange. That’s how I ended up here working for Momentum Works currently helping with marketing and hosting producing content for this podcast. Which Yeah, which is the kind of duty that I’m going to be passing soon to Sabrina.

Jianggan 1:46
So, so what what is particularly interesting about where Dalia from is you are from?

Dalia 1:52
Elista, it’s located in the southwestern part of Russia. And it’s the capital of Republic of Kalmykia. There are currently around 260 000 people living in there.

Jianggan 2:04
Okay, so it’s a 260,000. That’s the population word of, of a town in Singapore. So it’s, it’s not many people, right. Russia itself is, I mean, in terms of landmass, the biggest country in the world, right? I mean, it’s, I think, almost twice as large as the second biggest, which is Canada. So, and there are a lot of ethnic groups, a lot of different sort of cultures within the country, and specifically about coming here.

So it is in Europe, but people there are originally from Mongolia, Mongolia. So do you want to talk to people more about this? And how do people end up there. So

Dalia 2:50
my ancestors, the correct name for them would be Oirads, Mongolian ethnic group that used to reside in the western part of Mongolia, up until the end of 16th, beginning of 17th century, when they decided to migrate, due some conflicts to south western part of Russia, which is now called Kalmykia.

Jianggan 3:19
So how is that took place? Like because I think historically, across Mongolia, Kazakhstan all the way to Eastern Europe, right? So flatland, so people can move. I wouldn’t say quite freely, but it’s quite easily. That that’s how I think I think I think historically, the Mongols managed to build the largest empire in the world, right? So so there’s lots of history about the world. Whereas the rest were, I think, one of the four main branches of Mongols. So of course, the major, I mean, people talk about the modern state of Mongolia, which is a population of 3 million. Still. Yeah, so it’s fairly large. It’s almost as big as India, with a population smaller than Singapore. Oh, yeah. They’re actually more mongols in China, I think more mongols in Russia as well. There’s also the Republic of Kalmykia. So despite that part is much closer to Asia, right? Yes, actually, yes, exactly. Specifically about Kalmyks. And there’s also this concept of “Torhud” I heard. I read from Chinese sources that the word “Torhud” actually originally meant, like tall and big. Yeah. So So basically, they like, like warriors, right. And I think and these are the people who moved to do to work out in Europe. I think in the 760s, I think 18th century there’s actually a group of For a total who’s who migrated eastward towards, which is currently shinjang. In China, and, and what I read from history is that okay, our bunch of people migrated to Xinjiang and got really sort of worked on by the emperor of China. And they settled there. They’re still there. Those will remain become the Kalmyks. Yeah,

Dalia 5:23
it’s true. The Kalmyksstill in China, and I think they preserved their language. Okay. Yes. Which is very different from the state of Kalmyk language. So

Jianggan 5:33
obviously, in Russia, people don’t speak in comics who speak the original language?

Dalia 5:38
no. So majority, of course, speaks just Russian. Kalmyk is recognized as like one of the official languages, and it is still taught in school. But unfortunately, the majority of people are not speaking. Yeah, there are very tragic events leading to loss of culture, basically. Yeah,

Jianggan 5:56
I think I read about events. So. So basically, what happened is that I think the whole population was exiled to exactly the samemby the famous Stalin. Yeah, yeah. And and then what happened there is that I think people like the different groups were exiled there got mixed together. And there’s, I think there’s no chance for people to speak to local to their own language, because everyone’s mixed together. Right.

Dalia 6:24
I think I think it’s not just because mixed I think one of the biggest problems was even at the point when people were sent out in the first place, because how they were set out is, it was just people were appearing one day and saying that they need to leave their houses. And not everyone would warn people that they’re going somewhere cold, cold, cold. Yeah. And so they’re not given any details at all, for how long they’re going to be staying there, where they’re going. So some people who are compassionate, they will tell that you’re getting somewhere in Siberia, pack very warm. Because it later turned out that people had to travel in trains that were not even supposed to be there was a there was no we’re not passenger train trains, the freight trains, those were for cattle. Okay, for cattle or cattle? Yes. So and yeah, that’s ended up that. I think 1/3 of people did not even manage to get to Siberia in the first place. Yes.

Jianggan 7:24
Okay. I mean, a lot of lot of turbulent history Exactly. Over those years. I mean, I read a lot about a history of mangoes and, and people how people got dispersed into different areas. And it’s, it’s actually, I mean, in a way fascinating, but in a way, it’s there’s also lots of tragedies along the way. I think the group was migrated from Volga to China, I think, along the way, lots of people died, because it’s a long migration to injury and illness, there’s, you know, all sorts of issues, attacks by local bandits and stuff. So it’s never easy. Back to current current affairs. So how, I mean, I know that the common carrier is like, the only Buddhist like Republic, Europe.

Dalia 8:13

Jianggan 8:14
So how’s the how’s the practice? Like? I mean, do people go to temples a lot? And what exactly do people sort of wash it?

Dalia 8:23
Yeah, so, I think there are definitely some similarities and some differences between the kind of Buddhism that is mainly practiced in Kalmykia, and then other parts of the world. So to begin with, there are definitely some similarities. For example, we also believe in this idea of reincarnation. And another thing is that for example, Dalai Lama is considered as a spiritual leader. And, but there are also some differences. So for example, if we would see that one of the main principles of Buddhism, such as not harming living creatures, will be practically impossible historically with the way comics were living because they were living this region where nothing is growing. So they were they used to, they used to depend on cattle as basically their main source of survival. So I think that definitely left some changes into Buddhism, practice. But there are also some similarities. For example, the buildings are the temples. There are many temples in Kalmykia. We actually have the biggest temple in Europe. It’s located in Elista there, it’s called the Golden Temple of Buddha Shakyamuni

Jianggan 9:52
will also say quite interesting, if you if you look at the history of, of the mingling of tribes and the origin Normally you have this like folk religion and and shamanism and stuff. But, but as the society became more sophisticated as they started, I mean, becoming rulers of more more complex civilizations, that they had to get the religion organized. So I think, I think part of them became Muslims. So the last remaining dynasty of India, the Mongols, that origin and Mongolia, the Muslims, right person speaking Muslims. And I think I think much of the movements in China became synthesized. I think many people actually have two names, they have an original Mongolia name, and the Chinese name. So to solve this, will they choose to adapt, depending on the circumstances? The part about Tibetan Buddhism was actually quite interesting as well. So because I do think that the original I think when they, when they build the Empire, and I think they invited some some Tibetan monk, to help them create, created the script, the written script, you see, the the mobilis script was actually created by a Tibetan monk. And, and of course, I mean, having an organized religion, who will help you organize people who actually settle in a particular area much better. I mean, if you if you have a tempo, you don’t really like move that much, right? Because you have some somewhere to go to worship. Interesting. What else is very least, like how is in town, like, I mean, we have never been there. So I don’t know.

Dalia 11:37
So I just remember how I showed the picture of my hometown to a friend, who also never saw never saw my hometown in person. And what shocked him the most was this big contrast between traditional architectural elements that are very typical for Asian culture, such as pagodas, you know, these roofs and combination of those with traditional Soviet buildings. So I think this is one of this whole distinctive features of my hometown.

Jianggan 12:12
I’ve been to a few places, I’ve been to Estonia and Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine, they all have the same housing estates. kind of ugly, but but very typical. What do people typically do there? Like, for living? I mean, what kind of economic activities are there.

Dalia 12:34
As for economic activities, I would say that the main one would be definitely would be agriculture. So I guess in this way, we’re continuing this legacy of our ancestors. And this is what the Republic is, basically, depending on livestock breeding, livestock grazing. And I think this is something that Kalmykia kind of became known for other parts of Russia as well. For example, we’re really famous for our Kalmyk meat.

Sabrina 13:10
The architecture is influenced by Asian and post Soviet right, so about the food that you guys see.

Dalia 13:17
I would say to us for hours for food Kalmyk cuisine is the most popular one here, which makes sense. And I would say the majority of the dishes, they would comprise of meat. Actually, this is something that I only realized after I moved to a different country where I realized how much meat I was consuming before. And I think this is something very typical to for people. In my hometown, we eat meat with basically every dish. And this is something that was just like that for a really long time. Because historically, my ancestors as nomads, they just needed a very filling dish, a very filling meal that would last them all day. And that not only concerns, the meals, but also the drinks as well. I just told you today about the common tea, how it is a very special kind of drink, because it’s very interesting. It’s very filling. And it really warms you up keeps you warm in winter, but then it also cools you down in summer. So it’s called “Jomba”. And the way you make it is that you mix this a very strong tea, you add milk, then you also add butter, salt, and nutmeg. So it’s very interesting drink I really recommend you to trade. And another thing is that I think I mentioned before that comic is really famous for its meat, which has this like tiny specks of that, I think is an attribute of This expensive kind of marble meet. So yeah,

Jianggan 15:04
there’s some kind of base that we have never heard of and tested to try any kind of

Dalia 15:16
one of the most one of the most famous dishes is called “Dotur” which is basically cooked intestines. So yeah, this is a very well loved and cherished traditional dish. Personally I have not tried it, it’s a bit extreme for me. But it will try some interesting other interesting dishes for example, I even tried camel meat once it was also very interesting very rare. But we also have something that is less less shocking and something that is very traditional for example, we have “Bortsoki” which are basically fried pieces of dough but I think the most interesting part of it is that we shape it in very different ways. And each of those shapes represent something and we will do this for some big celebrations like Zul or like “Tsagan Sar” are and the way you would do it for example if you make a big round shape that will be the sun – “Tselvg” or then you can also make like a braid with the dough and that will be called “Moshkmr” and that will basically represent intestines but it will basically mean that you will have a rich rich year

Jianggan 16:44
nice nice so I remember when I was when I was visiting Tibet right and you always have this this this kind of butter tea in Tibet and an asset that is extremely helpful in winter. Well yes, yeah, yeah, we need to keep yourself warm. But they put I think they put butter and milk or whatever. We

Sabrina 17:06
just put butter what’s the difference between the butter tea and the butter coffee we have at the coffee shop? I don’t know

Jianggan 17:22
To effectively compare the boat you have to have tested both right that’s why I never trust people when they said that this tastes like shit because I’m pretty sure that never tested should before

Dalia 17:36
the butter coffee actually no

Jianggan 17:41
off is that they put butter in the coffee or they put a chunk of butter probably my dream Okay. Try and

Sabrina 17:53
do a let us know the differences. Yeah.

Jianggan 18:01
Of The Year of doing intensive research about coffee, all sorts of things. Which with with with the sugar with milk with with with with caffeine Now we’re entering new territory with not only milk but also salt. We’re looking at a map from Elista to Istanbul is similar to from Elista to Moscow. Yeah, you should see Sabrina’s face her choice why what happened? She can’t talk anymore.

Dalia 18:40
so I just show Sabrina the cost of like rent in Elista for one month okay, this is this might be on the lower end. Okay, let me try find something maybe a bit more client. So something more high end would be costing you 217 Singapore Dollars

I think yeah, that will be an apartment. I think maybe three room apartment.

Jianggan 19:06
Nice. Nice

Sabrina 19:13
If you want to if you rent in Singapore or if you want to buy a house even if you BTO, which is supposed to be the cheapest way to buy a house. It don’t even come close to $200 a month. nowhere close to 2000.

Jianggan 19:28
Nobody knows what BTO is but it’s it’s as common scheme for for young people to bid for some of the soon to be built houses at really cheap prices right?

I once once visited a friend in Krishna in Moldova, and it was realized that oh, he stays in a two story penthouse in Moldova, which actually actually works out to be cheaper than renting a house here.

Dalia 20:00
So that’s his property, right? That’s his property.

Jianggan 20:02
No, the company password, which I didn’t even doesn’t have to pay. And he has a huge patio for for barbecue. Okay. Host party of like 5060 people. Yeah. Okay. We have done a interesting tour of illustre. We have other we have not been there like, personally, but would love to try to save some time? Yeah. Maybe somebody can arrange the import? Yeah. So So today, you have been here for a couple of months during the internship, how do you like Singapore?

Dalia 20:35
So if you look at it, and Elista is basically a speck of Asia, in Western culture. And the way I see Singapore is pretty much the opposite. So it’s located in Asia, but I think they’re definitely can feel the influence of Western culture on it. So what do you see how this culture compares? It was similar there would be how different they would be. And yeah, of course, they’re, they’re very different. Whenever I would stroll in Chinatown, it seems to me like it’s something that is just a bit familiar, but very, very different still, nevertheless. But of course, it’s a very, it’s a completely different world. So I was not traveling much in my life. I’ve only been to well, Germany, and then Singapore. So I feel like the contrast is very, very high. Everything is so different from Germany, and it’s very different from my hometown. Whether it’s the cost of living the way people leave the weather, the climate. Yeah, the traditions as well, the culture. And it’s really exciting.

Jianggan 21:52
So for someone who grew up in Singapore, I mean, your perspective will be very different. So after this, you will go back to Germany. Yeah,

Dalia 22:03
exactly. I’m not going to be continuing my studies in Germany.

Jianggan 22:06
Okay. So wish you all the best. And really, I think thank you for all the hard work of last few few months and building the Impulso podcast as well as I think there’s lots of work behind the scene, right. And now we have Sabrina back. Say hi. Hi.

Sabrina 22:25
Yes. So from next week onwards, you’ll be hearing my voice instead of Dalia’s. But you’ll still be hearing Jianggan’s voice, so don’t worry.

Jianggan 22:36
I think I think you’re just causing people to worry. Yeah. So I think before we go, we’re recording this on a seventh of December 2023, which is actually, so

Dalia 22:47
today’s actually a very big day in common culture, which is called Zoo. And it’s commonly referred as kind of like a common birthday for all Kalmyks, even though I’m feeling like it’s kind of losing this meaning over time, and it’s more perceived now as a new year. Nevertheless, this is one of the biggest celebrations. And I just have so many sweet memories of preparing for it with my family.

Jianggan 23:17
Well, what everyone hasn’t seen, but yeah,

Dalia 23:18
so the thing is that I think before Kalmyks did not really celebrate their own birthdays, which I think was really It would be really hard to track. So they were just celebrating one common birthday. And today was actually one of the first like, the first time in a few years when I heard someone congratulate me abroad first.

Jianggan 23:40
Yeah, the whole office congratulated

Dalia 23:42
Which was really, really nice.

Jianggan 23:44
Cool. Yeah. So so happy to have had you around for the last few months, and all the best and come back and visit.

Dalia 23:52
Thank you very much. Thank you much for having me.

Jianggan 24:01
I think Singapore has so many import regulations. So if you want before you Yeah, yeah, we should should get someone to get a proper import license. Yes. Oh, okay. We’ll see. So happy Zul.

Dalia 24:17
Thank you very much. Bye. Bye. Goodbye, everyone.

Sabrina 24:21
And we’ll see you next week for another episode of The impulso podcasts.


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].