Of course everybody has his own idea about what is "typically Russian" or just "Siberian". Anyway the choice of souvenirs is always strongly dependent on the buyer and the eventually lucky receiver and is therefore very subjective.
We can only recommend to keep your eyes open and to rummage around on the markets. In small villages local handicrafts can be found time and again, which are rarely plugged, but are waiting to be discovered, e.g. in the window of a house.
The one, who is now curious already, what is actually going to await him there, will find the top ten of souvenirs here, which can be found in nearly every backpack of our home comers - and in general for which the ones at home are already hoping. Maybe also, because it mostly concerns who knows why - something to eat and drink.
Mostly the first thing one thinks about and what inexperienced also directly associate with Siberia.
The great variety of regional brands offers every time something new even to insiders. Until now a new sort was offered to us as the ultimate in taste during every visit and we never suffered a disappointment.
It is really worthwhile to try a selection of different regionally sorts. Quarter of a liter bottles proved to be very handy - small, unbreakable and the export limit of one liter can be used optimally. Though they are not available everywhere, one needs to fall back on 0,33l or 0,5 l bottles. Family packs of 2,5 liters have been sighted already as well, but have not been exported by us. By the way, until now not any customers officer has counted the number of bottles in our backpacks.
Our first hot tip! Pure honey, directly from the bee-keeper. In the market hall you can try all sorts. The light kinds are mainly made from clover (very aromatic, flowery), the dark ones from buckwheat (very strong, tart). The big one liter glasses are ideal for personal use, the small ones for giving away. However you should wrap them up very carefully; every glass, we transported, has leaked!! Mostly the tops are only made from plastic or are not fitting correctly. Our tried and tested procedure: wrap the glass into a plastic bag, then put paper or an old cloth around it, which upholsters and absorbs spilt honey, and finally put everything into a shut plastic bag. Then bury it deeply in a huge backpack. Do not transport it in your hand luggage, where it shapes up more easily.
Liquid honey is leaking even faster than creamy one, but in return - in case of a broken glass - you can sift it through a fine sieve at home to remove the splinters and to finally enjoy. How you do it...
Jam, which is rarely used with bred in Russia, but is used as sweetener for tea or is eaten together with Blini. The jam is a little more liquid and sweeter than ours. As it is mostly homemade though, it is a heavenly temptation - especially made from wild strawberries and from wild dwarf apple trees! Unfortunately you can rarely buy it in the market hall and you need to comb the small stalls of the Babushkas attentively. As for the transport look at honey glasses - Varenje spilt over the whole backpack is rather sticky than heavenly...
Tea, herbs & spices
You can try the many different spice assortments for meat and fish or borshtsh. They are available in dried form, either in small paper bags or in small wooden boxes, made from carved birch bark, which form a nice present as well.
Also the varied, self-collected herbal teas are recommendable (e.g. tshapress - wild thyme). We would advise you against black tea; those are mostly cut-price imports from India or China and therefore nothing special. The original Russian tea came from Grusinia during the last years, but due to Chernobyl it cannot be found on the markets anymore.
Hot tip #2! Sachan Daila is a small insignificant rhododendron, which is collected in steppes and on plateaus. It is said that it cures various illnesses, from cough to impotence, but above all it has a wonderful aromatic taste together with black tea. Simply brew two/three leaflets per pot together with the tea. Most suitable for that are mild blends such as Darjeeling or Ceylon teas. We can advise you not to drink the pure infusion, because it gets you going. You can buy Sachan Daila for e.g. in small bags in the market hall.
Nuts and dried fruits
The one, who wants to survive the Siberian winter absolutely needs calories. Besides bacon and sprats, marinated in oil, nuts, pine nuts and dried fruits in huge amounts are very popular. Correspondingly the choice in the stalls is very rich. And which other way is even more appropriate to convey the patient Russian way of life than by nibbling at pine nuts?
The stalls with smoked fish inside the market hall in Irkutsk are every time like a pilgrimage stop for us. It is not necessarily a very reasonable pleasure, but a very delicious one.
Especially the Omul, which is only dwelling in the Lake Baikal, is worth to try it out, but also every other sort, which is handed over the counter for tasting by the friendly salesladies. Surely it is no souvenir for the summer season, but as soon as it gets cooler outside and if the way home is not too long, it is always a welcome present.
We cannot recommend the dried Omul, which is supposed to be shrink-wrapped. Here Russian methods are painfully clashing with the German wish for hygiene.
This is again a thing what is often associated with Russia - ok, for those who like it. In every case, caviar is unquestionably cheaper in Siberia than in our home grounds or in Moscow, but nevertheless you should not buy cheap tins, if you want to have good caviar. Cheap tins contain mush to a major part and are not worth the price. Caviar is also available in plastic bowls, which are not recommendable for transport though.
Carvings made from Birch bark
It is good to have a closer look at the receptacles, made from birch bark and available in various sizes (e.g. for storing sugar, tea, spices or jewelry etc.). They are typical and besides that are very practical and not kitschy. If not purchased directly from the manufacturer, you can still catch them next to the Lenin Monument in Irkutsk just before the flight back or right before the travel with the TransSib.
CDs and Cassettes
Every season in Russia has its own disco hit. It might be the same thing elsewhere, but if one song rings at you from every kiosk all the time, the corresponding cassette definitely belongs to the memorable things at the end of your stay. Besides that you can find some real good music among the Russian groups and rummaging around is definitely worthwhile. A few years ago mostly pirate copies were sold in the kiosks, but this has reduced meanwhile and became more professional.