So far, I have just been gossiping about Kyrgyz food, so I guess it’s about time to show you the nice sides of Kyrgyz “cuisine”, that I found by now.
1. Arbus (арбуз)
The most basic but overly important and extremely delicious fruit here is “arbus” which means – you’d have guessed – watermelon. Not only are they lots cheaper and have much more flavor (sooo sweet) than the ones that you can buy in Germany, I learned that it is also a whole science in itself to pick “the right one”. When I went to the bazaar to buy arbus for the office with my colleague, she started first knocking on the melon to find out about its inner consistency (dull noises indicate soft flesh – to pick a good melon the sound has to resonate). Then she made the sellers cut open the watermelon at the top and take out a triangular-shaped piece (it’s impressive how exact they can do that) to make sure the flesh is not pink but purely red). She was really picky about that and by the time we left with the perfect watermelon I think most of the sellers were really annoyed by us. I’m pretty sure I won’t start with the same procedure (although I already started the knocking thing) – it’s quite easy: it will taste better than the German one anyway.
Additional to the traditional way of eating it, I just recently discovered smoothie-like “arbus”-drinks, with a really intensive taste.
2. Kurut (курут)
One quite controversial food among foreigners is kurut. Some love it, others can’t stand it. In this case, I’m among the first group. Kurut is simply great. It is small white dried yoghurt balls which are made of sour milk, dried in a fabric and formed either into balls or oval-shaped pieces. Kurut is extremely salty and in my view tastes a bit like Ayran – only stronger! It is best to buy it from yurts in the mountains where it tastes fresh and strong. Usually it is eaten like a snack. I will certainly import some kurut to Europe and see whether my friends are kurut-lovers or –haters.
3. Kaymak (каймак)
I totally got into Kaymak when we were traveling to Jeti-Öguz, a small town on the East Side of Issyk-Kul Lake not too far away from the mountains that border China. We had breakfast there at some yurts, and I swear I never ate that much before, since I’ve arrived here. The breakfast consisted of several dishes, lots of tea and salad, but the best thing for me was kaymak – which is thick and creamy, “boiled and mildly fermented” milk. It is totally packed with calories but together with лепёшка (the usual bread here, that is quite similar to Turkish bread and also really tasty) and homemade jam it is completely worth it.
4. Chechil (чечил)
I discovered chechil during my first trip to Issyk-Kul. Apparently it is not originally Kyrgyz, but I have never eaten it before. It is a special cheese, that is sold to be combined with beer, but I also eat it just with bread and butter. The special thing about chechil is, that it doesn’t look like cheese at all and is to be eaten with hands and ripped apart. It is mostly smoked and has a high salt percentage which makes it very tasteful (I will add a picture eventually).
5. Lagman (лагман) – it’s art!
The only real dish (means: not just snack) I mention in that post is also the only one I actually cooked here (or rather participated in cooking) so far: lagman. Usually it is eaten with meat, either fried, as a soup or simply boiled. The special thing about lagman (distinguishing it from all the other meat dishes I already talked about in another post) for me is the noodles, which are mostly handmade in the restaurants (or at least that is what everybody claims). Last weekend, a Kyrgyz friend gave us a crash-course in preparing these extremely long noodles which make the whole dish kind of hard to eat. The preparation process is quite time-consuming (so I won’t do it quite often I guess) but also really funny and more like producing art (or: “basteln”) than cooking (although I know: cooking is always art to some people).
So here is what I learned: the dough has to be formed to thick spirals and rest some time in a layer of oil. Then you can start to form it, meaning, to try to make it as long and thin as possible, by pulling, stretching and kneading it carefully without breaking it. The last step is to wrap it like a long cord around your hands while leaving about 20 cm distance between them. Then you start slamming this dough-cord on the table or just shake it to make it even more stretchy and flexible (see picture below). Afterwards the noodles are boiled and eaten in one of the ways I described above. In our case we did the quite unpopular vegetarian version. Extremely tasty!