A light hearted, but not derogatory look at some interesting overseas cuisine. Traditionally, Kazakhstan has been a nation of animal keepers and sheep, camels and horses have all figured in the country’s cuisine. Over the centuries, little has changed.
With outside influences creeping into many countries’ dishes across the world, the idea of true national cuisine has become a little blurred over the years. This isn’t the case however in Kazakhstan, where the locals stay committed to their culinary heritage.
Traditionally, Kazakh people worked on the land and they relied heavily on their animals for transport and for food. As a result, sheep, horses and even camels provided part of the nation’s diet.
Moving through the centuries, other than the fact that camel meat has all but disappeared from the average Kazakh family table, little has changed.
The national dish of Kazakhstan is Besbarmark: This uses either horse meat or mutton and it is boiled and served with pasta sheets and a meat broth. The dish is known locally as five fingers as, in keeping with tradition, you use your hands to shovel it down, rather than have to mess around with niceties such as cutlery.
In ancient times, Kazakh farmers and herders couldn’t afford to waste any part of an animal that had been slaughtered and that tradition has survived to the present day, where it is evident in the many offal dishes that the country produces.
Perhaps the one dish that would fill western stomachs with unease is ‘Zhal’, whose main ingredient is lard, taken from the neck of a horse. Ulpershek would run that claim pretty close however: Western tastes have evolved to turn away from the use of horse meat in general but this dish uses parts of the horse that would be particularly hard to stomach. Essentially, Ulpershek is made with the aorta and heart, added to a liberal dose of fat.
The whole thing is made in a kettle and although it’s widely eaten across Kazakhstan, traditionally, it’s known to be shared between sisters in law as a sign of friendship. Kazakh animals have also been important through the years for their milk production and the milk products that the locals consume are no less esoteric.
A fermented mare’s milk drink known as Kumys is arguably the most popular among the locals while sheep and camel’s milk are also widely consumed.
Moving on to dessert, the rustic theme continues and you would expect to find fried dough pieces being served with nuts and dried fruit at the end of a meal.
Western readers may have studied this with some distaste and if you were about to have your lunch then I apologise. However, Kazakhstan as a whole has largely resisted outside influences and in sticking rigidly to their own culture and tradition, perhaps they should be roundly applauded?