Meal 91: Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is the very definition of landlocked. It’s farther than any other in the world from the sea, its rivers end in lakes rather than flowing toward the ocean. The vast majority of the country is situated over 5,000 feet, with massive mountain ranges covering most of its modest expanse.
Yet the country hardly isolated: this land played host to part of the Silk Road, and several nomadic groups have called the area home. As with so many other countries, a land named for one ethnicity neither fully encompasses that group’s expanse, and also incorporates other peoples. Accordingly, the menu I planned for Kyrgyzstan samples from various influences on the country. (Also, were I to go for a strictly traditionally Kyrgyz meal, it would have turned out a lot like what we had for Kazakhstan, which we didn’t enjoy so much.)
Our guests were Sarah, Estel, Alondra, Heidi, Ken, Miguel, Ana, and Maya. We’re pictured doing the traditional gesture of thanks after the meal: you raise your hands in the air, say “omen,” and rub your open palms slowly down your face.
Lapyoshka | Flatbread | Recipe
Though the name has a classically Russian sound, this is a truly Central Asian bread, puffy and substantial. I found it pretty fun to make, especially since I’ve recently developed the touch and patience to do rolled breads slowly. Letting the bread rest for even just 3o seconds when it feels like it’s about to rip makes a world of difference. Not having the traditional tandoor-like stone oven, I opted for a pizza stone as the surface, which did the trick. It only takes fifteen minutes to bake, but by the time I took the second loaf out of the oven, the first was nearly gone! Clearly a successful, if unfancy, appetizer.
The patience I’ve learned with flatbread was ten times as important with these amazing noodles, an incredible demonstration of the magic of gluten. (Don’t even think of trying to make this one gluten-free, it won’t work!) These come from the Dungan people, who came from eastern China and settled across the region and are known for being farmers, in contrast to nomadic herders, which may explain their association with a grain-based specialty. Though their percentage of the population is small, their impact on what people eat is big, as these noodles are really popular. With good reason!
Assuming you have lots of time and patience, they’re not difficult to make. The trick is to let the dough relax, once when it’s in a big mass, again after it’s rolled out and cut into chunks, and maybe even a third time while you’re in the process of stretching. What a pleasure it was to take a piece of dough that shaped like a slightly oversized piece of Trident gum, and pull and stretch it nearly effortlessly into a strand over two feet long! Toward the end I was trying out the showier and speedier technique of wrapping the noodle around my hand to accomplish the stretching.
The soup was fine, a fairly basic broth of lamb and vegetables (including that pretty watermelon radish, which is the closest I could find to the “green radish” the recipe calls for), but the noodles were really the star. The texture was great: enough tooth to provide substance, but still soft and easy to slurp. Next time — and there will be a next time — I’ll try them pan-fried.
Paloo | Rice with lamb and carrots | Recipe
Paloo, plov, pilau, polo, pilaf…so many languages, so many nearly identical ways to refer to rice with stuff in it. Compared to how intricate this sort of thing can be in Persian or Indian cuisine, this version with carrot sticks and lamb may seem pretty modest, but this felt like a big step compared to the utter blandness of Kazakh food. The dish wasn’t as exciting as the noodles, probably in part because I discovered after everyone had left that I’d forgotten to distribute cloves from the garlic head that I’d steamed on top!
The drinks were just about the same as for Kuwait: watered down kefir and tea. After the hyper-caffeinated experience with the last meal, Laura and I took it easy with the tea this time!