Kyrgyz food entails some form of meat – goat, sheep and on special occasions horse but almost never chicken or other fowl – fried or boiled or stuffed into dumplings or dumped into soups. Surprisingly, fish is also part of the local diet, coming from the few but well-stocked lakes in the area. A copious amount of bread is served with every meal, as is tea. And almost everything is cooked with onions, bellpeppers, tomatoes and potatoes (what was the Kyrgyz diet like before the discovery of the new world?). My favorite is, of course, deep fat fried meat dumplings with hot sauce, known as samsi. Kyrgyz drinks are by and large extremely bitter apart from the tea, which is drunk with a shocking amount of sugar or even jam, in the Russian way. I’m guessing the bitterness of the drinks is supposed to help cut through the grease of the food – as a general rule, the more animal fat in a meal, the better.
Which brings me to my worst food experience here: eating a stick of pure, unadulterated goat fat. I was lulled into a false sense of security after a great dinner, so when my host mom passed me this suspiciously white stick of something, I put it in my mouth without thinking. It was a straight up stick of distilled fat with absolutely no flavoring, no additions, no nothing. How this passes for a desirable post-dinner snack is beyond me.
As for culture… I’ve made a few trips to the Kyrgyz theater and philharmonic; managed to get a research fellow position with a local university; and went to a massive family party with one of my teachers (tons of food, tons of vodka, really funny games … there was a professional M.C. there who organized various family games, like: a wife sits on a chair, her husband “rides” up to her (fakes riding on a horse, with a whip and all), gets on his knees and cracks some jokes, and then they “ride” off together, she in front and he behind with the whip … again, maybe Kyrgyzstan isn’t as prudish as I sometimes think). The host family is still great (As an update: Aika turned down the marriage offer, at which point the guy suggested he kidnap her… a “no means yes?” moment. I was freaked out when she told me this, but nothing ever came of it and she seemed quite relaxed the whole time). Otherwise I spend most of my time shunting back and forth from classes, internet cafes (research paper-ing), and the perennial deluge of homework.