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Old 06-07-2016, 09:42 AM posted to,
Travis McGee Travis McGee is offline
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Default Huntington: The food of the Khirghiz

On 7/5/2016 8:38 AM, Opinicus wrote:
"As might be expected from their surroundings, the food of the
Khirghiz is very limited in variety, and is eaten in the simplest way.
A typical meal, such as one in which I shared and many at which I was
a spectator, is likely to prove unpleasant to civilized nerves. One
day, as I sat cross-legged with a circle of Khirghiz on the *** felts
which carpeted most of the floor of a rich kibitka, our host came in
holding up the skirt of his gown full of dried dung. With this he
kindled a pungently smoky fire on the stones in the middle of the
kibitka floor, and on the flameless conflagration put some tea to
boil. When this began to simmer, he took from the lattice-work of the
kibitka a cloth heavy with grease and dirt, and spread it before me,
questioning the entire circle meanwhile as to the advisability of
serving cream with the tea. After much discussion, a boy was sent to
fetch both milk and cream while the host placed on the dirty cloth a
metal tray containing small pieces of bread and sugar. The bread was
in the form of cubes half an inch in diameter, such as I had seen the
plump, red-cheeked women cooking like doughnuts in hot fat at the
bottom of enormous iron bowls, the sole cooking utensils. Among the
strictest nomads bread is a great rarity, and I have had the pleasure
of giving a piece to children who had never tasted it before. After
the tray was in place, our host took some china bowls from their nest
in a round wooden box, and having wiped them with another greasy
cloth, filled them with tea. By the time this had cooled, the boy
returned with news that his quest had been successful. At his heels
followed a fat Khirghiz housewife, who dived into the small women's
sanctum behind the ornamented screen of reeds which invariably stands
on the right as one enters the door, and with a wooden ladle scooped
almost solid cream from a large wooden bowl into a small china one,
and then poured milk from a leather flask into another smaller wooden
bowl. As she handed the milk and cream to one of the men, she saw that
bread was needed on the tray. Kneeling before a red and green
leather-covered box, she reached behind her heels for the
silver-loaded bunch of keys suspended from her long braid of straight
black hair, and, finding the proper key, took from its safe repository
a handful of carefully treasured bread. Now the tea-drinking began,
and it continued till the supply was exhausted. Each guest had three
or four bowls, but even that was not enough, so each one finished with
a wooden bowl of "kumiss," the fermented milk that still remains one
of the most important articles of Khirghiz diet. Then when the
servants had smacked their lips over the remains of the meal, each
man, with a look to see that his neighbors were ready, raised his
hands to his face, and all in unison stroked their beards, with a
muttered prayer to Allah.

"During the next hour or two, big stories of brave deeds and travel
were told, or less praiseworthy talk of quarrels and women kept the
party animated at first, but soon the kumiss took effect, and
drowsiness began to prevail. At length, to the relief of all, the host
appeared, and we knew that the real meal was at hand, for the
tea-drinking is, after all, but a new-fangled Russian notion. In his
hand, at the end of a spit, he bore a small piece of roasted fat from
the immense kidney-shaped tail of the sheep that we were to eat.
Pulling his big knife from his girdle, he cut off morsels and placed
one in the mouth of each guest as an appetizer. Behind the host came
his boy, bearing a basin and a copper urn of water, from which in the
oriental way he poured water over the hands of one after another of
the squatting circle, beginning, of course, with the foreigner as the
most honorable. As the Khirghiz put out their hands to wash, they made
a peculiar gesture in throwing back their long sleeves.

"The washing over, dinner followed promptly - an enormous quantity of
boiled mutton in a huge wooden bowl, flanked by two smaller bowls full
of the broth in which the meat had been cooked. The host waved his
hand over the bowl and cried, "Eat;" some one else cried, "Eat;" and
then each cross-legged Khirghiz cried, "eat," and, whipping his knife
from his girdle, plunged his hand into the dish. The scene that
followed was like the feeding of wild animals in a menagerie. Each man
grasped a bone, and with his knife and teeth ripped off huge chunks of
meat or fat, and with a mighty sucking and smacking drew them into his
mouth. The daintiest portions, the head and liver, were offered to the
elders of the feast, who skillfully gouged out an eye and yanked out
the tongue. When the edge of appetite had been appeased with two or
three pounds of meat and a pound or two of fat, most of the guests
took a drink of soup, and then, with idly hanging greasy hands and
greedy eyes, watched while the epicure cracked and sucked a bone, and
one or two of the more skillful carvers prepared a delicate hash. The
fat tail, which is really delicious, a selected portion of the liver,
and a good supply of other fat and meat were most cleverly sliced into
fine fragments and mixed with soup in the bottom of one of the bowls.
When the mixture was ready, each man rolled up a handful and sucked it
noisily into his widely distended mouth, or, as a mark of respect and
affection, put it into the mouth of his neighbor. The meal was over in
an incredibly short time - the last bones were cracked and thrown to
the edge of the kibitka; bowls of soup, followed by kumiss, were again
passed around; the big top boots were oiled by cleaning the greasy
hands upon them; the beards were stroked; and the main business of
life was over. Day after day the diet is the same as at this feast,
except that the amount of meat is less and of kumiss more. The mutton
is occasionally fried or boiled in its own fat, or roasted on a spit.
Sometimes a young colt is killed, and is eaten as the greatest of
delicacies. the meat, the one time that I ate it, tasted like a cross
between the best grades of veal and lamb, and was fit for the table of
the most exacting epicure."

- Ellsworth Huntington, The pulse of Asia (Boston and New York:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1907), 117-121. Yurt

This is similar to a description of a feast in "The Seven Pillars of
Wisdom" by T. E. Lawrence.