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On the way to the bazaar

February 22, 2010

blog 3The bazaar was within a half hours walking distance from where we lived, we decided to learn how to get there by foot. Tamara said that we could get to the bazaar either through a main thoroughfare, Masaliev street, or cut across the Uzbek neighborhood called a mahalla. She was a little nervous about getting us lost in the maze of walls that make up the Mahalla neighborhood, but after taking a general consensus of the group she decided to walk us through.

This neighborhood was a complete break from Russian colonial and Soviet Blog 2architecture found in other parts of the city. Our initial observation of this place was that it had been built in an organic way. Many of the streets were barely wide enough to accommodate automobiles. It seemed tightly knit with walls and ornate doorways, narrow and interlocking streets, fruit trees in front of walls. We spotted pomegranate, quince, apple, djida (a little fruit that resembles a small apple), fig, mulberry, grapes in vines shading buildings and rosehips. Children and women milled about the streets.  Most of the women had their heads covered. The children played on the street and stared at us quietly.

As we walked through the Mahalla we were curious about what was behind the walled compounds. Each of these buildings had distinctly large doors with blog 4 ornate woodwork above and along the roof line. Some of the doors were ajar and you could catch glimpses of the inner life of the houses. Each had a courtyard with buildings that faced inward. Windows with wood-paned glass reflected through the space. Tamara was able to find a woman that let us inside one of these buildings. She was the older daughter-in-law in a household of three families.

Eventually we found our way out of the labyrinth and ended up on the path to the bazaar. The path followed the river with shade trees and an old chaikhana (Tea House).

We crossed the river over an old bridge and entered an amusement park with a number of rides and attractions. We arrived at the bazaar through a small tunnel underneath a bridge. The tunnel was dark with vendors selling shoes and clothes crammed on both sides. From here we entered the noisy bazaar.


Storing, aging, and cooking meat in Central Asia

February 5, 2010

There are some differences in the cultural practices of selling, handling, and eating meat in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and in California. For the most part Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country and, though people drink vodka and beer, they tend to not eat pork. But keeping in mind that this is a multi-ethnic society, in the Central Asian bazaar, one can find pork, though usually relegated to a separate building or a corner somewhere.

From the perspective of Western culinary tradition, all meat in Central Asia is grass-fed and free-range. Meat in Central Asia is not industrialized. One example is that eggs and chicken tend to still be expensive because it is not mass-farmed, except for the ubiquitous frozen thighs imported from Brazil and the US.  Interestingly we did meet some Americans living in Osh teaching locals how to raise chickens in more industrial style practices.

In Osh, if you go to the bazaar there is no real difference in the price of primal cuts of meat. Most people here will slaughter their livestock and sell it in pieces. For example a lambs leg will not be different by the kilogram than the rack. In other words, there is no hierarchy between different cuts of meat.

In Central Asia typically amongst the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs there is a high regard for the bones and what they represent to the familial hierarchy. These bones are cut and distributed during dinner to reaffirm this hierarchy. For example, the head of the lamb will go to the oldest or most honorable guest at dinner. The ear and tongue goes to children to mind their parents. The shanks goes to the mother in law. The breast goes to the son in law.

In California we regard the practice of making primal cuts in the tradition of western butchery. Western butchery though different in France, Britain, America and different parts of the world tends to follow a standardized selection of primal cuts. The butcher will receive the meat from slaughter houses after processing in large cuts generally half carcasses. Afterwards butchers make cuts of muscle groups like sirloin, top sirloin, round, brisket, shank, and rib. Subsequently, these large pieces of meat are cut down to the size that is appropriate for your dinner. This gives us the ability to choose our meat in a store, or restaurant and pay more for the choice cuts and less for those cuts not considered as good.

As for aging meat, Central Asians tend to sell meat when fresh. When storing meat they salt it with course salt and keep them in cooler spaces. One can see whole balconies in apartments with meat stored this way. In America and much of the western industrialized world, butchers age meat at least a few days up to nearly a month depending if they are “wet aged” or “dry aged”. The aging process keeps the meat from being tough and optimizing the flavor and giving the ability to cook meat “rare” or “medium rare.”

Working with local meats in Osh, although we could select cuts of the meat from the butchers, often we could not cook it the same way. For example, we selected some racks and sampled them at home by frying them on the pan. Though they tasted delicious, the racks were too tough. This influenced the way we would prepare the food in our restaurant. We tended to boil or braise our meats. Another difference is that in the west we tend to eat our meat on the rare side, or sometimes even raw. Here in Central Asia people will cringe at the site of a little blood and never eat meat raw.

Nan, Khleb, Lepeshki…

February 3, 2010

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Nan is distinct round bread from Central Asia, it is also known here as Lepeshki. We have spotted many of these Day 4 011Day 4 013breads in various sizes and styles in the bazar. The bread has a thin circular center that often represents the sun. The outer ring of the bread is softer. The bread is cooked in a Tandor oven by sticking it to the wall of the oven to bake. This gives it a distinct flat bottom.  They are often baked with sesame seeds on them.  Here in the Ferghana Valley nan is a mainstay feature of any meal.

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Here’s an interesting little bread we found during our project. We really did like them for the aesthetic alone. These breads were quite unique from the other breads because they had a hole in the middle. The texture of the bread was harder and more sour than any of the breads we had tasted before. At first we wanted to use these for our hamburger buns but they proved to be inappropriate when we tasted them.