The bazaar in Osh

February 21, 2010 by

The bazar of Osh is rugged. Several narrow streets parallel the river; on the main thoroughfare we find mostly clothes, videos, bags, stationery… everyday stuff. Small sideways openings lead to other businesses; the covered meat market where everything is in plain sight, hooves, livers, severed bull’s heads, lamb fat and intestines. If you know where to look you can find a separate room ,with only one entrance door, where Russians sell pork and also a few very expensive chickens, the only ones not imported frozen.

Different areas sell different things but boundaries are not well defined. There are television sets, hand made knives, fabrics, suits, fruits, vegetables, kitchen equipment, tea, religious books, some dried fish, cell phone cards, spices, iron works, planks and probably anything else you might want.bazar_shoe 006W

Everywhere you go you will also run into some kind of restaurant or food stand.


How to open a restaurant in the bazaar

February 15, 2010 by

First look around for a location.

Tamara, our host, selected a nice restaurant, beautifully situated by the river and part of a complex of eating places owned by two brothers. We could use part of their kitchen and figure out the dinning area. We met there for tea on the first day with Shaarbek and Amanda who were visiting from Bishkek.

Despite being centrally located, it was out of the main thoroughfares and a bit isolated, so Amanda and Jerome went for a little tour of the vicinity and by chance located an empty restaurant, right next to the vegetable vendors in the thick of the old market.

Find an ally.AlmatzW

Nina, whom we met in Bishkek, gave us the name of a friend of hers,Almaz who lives in Osh and is passionate about his city and its culture. He takes us on a tour of the market and we end up hanging out with him for a couple of days, learning about food, local customs and talking about our project and how best to go about it. Later he will interview us for the local newspaper.

where do we start ?

make a deal

get the keys


Rakhmanberdy is a Hadj, meaning he made the pilgrimage to Meccah and follows religious precepts.

We arrived in Osh during Ramadan and this is why the restaurant is closed.

He has run this place for 2 years, serving lunch, mostly to vendors of the surrounding food market. He gave us the keys and told us that he will be around to help cook and bring in some customers. This is great news to us; we will be able to learn directly about local cooking but more importantly he will become a collaborator in the project.

Later he will make Oromo.

Move in



Amanda Eicher is an artist living in the bay area. She is working with children at the B’ art center in Bishkek for her residency with the Global Art Lab.

Almaz Kalet is a journalist leaving in Osh with his wife and their two children.

Shaarbek Amankul is an artist and runs the B’art center in Bishkek.

Looking for Artists

February 14, 2010 by

One of our goals for the residency was to get to know and collaborate with local artists in Osh. We were interested in creating a platform for exchange and contact between artists from two different contexts: American (specifically the SF Bay Area) and post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. However, upon our arrival, our search for artists, especially the younger generation, turned up few results. Jerome said that he felt a big contrast between his experiences with the Open Restaurant in the Bay Area where it was easy to find artists to work with and our difficulties to find such collaborators in Osh. We asked a number of our key contacts in Osh to help find artists. Yet, even Almaz, a local journalist and our irreplaceable guide in Osh who had a very profound knowledge of the city, could not provide us with any cues. He explained such lack by referring to the general trend of most talented young people leaving Osh.

The shortage of artists was part of the dire economic condition that the region was in. Southern Kyrgyzstan was considered to be poorer in contrast to the north were Bishkek was located. Furthermore, growing poverty after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to increasing rates of labor migration. Almaz gave us staggering numbers for migration. If the country’s population was officially five million people, about two million were abroad to earn money for their families in Kyrgyzstan. Migration seemed to have affected every family. Everybody had a cousin, a son, a brother or sister who was away in Moscow, Astana, Almaty, or Dubai. Migration was like a war, in the words of Almaz. It has brought an eerie absence into the lives of Osh residents.

The Union of Artists

February 13, 2010 by

Our host Tamara introduced us to the artists affiliated with the Union of Artists, mostly in their late fifties and sixties. Although previously part of the elite intelligentsia, the artists that we met during our project seemed to have been pushed to the margins of society by the changes of the last couple of decades. Accustomed to a different regime of art-making where the Soviet state commissioned and remunerated for their paintings and sculptures, these artists now struggled to make their living. The state no longer allocated funds for cultural production, so artists were left on their own to survive. Many had to quit art-making altogether and earn by providing taxi-service or selling and buying in a bazaar. The artists that we met at the Union of Artists made money through various projects such as hand-painting advertisement signs, carving grave stone monuments, or making portraits of the new local businessmen.

The Union of Artists is an organization developed during the Soviet Union. It facilitated the relationship between the socialist state and artists. Through their membership in the Union, artists received studios, apartments, supplies, and even commissions. In Osh, there was a large compound that combined a large exhibition hall with a series of studios behind it. The exhibition hall displayed a number of Soviet-era paintings, produced in the genre of socialist realism. As the artists giving us the tour of the building explained, “This is part of our history too, so we have to preserve and remember it.”

The studios of artists were located behind the exhibition hall. The courtyard that conjoined the studios was empty and overgrown with grapevines. Later, we saw a group of several men working on a stone bust.

We stepped into a couple of studios. Dyadya Lenya was an older Russian artist, who turned out to be a master portraitist.

Day 5 and 6 041

In a conversation, he told us about his love for traveling. He customarily brings along his art supplies and makes “plein-air” sketches.

Nusurat Kambarov, who later contributed to our project, told us a story about this portrait of Lenin that hung in his studio.

What happened to Lenin’s chin ?

Setting up with the art students

February 12, 2010 by

After giving a talk about the project at the university where Tamara teaches, several art students volunteer to help us put the restaurant together.

The students

Some of the students come by to see what we are doing. We ask them to help us paint a sign that will hang over the entrance. The sign is made from a board used for rolling dough and a cutting board in the shape of a pear.

The  board says:  KITCHEN (кухня) and the pear: EAT (кушать)

Ayoum and her friend decide to make cushions for the benches

They show us some of their artworks

Gulnaz and Aida

February 11, 2010 by

A number of artists taught at the local university. However, just a little prior to our arrival, the art department had been cut, and all the art teachers were laid off. Gulnaz  had lost her job as a teacher too. To find new occupation, she embarked on a project to build a studio where she could make pottery as well as to teach young children interested in this craft. She also worked with a few former students to make felt souvenirs (such as hats, cell phone pouches, wall hangings, wallets) for sale.

Gulnaz and one of her student sewn and embroidered a series of aprons. When we first discussed it she showed us reproductions of rock carving from the nearby mountains. They are depictions of ancient agricultural technologies.

The Ferghana valley, which Osh borders, has been an important agricultural center for at least 2500 years. River flows from the Pamir mountain range turns this arid, semi-desert land into fertile soil.

While we were visiting the Union of Artists, we found a studio full of activities in the last room of a pretty deserted second floor.

There we meet Aida, who later will teach us how to make Lakhman. A local artist and designer, she runs this small studio working under a portrait of Chingiz Aitmatov, the celebrated kyrgyz author who in 1958 wrote Jamilia.

She brought one of her silk paintings, it was part of a show that toured the United States.

The rain

February 10, 2010 by

A small downpour sends everyone looking for plastic sheets to hang over their stands. The  vendors tie their string to the metal pole at the entrance of the restaurant.

Suddenly we are connected to everyone around, becoming part of this small social network.

Some of them will come to eat at the restaurant like this pensive looking girl who worked at the garlic stand across the street and came almost everyday.

Or our close neighbors, a family who runs a small pepper and herb stall right in front of the restaurant’s kitchen . They make different kinds of pepper and garlic paste.

The restaurant is next to a busy street. On one side we find vendors selling yellow carrots

and red rice .

They are, with lamb, the main ingredients for plov.

The other side of the street leads to the vegetables and fruits market.

The produce are similar to what we could find in a mediterranean market.


February 8, 2010 by

The main stove sits at the entrance of the restaurant a few feet from the street with the prep area right behind.

It is a very public kitchen and everybody can watch us, like the neighbors, while Rakhmanberdy is making Laghman, a hand-pulled noodle, that we will serve with meat balls and tomato sauce, an homage to Marco polo who might have stopped at the Osh bazaar on its way to china.

We will cook and learn from each other for the first three days until Rakmanberdy left us to go organize his son’s wedding.

The kitchen was pretty rudimentary and trying to improve things by buying a stove, for example, didn’t always prove useful.

Most of the prep was done on a pine board, bought for the occasion and on the last day we  made hamburgers, complete with homemade ketchup

and “provençal” mayonaise from Russia.

We also cooked onions on a grill handmade for the occasion

by the blacksmith who work in  another part of the bazaar.

It became part of the pantry, along with the stencil, cut by Nusurat Kambarov,one of the Union artists and used by the student to make the entrance sign.

Meat market

February 6, 2010 by

The meat market is in the center of the bazaar, not far from the restaurant.

It is housed in two covered buildings. The larger one is cut in half by a central aisle occupied by candy stalls.

We found beef, some with a very yellow fat and lamb.It is slaughtered when it is at least 2 years old, which is much older than the lamb we use at Chez Panisse but it tastes very good and not strong at all.

Every part of the animal is used, even the skull cleaned carefully by specialized butchers.

Rakmajon takes Jerome to task!

In the meat market everything can be seen, from a pile of skull to a table full of entrails.

Aida tells us how to choose meat as we are preparing dinner during a power outage.

Storing, aging, and cooking meat in Central Asia

February 5, 2010 by

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.