Archive | August, 2013


23 Aug

These are not two words I associate each other, and I was surprised when we were served fish.  I should have remembered the photos of the big hauls of large fish my Mongolian friend has caught for in both Kazakhstan and Mongolia lakes and rivers contain numerous fish.  Kazakhstan also has the Caspian Sea as a western border and the Aral Sea in the southwest; there are numerous large and small lakes in the southeast and north.

IMG_0611 We went with our host family to Burabay National Nature Park one weekend.  A three hour drive north from Astana through the steppe on a brand-new six lane highway, it is a summer vacation destination.  Along the highway, in rest stops, parking areas, or just wherever, people come from local villages vending locally harvested mushrooms (pickled) and honey (absolutely delicious). Burabay was full of people.

IMG_0613In one of the bazaars it finally dawned on me that the local lakes were not just for swimming.

IMG_0612These huge crayfish were boiled.  And delicious.

IMG_0839We eventually went swimming at a smaller lake which was not crowded further away through the steppe.   And came back to our rented log home to eat a feast out doors which included dried smoked fish.  Also delicious.

The other event where fish was served was the large gathering of women to celebrate and bless my goddaughter.  During the first course, there were little tarts filled with some cheese and topped with roe and two kinds of cured fish.


The third course was this beautiful presentation:

IMG_1737Salmon on rice in cream with a parley-oil emulsion and roe.  Quite marvelous.

Astana also  has a wonderful Oceanarium, the furthest from any ocean in the world.  One walks through a tunnel with fish enclosing you on both sides and from above.  The fish found in the Oceanarium are not natives.  Nor are they eaten.


There was a man in scuba gear feeding fish when we went.


Where horses are Food, not friends

19 Aug


Let me get this right out in the open.  Kazakhstan is not a place for vegetarians or animal rights activists.  The population was halved by Stalin using starvation and gulags.  Kazakhstan values its children.  They are a main priority.  Animals are primarily for food.  In Kazakhstan people eat horses, cattle, sheep, goats, fish, chickens.  Though I never saw any pigs or pork I was told it, too, is available.  On the vast steppe one sees herds of hundreds of cattle, or horses, or sheep and goats grazing without fences in the care of one to three herders.

Horse meat is readily available in the bazaars.  Along with horse sausage.

IMG_0591Horse has yellow fat, which similar to venison, is around the outside of muscles rather than in the muscle tissue itself (like beef).  It is a lean meat.  The horse meat we ate was either boiled, steamed, or in some kind of sausage.

IMG_0340Behold Beshbarmak, literally “five fingers”.  Historically (and even currently) eaten with the hands, hence the name.  The horse is boiled in salted water, removed and large thin rounds of home made noodles are added to the salty broth to cook.  Meanwhile, thinly sliced onions are cooked in horse fat.  When the noodles are done, they are placed on a platter, then the horse, then the onions scattered over the top.  It is delicious.  Sometimes potatoes were cooked before the noodles and added.

IMG_1639Another bishbarmak, with horse sausage.   And yes, most people eat at least some of the fat.

IMG_1664My plate at a party.  Yum!

IMG_1797The other main way we ate horse was in manti, steamed dumplings filled with chopped horse, potato and, onion.


Isabelle and I had fun learning to package the manti correctly.


Manti were very popular.  Eaten hot right out of the steamer, maybe with a little hot pepper sprinkled on.

And here is another boiled horse dish which has thin noodles (they were called strudel) that are layered and boiled after the horse meat and potatoes.


Here is a link to an old NYTimes article on Kazakh horse use.

Large Land, Large Hearts

12 Aug

The hearts of our Kazakh friends are as broad and open as their land.  Generous, loving, kind, they enfolded us into their family and insisted on our rest and comfort.  To spend this significant chunk of time with their extended family, including my goddaughter and her cousins, was a blessing.

IMG_0240We spent the majority of our time in Astana, which replaced Almaty as the capital of Kazakhstan 15 years ago.  We lived in a micro-district close to where lots of high-rise housing is built (and continues to be built), on the far side of the southern bank of the Ishim River where the new part of the city is.  The old Soviet part of town is on the northern bank.IMG_0277This is Khan Shatyr, the King’s Tent, a large modern shopping mall filled with higher-end European stores. It the building that anchors a line of new impressive government buildings bisecting the city.

IMG_0294Astana is in the middle of the steppe.  It is windy, like Chicago.  Temperatures range from +40 to -40 degrees C.  Though it rained almost every day, it is almost arid.  All the trees one sees in the city have been planted by hand.  With intention.

IMG_0325There are fountains and flowerbeds galore.  And not just any old flowerbeds: these have designs, curliques, spirals, outlines using flowers of different colors, heights, and texture.  They are lovely living ornaments.IMG_0305There is also a lot of sculpture.  Indigenous animals, people, mythological figures, cultural symbols, historical statues: all sorts and of varied quality.  These are horses, a popular theme.IMG_0357Colored glass is also used prominently in the new buildings.  And at night many buildings either have lights which emphasize ornamentation on the building, or have a colored light display which travels and changes on the side of the building.  Ornamentation for beauty is apparent almost everywhere:  even elevator doors and walls are inscribed with geometric patterns to please the eye.

IMG_0289This is looking from Khan Shatyr towards the President’s palace.  The tower is Bayterek.

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