In Kazakhstan, they eat, drink and ride horses (Feature)

October 22nd, 2008 - 10:58 am ICT by IANS  

Almaty (Kazakhstan), Oct 22 (IANS) What gallops on four legs and flows in the Kazakh blood? A horse - an animal that has an age-old connection with the people of this Central Asian country, providing not only transport but also milk and meat.Kazakhstan, which declared its independence on Dec 16, 1991, after the collapse of the former USSR, has traditionally been a region of herders. The horse is its national animal.

In the pre-historic period, people in the region that is now Kazakhstan hunted wild horses. Archaeologists also believe they were the first to tame the animals.

In tough climatic conditions and a seemingly endless steppe land, horses have long brought a degree of certainty to Kazakh lives by being a source of transport, leather, tools (chiselled from their bones), milk and meat.

Nomads may be a rare sight now, but the alliance between man and the beast continues. The horse has secured its place in Kazakh culture through the vicissitudes of time and history.

Horse riding is still a symbol of bravery and skill. Horse meat, horse fat, its internal organs and mare’s milk are the highlights of Kazakh cuisine. Markets can often be seen stacked with horse meat, and horse dishes are found in abundance and variety throughout restaurants here and also in capital Astana.

“If you are here, and don’t eat horse meat the visit is wasted,” said a Kazakh interpreter, as this visiting IANS correspondent hesitated to taste the delicacy at a traditional restaurant here.

Horse meat, somewhat like beef and venison, is slightly sweet, tender, low in fat, and high in protein and an indispensable part of culinary traditions here.

Some of the dishes include kumis, or fermented mare’s milk. It tastes better when the odd smell is not sniffed or simply gotten used to.

Then there is kespe, soup laced with noodles, onions and thinly sliced meat. Karta is minced horse stomach, smoked and boiled and served with peppers and herbs. Then you can also like to have kuyrdak, pieces of meat, lung, liver, heart and kidney chopped and mixed with potatoes.

Horse intestines, cut into almost 20-inch sections, are stuffed with fat and meat to make kazy and shuzhyk, two garlic-laced sausage varieties.

Zhaya is made from hip meat, smoked and boiled, zhal is made from smoked and boiled neck fat, and suryet, dried meat, is preserved to be consumed in the harsh winters.

In Almaty’s Yesil (Green) Bazaar, horse meat is sold in a separate, spotless part of the meat section. And horse butchers selling sausages and an array of horse meat products are all women who smilingly explain their recipes and also offer you a taste of their creation.

In Kazakhstan, different horses are meant for different purposes like racing, riding and work. A breeding horse, for instance, cannot be served on the dining table!

Kazakhs harvest their animals and horses are usually killed in winter for various uses. As a local saying goes, they are the second biggest killers of horses in the world - “the first being wolves and then the Kazakhs”!

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