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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Journey to Bishkek #2: The thrill of plov, the agony of besh barmak

Now it's time to compare the national dish of Uzbekistan with that of Kyrgyzstan. In the right corner, we have plov, the pride of the Uzbeks...

You want to dive-in and swim around in it, don't you?
...Plov is where we get the word pilaf (via Russian). And let me tell you, no one in Central Asia does plov like the Uzbeks. You've had fried rice before, yes? Well, plov is, head and shoulders, a full step above that.

Plov is fried rice mixed with shredded carrots, onions and chunks of lamb amid raisins and, sometimes, dried apricots. And perhaps a few other surprising things. All of it lightly tossed and fried in cottonseed oil.

This is, I would say, absolutely memorable. What a treat! Everyone in central Asia agrees that the Uzbeks have the best plov, and dudes jostle over who gets to drink the oil in the bottom of the fry-pan. It is said to increase the sperm-count, you know. (I am not making that up.)
And in the left corner, we have the national dish of Kyrgyzstan... besh barmak...

Really, you never want to eat this. Trust me.

In Kyrgyz, besh barmak literally means "five fingers." Because that's what you eat it with.

It is a plate of mushy flat noodles studded with chunks of horsemeat and horse-sausage. What that means is that the sausage casings up there are made of horse intestines. And if you look closely, you'll see the sausage cross-section contains pure, 100%, horse-fat. People with heart problems are advised not to partake.

I will not kid you. This dish was the among most unpleasant things I've ever had on my plate. Getting through it was like an ordeal.

I've eaten horsemeat before, okay? It's actually quite palatable. But besh barmak? Jeez, I don't know what the hell they did with that horse. Maybe they force-fed it a diet of thin-chopped linoleum shreds in lieu of hay, but I swear I will never eat that... that thing again in my life. Ever.

After one helping, I had to desperately swish-out my mouth with vodka a few times to kill the taste. Forgetting about the whole thing will take a few more mouthfuls.

I suspect it's a prank they play on foreigners.


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