Adrianna Neuenschwander, 126
While Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand have to deal with eating crickets, ants and chicken feet on the daily, volunteers in other parts of the world have their own dishes they find hard to swallow.
Matthew Pruitt is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, a country that has it’s own unique food culture, often centering around meats and bread.
“Bread and tea are symbolic of hospitality,”Pruitt said.
According to Pruitt, anytime a guest visits a house in Kyrgyzstan for any reason, the host must offer them bread which they taste before saying a short Muslim prayer. Bread must never be placed upside down, dropped or thrown away.
A famous dish in Kyrgyzstan is Besh Barmak, which means “Five Fingers” and is always eaten only with the hands. The dish consists of noodles, meat and pepper and is eaten on special occasions. “I’ve had it with cow stomach, sheep stomach, sheep heart (which was actually good), sheep brain, cow intestine, horse meat, horse stomach, horse intestine, horse (well, horse everything) and more,” Pruitt said.
Kyrgyzstan’s national drink is kumiz, fermented mare’s milk.
“Kyrgyz people will tell you up and down how useful kumiz is to your health, why you should drink eight cups a day in the summer (so you don’t get the flu in the winter), and why even if you already drink eight cups a day, you should drink more.” Pruitt said.
There are some Kyrgyz dishes that are more enjoyable to the American palate. There are several types of meat dumplings, like mante and samsuh, as well as rice dishes like Gan Fang (rice, minced beef, sautéed tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, with beef sauce) and Plov (fried rice, carrots, peppers, and some kind of meat.)
Pruitt has not only been embracing Kyrgz food, he also has been challenging some of the culture’s perceptions about food culture.
In Kyrgyz culture, men stay out of the kitchen. “I asked if I could cook my own food, they simply said “No, you are a man. You know this will be seen as shameful.” But when his host mom went away for the weekend, leaving Pruitt, his host dad, brother to fend for themselves.
“About four hours after my host mother left, my host father came into my room looking totally defeated and asked me if I could cook dinner. I obliged, rifled through the fridge, recovered five eggs, one bulb of garlic, one onion, and some random assortment of peppers and threw together omelets. They loved them. Ever since, I’ve been able to cook for myself.”
Food, and the culture that surrounds it, can be the most interesting part of a volunteer’s service. And whether its kai mod daeng in Thailand or kumiz in Kyrgyzstan, there are dishes that might be more exciting to talk about than to actually eat.
Categories: Outside Perpective