Food is a rich and important part of Kyrgyz culture. The staple ingredients of meals tend to be meat, vegetables, and rice. Ган-Фан (gan-fan) and манты(manti) are two of my favorite dishes so far. I would describe Ган-фанas a type of thick sauce with chunks of meat and vegetables over rice. Манты are dumplings with meat, potatoes, and onion inside and are usually steamed but I’ve also had fried ones in restaurants and they are quite delicious as well. I tried the other day to learn how to fold мантыinto in its dumpling shape, but most of what I accomplished was proving that I am not cut out to work in a Kyrgyz kitchen. My host family assured me that I folded them perfectly but I have learned that, when it comes to my cooking skills, they lie to me out of love a lot. The fruit here is also absolutely delicious. The first thing I ate when I arrived in Bishkek was a plate of fresh strawberries. They are smaller than the strawberries I am used to but the flavor is amazing. I have developed a slight obsession and I get irrationally excited when I see them being sold on the side of the road by the bucketful.
One thing I’ve noticed here is that food is not wasted to the extent that it sometimes is at home. My host family makes many dishes that reuse ingredients from the previous night’s meal so as to make the most out of the food they have. This has definitely made me think about the attitude toward food in the US and the amount of times I have seen leftovers tossed out instead of being reused to create another meal. Another thing I have noticed, with my host family but even more so at restaurants, is how popular tea is. My tea consumption at this point is off the charts because pots of tea seem to be equivalent with complementary glasses of water one gets at restaurants in the US. Any time I have a meal here, I can be sure that there will be some type of tea on the table.
Hospitality is a very important part of Kyrgyz culture and it is believed that a big part of being hospitable is making sure that guests are well fed. I have noticed that this mentality about food and hospitality reaches into the professional world here as well. I am interning with the Soros Foundation in Kyrgyzstan and have been to a few meetings and a conference so far. At each of these events, I can always be sure to find a spread of tea, jam, cookies, and bread at the very least and on various occasions I have seen four-course meals laid out.
Food is also used to bring the family together and is a way to show that you care about someone. I share my host family with another girl from my program and the phrase we hear the most from our grandmother is most definitely “кушатькушать!” (eat eat!). It seems to be her constant mission to make sure that we are either drinking tea or eating bread at all times. I have stumbled sleepily out of my room at midnight to go to the bathroom only to find my grandmother waiting for me with a fresh cup of tea when I come out. Our host sister Aychurek, or Chuci, told us that this is because cooking and providing food for members of your family is a way to show affection and that you care about them. Meals with my host family are one of my favorite parts of the day because it is a time when we are all together talking about our days and other random things. The mentality of eating as a thing to be enjoyed and savored and not just a process to get through as fast as possible, is something I really love about this culture and something that I want to bring back with me when I leave here.