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Visualizing Central Asia: "Kazakhstan Food" (Camille Lanese)

Camille Lanese is a 3rd year at UCLA and an Applied Linguistics and Russian Studies double major. As a part of Russian studies, this summer, she was supposed to travel abroad to Kazakhstan. Instead, she was able to continue with the classes remotely due to the pandemic. The program had all Kazakh professors who taught them not only Russian, but also about Kazakh history and culture. A subject that interested her was the cuisine they have. She researched this subject for her final presentation, and she hopes you enjoy learning about it as much as she did. 

About “Visualizing Central Asia”

During the summer of 2020, the UCLA Program on Central Asia invited students to create short videos about the Central Asian region. These projects explore the students’ connections with the area, drawing on relevant courses, study abroad, research, and/or issues of personal concern. The videos cover a range of topics including politics, society, language, food, architecture, and gender. Together, they offer a portrait of Central Asia from a variety of perspectives, contributing to our understanding of a region that is often overlooked.

Video Transcript

In early Kazakhstan, Kazakhs were nomads and shepherds who raised cattle, sheep, camels, and horses. Because of this, they mostly ate lamb, horse meat, dairy products, and bread. 

Dishes such as shuzhuk, kuyrdak, and beshparmak were common because of their nomadic lifestyle. Shuzhuk is a type of sausage made from horse meat. Kuyrdak can be prepared from the meat of a horse, sheep or cow and consists of heart, liver, kidneys and other organs, usually served with onions and pepper. The nomads had to save their food. They cooked food with salt and dried it to preserve it. This method is still used today in some dishes.

In the South of Kazakhstan, the region had more cities that were populated, so they could trade products such as fruits and vegetables. After the Russian Empire conquered part of Kazakhstan, the nomad herds began to eat less, because many Russians settled on these lands. In 1922, the Soviet Union annexed Kazakhstan, and many Kazakh nomads settled in cities.

The tradition of the Kazakhs was to boil meat and serve it in large pieces. The host served these pieces according to a special tradition. He served pelvic bones to the elders, brisket for a son-in-law or daughter-in-law, and neck bones for the girls. The host handed the guest of honor a ram's head. They ate at the dastarkhan, which was set for a festive meal.

The location of Kazakhstan allowed its cuisine to develop as it was. Kazakh culture was influenced by its neighbors: Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Germans, Koreans, Chinese and more. All these peoples have contributed to the Kazakh cuisine.

The Green Bazaar is a great place to visit in Almaty, a city in Kazakhstan. The Bazaar is an important central place in the lives of the people who live there. It is called the "Green Bazaar" because people buy and sell local products there, such as vegetables and fruits. A lot of spices are sold there, as well.

In the ancient Kazakh religion, animals were important because nomads relied on them for everything. They believed that spirits inhabited animals. Guests of honor were sometimes asked to bless the animal and ask its spirit for permission to taste its flesh.

Now, as part of the Muslim religion, Kazakh Muslims celebrate Eid al Fitr, which is the day Ramadan ends. During the celebration, they bring sweets and baursaki to each other.

Popular food in Kazakhstan are dishes like beshparmak, manty, and plov. Beshparmak is a dish made of dough and meat. Horse meat is added to beshparmak. Manty is made from lamb or beef. Plov is a dish of rice and meat. 

Most Kazakhs drink tea, but there are other interesting drinks that are well-liked. Koumiss is the milk of a horse. Shubat is camel's milk.

Kazakh food has much tradition and other cultures made into it and the dishes of the region are delicious.