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National dishes and meals
Kazakh culture and national traditions

Meat Products

Before proceeding to talk about the meat products of Kazakh people, we will briefly tell you about the rules of slaughtering.

Maldy soy (Slaughtering) - In ancient times every second man was a master of slaughtering, but today you can hardly find them. Some people while slaughtering a sheep would cut so that the cervical vertebra remained with the head, which is wrong. Usually Kazakhs slaughtered a cattle for invited guests, to make feast and celebrations (such as a toi) and earlier mentioned shildekhana, and for some other occasions. If they couldn't afford slaughtering they might not be too concerned, but if there was no meat hanging on the kerege or no vegetables or grain in the bottom of the sack they might become upset!

In Kazakh tradition, women were not allowed to perform initial slaughtering, but they could join later cutting of the meat. Before slaughtering, Kazakhs used to pray. So, the first step (after praying) was killing the animal and then cutting the spinal cord. Not performing in such a fashion might restrict the blood from flowing freely out of the carcass, and the meat would be black; and Kazakhs never eat black meat. Slaughtering of a camel was a bit different. For that the camel had to be on its knees. Kazakhs would say that the slaughterer's hand was light if the cattle immediately died after the first attempt. Not killing the animal quickly might earn a man the reputation of being heavy handed. The head of the sheep or horse about to be slaughtered was pointed to the west. After removing the skin, the man would cut a carcass to pieces, while women were typically assigned to deal with the offals.

Musheleu, zhilikteu - cutting a carcass to pieces and cutting the marrow bones. First of all we said the man would cut the carcass to pieces, because in our tradition every piece has its "owner" (or is assigned for various persons); i.e. the head and the pelvic bones for guests and kinsmen; the breast bone and ankle bones for the son-in-law a large intestine for herdsman," and neck vertebra for the children. After cutting into pieces, the man must remove two white arteries. Should a guest perceive that the host had overlooked this duty, it would bring great shame upon the household, and especially upon the hostess who had forgotten to remind her husband of this responsibility. Then the cutter was responsible for removing glands under the arms, all the while not confusing the sections of meat (usually Kazakhs divide a carcass into twelve pieces). For kuyrdak, Kazakhs used to roast meat right after slaughtering, and cuttings. The host mustn't mix or confuse rib, fillet and vertebrae pieces, for should this occur, the hostess would be blamed as if guests had bought the meat. So slaughtering and cutting up the carcass into pieces correctly, inviting guests, and distributing meat correctly was real art. We believe that the younger generation must relearn this art.

Pisiru - Boiling the meat Kazakhs first OF all put the meat into the kazan and boiled on a strong flame in order to get rid of bloody foam or spume after butchering. Then they would reduce the heat somewhat, for too strong a fire would make the meat too tough. In old times, Kazakhs used sheep dung to boil meat: it was very convenient and the meat didn't separate from the bone. When the broth became thick, they'd add wild garlic which grew in the mountains. In ancient times Kazakhs didn't know about onions. The meat mustn't be over boiled; one should be able to bite it from the bone.

While boiling, the cook had to put meat pieces into the kazan separately, otherwise it might easily be overcooked. On the other hand meat was convenient to handle and remove from the kazan. One more thing a cook had to remember: the fat intestine had to be added to the kazan while cooking in order to keep meat from splitting. In the Winter, freshly slaughtered and boiled meat was often eaten right after reading the Koran. During later feasts and celebrations, however, people wouldn't boil too much, thinking previously boiled meat was fine. As for kuyrdak - roasting meat while cutting the carcass a man would give some pieces for kuirdak and they'd add lungs and the liver. The lungs they'd roast with meat; later too the liver. This kept the liver meat more tender. Women knew one more secret about preparing liver; first they'd fry it separately, then they'd add it to the meat.

Saktau - preservation or storage Kazakhs were real masters in preserving meat. You know that corned beef is tasty and doesn't spoil. Kazakhs too used to cure meat by aging and drying. Especially tasty corned pelvic meat was easy to cut and eat. When kazy was cut, it looked like a rainbow. In early times Kazakhs knew three methods of preservation. First, aging and smoking which required a fire and a shed. The fire had to be a smoldering one with yellowish smoke, and the meat was hung from a post. This kind of preservation came from an early time. A second method involved digging frozen meat out from the snow before if thawed. Meat kept its taste and nutrition when frozen and later cooked in this manner. Mostly herdsmen used this method, preserving a carcass immediately after slaughtering.

In another method, after winter slaughtering some relatives might ask for sybaga. For this they'd preserve a portion of meat in a sack full of flour and take it with them to the summer pasture. In summer they'd roast the meat without using water in order to protect it from rotting; but the meat mustn't be overcooked. It was then added to other food. Finally, if a family wanted to take fresh meat somewhere in summer, first they might wash it with cold water. Then they would salt it and hang it for a while. But the person who would receive it had to wash it for long hours before cooking because there much salt would remain.

Uitip alu - Pitching Poorer families couldn't afford to slaughter a horse or a cow, so they might slaughter a fat sheep or a colt. After slaughtering and getting rid of the skin, they'd "pitch" the carcass, which is a method of rotisserie cooking on a spit over an open fire. Pitched meat was especially delicious. It would not be dried but would be used in daily food preparation. According to Kazakh tradition, though, sybaga for the relatives in remote areas and for respected guests would also be put aside.

National dishes and meals

Kazy (horse sausage). Only wealthy people among the Kazakhs could afford to slaughter a horse in its pasture. If the horse was fattened by eating grass in the lowlands and by mixed fodder its kazy would be white and lean. Were the horse grazed in the mountains, its kazy would be yellow and nourishing.

Kazakhs especially cared for horses which they intended to slaughter, keeping them separate from other cattle. Horses fattened for eating often became so large they had difficulty moving. In order to bring fattened horses from the mountains, first of all they'd wrap his stomach, because going through mountains his kazy would split, so they'd bridle it carefully. For this kind of job, wealthy people hired only experienced zhigits. Kazakhs never used to eat the horse' s head, but in order to document for others ones wealth (i. e., that a family was wealthy enough to slaughter its own horse in the Autumn), the horse's head would be kept in a shady place or in a mud-hut for years and years. Kazakhs measured the fatness of the kazy by fingers. For example, the sausage might have a diameter like that of a small finger, a large finger, etc. It was difficult to put larger amounts into an intestine. Kazy is tasty either hot or cold. And since horses' fat is difficult to freeze, it is very good food for the traveller. Kazakh people preferred kazy to mutton. While serving meat, Kazakhs first of all prepared kazy for everybody to enjoy. It was also good food for treating kinsmen. Nowadays people slaughter a horse too. Kazy is a very dear and delicious meal but the tastiest part is the fat stomach. So, people serve kazy with karyn (stomach). In old times people liked to drink fresh meat broth with kurt. Even in winter after drinking this one felt full and warm.

Shyrtyldak - Crackler. Kazakhs used to melt fat in a large bowl, then add some sugar to keep it from congealing. They then soaked bread in it and drank tea. Crackler was used instead of butter since it would not spoil. If you added it to tea without milk, you'd drink many cups of tea. Kazakhs enjoyed it. Usually they ate them with bread, but you mustn't eat it too much, otherwise you'd get a stomach upset.

Kyimai - Sausage Kazakhs usually made sausage during Winter and Fall slaughtering. All neighbors would gather that day, so after the slaughtering, the host had to feed them all. So they'd roast a large kazan of meat; after that, they'd eat sausages and besbarmak (a dish eaten with five fingers). How did they prepare the sausage? First they'd fill an intestine with a small pieces of ground meat, fat and blood, adding garlic, pepper and salt as necessary. This sausage is very delicious; after eating this you feel happy.

Zhauburek (kabob) - Kazakhs prepared many different meat dishes. Zhauburek was prepared very quickly, which made it popular among hunters and travellers. First of all they'd slice the meat, then they'd thread it onto sticks or vires. Salt and oat flour would be sprinkled on it, and it would be turned frequently to keep it from burning. Another special type of Zhauburek (or shashlyk) was made of flat pieces of breast meat. Especially good shashlyk was made of the breast of the wild goat. We miss this shashlyk; it was good for eating with kumiss. When we remember shashlyk and kumiss of earlier days, our mouths immediately begin to water.

Ulpershek - Is a dish made from the heart, aorta and the fat (usually of a horse) in a prepared form. Kazakhs made it especially during the winter slaughtering period and kept it till spring. Between the end of winter and summer, abysyndar (wives of elder brothers in relation to wives of younger brothers) could invite and treat each other to ulpershek during the absence of their husbands. Sometimes, due to the lack of other meat, they would prepare it in the kettle. They'd chat, talk about different things, and enjoy ulpershek. Kazakhs had a proverb about this "If sisters-in law were friendly, there would be much food." But if one of them wasn't invited, she would get offended. Husbands always tried to leave the best pieces of meat for ulpershek for their wives' entertainment needs.

Koten - was also a kind of sausage eaten in Spring. Kazakhs also ate it during foaling or when a cow had a new calf. The hostess would invite neighbours and herdsmen. Koten is a large intestine which would hold much meat. If many guests were invited, other meat dishes besides koten would be added. Sometimes rice or kurt would also be served. Everybody became full eating this sausage, so it was another one of the tasty meals of Kazakh people.

Mypalau - This dish was made of sheep's brain. The hostess would put all of the brain into a wooden bowl and add some marrow from a pelvic bone; some pieces of meat; and salted fat broth with garlic and stirred well. When it was prepared, everybody could taste it, but mostly it was intended for elders. It is more nutritious than meat in the dish, so it was served to honored guests.

Akshelek - Is a large camel bone distributed to children after slaughtering and cooking meat from a camel. After butchering, the hostess would boil one of the large ankle bones and treat neighboring children. The eldest man after eating all of the meat and fat from the bone, would prepare a clean cutting surface and chop the bone up. He would then distribute it to visiting children. They would enjoy eating the tasty, soft parts of the bone. After that the man would shake or scrape the inside of the bone for the marrow and put this into the wooden bowl. Again he would distribute these soft camel parts to all the children with a spoon.

Another matter connected with aksheiek: Kazakhs called good natured, open hearted, frank and magnanimous persons "Aksheiek." Even the shaking of a bone by such a man refilled an empty bowl.

Kyimai - This is another kind of sausage, but it was eaten later in the year. Earlier we mentioned that during slaughtering women dealt with offals, so offals (or intestines) were small and large. The large intestine they filled meat, especially the breast and rib meat. Garlic, pepper and salt were also added. When it was aged, kyimai was quite tasty, and well made ones might be as good as a horse sausage. They'd eat it at lunch time or they'd serve it to their guests; sometimes they'd prepare them when making beestings and curds. If it was smoked well, it would last for a long time, and wouldn't spoil. As for taste, it was also very good "meal of Kazakh people.

Zhal (the layer of fat under a horse's mane). Zhal was another special portion of fat sliced especially for invited guests, to be served with kazy, a rump and karta (a large horse intestine which was very tasty when cooked. This combination was perhaps the most nutritious of all possible meats, and would provide more than enough to eat.

Karta - All horse meats were considered tasty by Kazakhs, but especially kazy, karta, zhal, zhaya, karyn. When horses were extremely fat Kazakhs would say "Fat has eight legs." When a horse became very heavy, his karta would all turn into fat. In early tiroes Kazakhs would fill it with meat and make it a very delicious meal: eating just one piece would fill one for the whole day. And, Karta was difficult to spoil, so it could be preserved for a long time.

Zhaya (rump of a horse) - The horsed rump was also cut separately. Zhaya was particularly good to eat because it was dense and had no tendons or sinews.

Ak Sorpa (white broth) - Ak sorpa was usually made in fall. When people moved to winter mud huts some wealthy men didn't join them. They'd keep with them twenty or thirty sheep and ask the herdsman to graze them in the place where the wormwood was. They also left two horses to process kumiss. If there wasn't enough kumiss, they'd add some cow's milk and pour it into kalmyks wooden bowl to make it sour. After that, they'd slaughter fattened sheep, then they'd boil it. When it was boiled perfectly its broth thickened, because pelvic bones and soft places of other bones make it thick. So after eating this fat meat, drinking nutritious kumiss and meat broth, the rich man immediately got young and would spend the whole month with his tokal (junior wife). Sometimes he had a bath with a wormwood. It was considered to be like a rejuvenating remedy, and a rich Kazakh man might feel as if he was in a resort.

So ak sorpa was a special meal for the rich men, as everybody couldn't afford it and Kazakhs said that ak sorpa was the meal for elder people.

Kuiryk-bauyr - This was the meal served to kinsmen at the wedding party which we discussed earlier. After boiling this meat (being sure to keep it soft) , it would be sliced thinly. Then sour milk and salted broth was added. Kinsmen would then be served the dish, and the sur milk applied to their faces. Women typically served this dish while singing, because this meal was a meal of oath or commitment. So they'd sing "We ate kuiryk-bauyr and became kinsmen". This practice is no longer adhered to.

Urker koterilqenson (when pleiades appeared). In ancient times Kazakhs ate but little goat meat, because it froze quickly. Yet, in October when Pleiades appeared, Kazakhs would often slaughter a fat goat to eat. Goat was very delicious; especially tasty was its meat broth which was also very thick. After a meal like this, nobody could be cold in the fall.

Serving meat

We told you above about how Kazakhs slaughtered cattle, cut carcasses into pieces, and about some dishes made of meat. It was also very important for Kazakhs to know which -meat and what piece to serve different sorts of guests. To this topic we now turn.

Kazakhs always had meat at home, but when respected guests came, a family would slaughter an additional sheep or colt; if there were many guests, a horse. The sheep's head was for respected guests or for the head of the clan or aul. Respected guests might be authoritative elder people, kinsmen or match makers, or rulers. Such individuals might be presented a sheep's head or pelvic and ankle bones; for bride and groom, the breast bone; kidneys and ears for children; and other less prestigious parts could be added. The tastiest meats of the horse were zhal, zhaya, kazy, and karta. Kazakhs were superstitious about the sheep's head. Children were never allowed to touch it for fear that this might bring about the death of their father if he was living. To avoid his son from being mumbler or stutterer, the brain was never presented by the father to his son. Adopted sons were often the recipient of an ankle bone. During celebrations if you brought kumiss, they'd put some ankle bones into your bag. Meanwhile, ankle bones were never given to daughters, for this was considered an impediment to her later marriage. To meat which they were going to serve guests they won' t put neck,' breast bone as we mentioned above for the bride and groom.

The serving of meat was of three types according to the number of guests, and different dishes were served in different size platters: main, middle and simple platters. In the main dish there would likely be the sheep's head, pelvic and ankle bones, some fat ribs, a slice of fat tail and liver. In the middle dish might be more pelvic and ankle bones, the spinal column and ribs. And in the simple dish would be an ankle bone, spinal column, ribs and shoulder blade. Sheep's offals were never cooked in a kazan with meat being prepared for special guests. All of the above documents that Kazakhs were very generous and hospitable people who took great care to please and treat guests. Such traditions of our forefathers are still worth learning and using in everyday life.

Daily products

Kazakhs had diary products from goats, sheep, cows, horses and camels. Daily they milked sheep and goats; the cows twice a day, camels three or four times; and horses were milked six or seven times a day. Different foods were prepared from the milk. Let's describe some of them.

Uyz - Beestings Kazakhs ate these during lambing and calving seasons. Beestings were very thick, and calves were allowed to suck this right after birth to make them strong. After three or four days they'd then begin to milk. First beestings would be boiled until the mixture was thick, and then be removed from the fire so it would not ferment. Then it could be decanted and drunk while warm. Later, remaining beestings were poured it into a large intestine and put back into boiling water, followed by a cooling off period. Now solidified, it could be sliced and eaten with meat. If there was no large intestine, a family might boil it in a saucepan before cooling. Then it might be sliced and offered to neighbors to taste, usually with koten. Koten was also served when a cow or the horse foaled.

Kazakhs respected diary products, they used them as they migrated, making sure no one stepped into milk spills. Beestings were also the first diary products consumed after reading from the Koran.

Sut (milk) - Usually kazakhs drank boiled milk, sometimes adding it to tea. In whole, milk was perhaps the most used diary product. In old times Kazakhs milked sheep and cows; now they rarely milk sheep. Nowadays only herdsmen milk sheep for one or two days when separating the lamb from its mother to avoid udder toughening. Kazakhs in early times milked sheep and goats to make delicious meals. They preferred a cup of sheep milk before going to bed, because it was nutritious. Cow's milk was given to kids and for the young cattle who hadn't enough suckling. Sometimes when somebody was poisoned, they gave him milk to drink.

Kaimak (sour cream) - This is also made of milk, rendered as scum from boiled milk. Kazakhs used to drink tea with it. In fall, when the grass was more nutritious, there was thick sour cream on the milk. This would be spread on bread, and kids enjoyed eating it. Sometimes Kazakhs dried it and sent to children who lived in remote areas, usually in cans. So kaimak or scum especially was a food of kids and elder.

Sary mai (butter) - Is made old milk. In ancient time Kazakh women used different methods of processing butter. After milking, the liquid was poured into a large bowl and put on even place. When it had scums or sour cream they'd accumulate it, then shaking or stirring it for long hours. In hot weather it was difficult to process butter, so it had to be kept in cold place. For women who owned a leather bag, the process was easier. They could start with sour milk and then just shake the bag.

In early times a Kazakh family might have two leather bags, one for processing kumiss the other for butter. Those who hadn't a horse had only one saba (leather bag). After shaking well, they'd put some salt in butter and then put it into sheep's dried stomach. Every family had a cleaned and dried stomach for preserving butter. Here irkit or fermented sour milk would flow out, leaving the butter behind. From fermented sour milk, Kazakhs brewed kurt which they would sometimes drink as a beverage. Kazakhs stored winter food for summer pasture, especially several stomachs of butter, sacks of kurt, curds, thick sour milk. Together with meat remaining from the previous winter slaughtering it would be enough for several months, Nowadays butter in the shops seems not as nutritious and tasty as that processed without machines by saba. So people prefer and miss the old hand-made butter.

Kurt - This is a product prepared by the process of pressing thick sour cream. After boiling fermented sour milk, it was poured it into a sack or bag. Here it would get rid of yellow water. Then the women would make kurts and put on the ore (discussed in an earlier chapter). Kurt might be of different shapes and sizes; and that dried at the foot of a mountain would be white and salty.

Kurt dried in deserts would be bitter and tough; biting it you could break your teeth. If it was bitter it was unpleasant to eat, so women looked for a shady place to dry the kurt. It was also important to dry it in the windy place because in a shady place without wind it could grow mouldy. Kazakhs used to drink tea with kurt. They also spread butter on it and ate it when they had no bread.

In early times there was a tool to press kurt, but now nobody has one. After pressing it would be added to the broth or to wheat porridge or drunk by itself. Usually Kazakhs and Kalmyks made kurt. Uigurs also used to make it, but neither group could make it as well as Kazakhs. They dried kurts in the shape of hoop, but it wasn't as tasty and it was difficult to press. Today's machine made kurts are even.

Irimzhik (curd or cottage cheese) - These were processed in Spring, because "there was much milk at that time. Curds were made from boiled unskimmed milk and added sour cream. During fermentation a rennet was also added. Curds, like leaves, would be yellow. When you crumbled it, it would stick to your hand. Then you'd filter and dry it on the ore. These were called yellow curds, and they were good for winter storage. Sometimes they'd add it into a mixture with millet. Skillful women might make several sacks of curds. Later, doctors found that filtered water from curds was very useful in medicine. White cottage cheese is also boiled like yellow curds. When the family was short of bread, they'd add butter to it and drink tea with butter and sugar to make a tasty -meal. Cottage cheese is soft, so elder people preferred eating it.

Suzbe and katyk - This is strained and thick sour milk. Successfully fermented sour milk should be filtered, and if you added some salt and ate your mouth would water. Drinking tea with it would also cheer you up. Sometimes Kazakh women added suzbe to their meat broth, thin porridge or soup. So it was another of the tasty diary products. Sometimes kazakhs drank it as a beverage to get rid of heart burn. They used such strained milk from Spring until Autumn. When milk became thin, Kazakhs turned suzbe into thick sour milk: katyk. Katyk was also preserved in a dried stomach. If you processed katyk in hot weather, it would grow mouldy, so a cool place was preferable. When it was without water it was also tasty. Women would crumpled it up to make it dry, so women also processed and stored it in summer pasture. Those who ate kurt in the hot weather and during a trip were thought not be bored or thirsty.

Koryktyk - Is a herdsman's food. Out on the yellow steppe from morning till night he often became hungry and bored, so he would milk five or six sheep and boil the milk and put some clean smoked stones into it. These boiling stones would help make the milk thicken. The milk would then be pour into a bowl and drunk. Nowadays herdsmen still drink, this for lunch.

Tosap - This is formed from the scum on the sides of a metal pot. When you boil milk with butter for long hours, you'd see scum. Kazakhs used these scums along with a fat tail (from a sheep) as a drug against pulmonary tuberculosis. So, people used tosap as a medicine instead of a food.

Airan (sour milk) - Kazakh used this winter and summer if it was available, although it was very difficult to make it a coagulate. First of all its acidify had to be good. Nowadays they make it coagulate with aspirin; but this does not improve its flavor. In early times Kazakhs ate light food, mostly drinking airan and eating kurt. Typically they drank airan after eating meat and before going to bed. Women made airan by heating milk just to make it warm, then acidifying it, covered and putting in a flat place. In the morning they'd open it, and it would have the consistency of liver. It was then kept in a cold place.

Shubat (fermented camel's milk) - Shubat was fat and nutritious and often served as a medicine. Kazakhs added camel's milk to tea, which "burned the tea dark yellow, Shubat was considered superior to cow's milk. In early times our forefathers had a senior wife whose primary responsibility was milking camels and processing shubat. Believing it to have medicinal qualities, many resorts in the Kazakh Republic used to use it to prevent pulmonary tuberculosis as well.

Kumys - This is a very respected beverage among Kazakhs; and also considered useful for health. In early times Kazakhs would measure their richness by how much kumys they processed in a year. They'd say: "This family has twelve female horses, and thus became rich."Kumys is very good for everyone's health, and many people wrote about it. From ancient times, Eastern Arabs processed their musalla (wine); western slavs made their own wine, and kazakhs in deserts decantad their kumys. Each is considered to be a wine, but Kazakh kumys has its own peculiarities since the others were made of fruit, say, from grapes or pomegranates. Female horses of course ate all these fruits and berries, so kumys actually had the same ingredients as some wines, and these also made kumys healthful.

Our forefathers greatly respected this beverage, but nowadays kumys doesn't have the taste of old. We didn t move from our forefathers places, and we have the same type of horses, so we do not understand why we are unable to process real kumys. It is time to revive our traditions especially in kumys processing.

Herdsmen still graze horses, but perhaps not the way it used to be done. If female horses were grazed in the mountain full of herbs, her kumys would be very nutritious. A horse is very fastidious animal; it won't eat just any grass. A horse might eat twenty five kilograms of Festuca Sulcata or black lead in the mountains. These grasses were very good for processing kumys. If she was grazed in the plains or fields, she wouldn't give kumys. Acidifying kumys is a difficult job. Saba must be kept in a cool place. After pouring kumys in smaller leather bags it could be kept in a cold place. Kumys from mountainous areas was yellow, and you can see lead fat floating in it. From field grass kumys would be blue and bitter, and it wouldn't smell like that kumys.

Now we'll describe kumys processing: As we mentioned above kumys was very respected beverage, so sometimes wive's marriage depended on it. If she couldn't process it, a rich man might divorce her. Processing kumys required special skills from women. She who had them might be freed from other duties by a wealthy husband, like preparing food or sewing. Such a woman would be busy with only her black leather bag assigned for kumys processing.

The woman who processed kumys was also required to pour it. If the cow ate much grass she would give much milk, so if the female horses were grazed in the mountains (like Altai or Erenkabyrga) their kumys was thick and nutritious. For kumys it was important what kind of weather and dish and method of fermenting were. For processing kumys, fresh milk must be poured after cooling, then shaken well. Second, saba must be made of horses skin, and it must be well made. If it wasn't made properly it would grow mouldy, and you couldn't smoke it. After pouring from it, a white cloth must be bound to saba. Fourth, tradition had it that a pelvic bone from the previous winter's slaughtering had to be put into saba. Pinks (an herb) wrapped in a cloth were also to be added, as well as a raw horse sausage. After shaking saba it must be covered and kept for three days shaken for long hours, it would become more nutritious. When it was ready to drink, a pleasant aroma was present. Kumys of course was not to be processed in a metal dish. These must be either of wood or leather, as should be the bucket, basin and scoop. Maple or Oak trees were preferable as these were better for storage.

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