Sep 232019
 

Today is Kyrgyz Language Day, a celebration initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan to encourage use of the language in the aftermath of Soviet occupation when there was a concerted effort to replace local languages in nations within the Soviet Union with Russian. I gave an account of Kyrgyzstan in this post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kyrgyzstan/ when I was there last year for the World Nomad Games – another government effort to promote Kyrgyz national and ethnic identity.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was originally written in Turkic runes, gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside, and to make the Latin script the country’s official national script (using a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928–40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late 8th  century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location. In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz “black Kyrgyz” (alternatively known as “The Great Kyrgyz”).

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of president Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the dominant language in the main cities, such as Bishkek, while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.

I gave a recipe for Beshbarmak in the post I cited. Now I will turn to plov or paloo (палоо), a rice based dish, versions of which can be found all over Asia. The Kyrgyz version of plov has meat and carrots with dried fruits and nuts occasionally added, as in some other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. Carrots and meat dominate in Kyrgyz plov. The Central Asian plov is almost always cooked with fatty chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used (mutton or beef) but chicken plov is also found. Small warning: getting plov right takes decades of experience. Simpler to take a trip to Bishkek, where wonderful plov is plentiful.  I was instructed by a local cook.

For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

This recipe is more about proportions than absolute quantities.  That is, the ingredients are for ONE (generous portion, that is, 1 part meat, 1 part carrots, and two parts rice, by weight. Typically, plov is made in giant batches to feed an army.  The rice used is grown locally and has a special red tinge.  Good luck finding it outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Plov

Ingredients

100-150 grams beef or mutton cut into 2cm cubes
1 large carrot, cut into strips
½ medium sized onion, peeled and diced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil
salt

Instructions

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large cooking pot. Add the meat, carrots, onion and salt to taste and cook until the meat has browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the water and garlic, cover, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the rice and cook covered until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Writing the last instruction is simple; getting it right is not.

Serve a large ‘mountain’ of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

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