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

Apr 292016
 

vp1

Today is the birthday (1895) of Vladimir Propp (17 April Old Style), Russian folklorist and philologist. Propp was born in St. Petersburg to a German family. He attended St. Petersburg University (1913–1918) studying Russian and German philology. Upon graduation he taught Russian and German at a secondary school and then became a college teacher of German. His most well-known work, Morphology of the Folktale was published in Russian in 1928,  but, even though it represented a breakthrough in both folklore theory and narrative morphology, it went generally unnoticed in the West until it was translated in 1958. By the time it came to the attention of Western scholars it was already a bit outdated, but had an impact in some quarters.

In 1932, Propp became a member of Leningrad University (formerly St. Petersburg University) faculty. After 1938, he chaired the Department of Folklore until it became part of the Department of Russian Literature. Propp remained a faculty member until his death in 1970.

vp4

Propp’s analysis has two components. Perhaps of greatest note is his idea of breaking up folktales into sequences of archetypical units, usually paired into opposites. By so doing he was able to show that, despite surface variations, Russian folktales had certain basic underlying narrative structures. One such pairing is the classic Interdiction/Interdiction Violated. That is, the main character is instructed NOT to do something. We all know what happens next. “Under no circumstances press the red button.” Such an interdiction does not occur in a plot unless the hero is going to violate the command at some point, normally at a critical juncture in the narrative. In many Russian folktales An interdiction followed by a violation of the interdiction is what sets the story in motion.

Propp also broke down the characters in folktales into 7 archetypes as follows:

The villain — an evil character who creates problems for the hero.

The dispatcher — any character who creates the need for the hero’s quest.

The helper — a typically magical entity who comes to the aid of the hero.

The princess or prize — the hero’s reward for completing the quest. Typically the hero  is unable to marry her at the outset as a consequence of some evil or injustice, perpetrated the villain.

The donor — a character who prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical object, sometimes after a test.

The hero — the character who reacts to the dispatcher and donor characters, thwarts the villain, resolves any lacking or wronghoods and weds the princess.

The false hero — a figure who takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to marry the princess.

vp6

Propp comes under a lot of criticism nowadays, but 40 years ago when I was a graduate student in folklore he was popular and I wrote a few papers using his methods. I still teach his principles on occasion, but critically. Sure, archetypes and basic plot structures can be helpful, but only to a point. I’m not a reductionist at all these days. Knowing that two different stories have the same underlying structure does reveal something about the culture from which they originated, and the basic values that are important.  But . . . they are DIFFERENT, and differences matter. I’m much more interested in an analysis that elaborates on the complexities of a tale in the style of Max Weber http://www.bookofdaystales.com/max-weber/, rather than one that reduces it to simple, basic elements. Furthermore, Propp’s analysis is not all encompassing. Here’s a classic Russian folktale. Where are his archetypes and essential plot devices?

 vp2

Once upon a time there lived an old man and an old woman who were very poor and had nothing at all to their name. And they kept getting poorer and poorer until there was nothing left to eat in the house, not even bread. The old man said:

“Do bake us a bun, old woman! If you scrape out the flour-box and sweep out the bin, you’ll have enough flour.”

So the old woman scraped out the flour-box and swept out the bin, she made some dough and she shaped a little round bun out of it. She then lit the oven, baked the bun and put it on the window sill to cool. But the bun jumped out of the window and on to the bench outside, and from the bench on to the ground, and away it rolled along the road!

On and on it rolled, and it met a Rabbit coming toward it.

“I’m going to eat you up, Little Round Bun!” called the Rabbit.

“Don’t do that, Fleet-Feet, let me sing you a song instead,” said Little Round Bun.

“All right, let’s hear it!”

“Here it is!

“I was scraped from the flour-box
And swept from the bin
And baked in the oven
And cooled on the sill.
I ran away from Grandpa,
I ran away from Grandma,
And I’ll run away from you, this minute I will!”

And off it rolled and away. By and by it met a Wolf coming toward it.

“I’m going to eat you up, Little Round Bun!” called the Wolf.

“Don’t do that, Brother Wolf, let me sing you a song instead.”

“All right, let’s hear it!”

“I was scraped from the flour-box
And swept from the bin
And baked in the oven
And cooled on the sill.
I ran away from Grandpa,
I ran away from Grandma,
And I’ll run away from you, this minute I will!”

And away it rolled.

By and by it met a Bear coming toward it.

“I’m going to eat you up, Little Round Bun!” called the Bear.

“Don’t do that, Brother Bear, I’ll sing you a song instead!”
“All right, let’s hear it!”

“I was scraped from the flour-box
And swept from the bin
And baked in the oven
And cooled on the sill.
I ran away from Grandpa,
I ran away from Grandma,
And I’ll run away from you, this minute I will!”

And away it rolled and away!

By and by it met a Fox coming toward it.

“I’m going to eat you up, Little Round Bun!” called the Fox.

“Don’t do that, Sister fox, I’ll sing you a song instead.”

“All right, let’s hear it!”

“I was scraped from the flour-box
And swept from the bin
And baked in the oven
And cooled on the sill.
I ran away from Grandpa,
I ran away from Grandma,
And I’ll run away from you, this minute I will!”

“Sing some more, please, don’t stop!” the Fox said. “Hop on to my tongue, I can hear you better.”

Little Round Bun jumped on to the Fox’s tongue and began to sing:

“I was scraped from the flour-box
And swept from the bin-”

But before it could go on, the Fox opened her mouth and – snap! -she gobbled it up.

One could object that Propp was concerning himself only with hero tales. Fair enough, but that’s something of a limitation of his formalism – my analysis works on the tales it works on.

Let’s bake Russian buns instead. These are not as simple as the bun in the story, but are undoubtedly more delicious. This recipe is for a simple peasant dish, as befits the tale. You can vary the fillings as you wish — meat, mushrooms, onions etc. are all traditional.

vp7

Pirozhki

Ingredients

2 cups milk, warmed
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
½ medium head cabbage, finely chopped
6 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Put ½ cup of the warmed milk in a small bowl. Stir in the sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Pour the remaining milk into a large bowl.

Add the melted butter (2 tbsp), egg, salt and 1 cup of flour to the large bowl with the milk. Stir in the yeast mixture. Mix in the flour 1 cup at a time until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. Cover the bowl loosely with a kitchen towel and set it in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour. The dough should almost triple in size. The typical test that it has risen sufficiently, which you can start after about 40 minutes, is to press your thumb in and release. The dough should spring back in 2 or 3 seconds. If it is too slow, let it rise a little longer. Rising times vary considerably.

While you are waiting for the dough to rise, melt the remaining butter (1 tbsp) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cabbage and sauté, stirring frequently, until cabbage has wilted. Mix in the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the cabbage is tender. Set this aside for the filling.

Place the risen dough on a floured surface and gently form into a long snake about 2 inches wide. Cut into 1 inch pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Flatten the balls by hand until they are 4 to 5 inches across. Place a spoonful of the cabbage filling in the center and fold in half to enclose. Pinch the edges together to seal in the filling.

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200 °C. Line one or two baking sheets with aluminum foil or baking parchment. Place the pirozhki on the baking sheet, leaving room between them to expand. If you like you can brush the tops with melted butter.

Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Serve warm from the oven.