The Kyrgyz pride themselves in their hospitality. I was recently traveling with Scott across the country in a rented van, and our driver had to drop off his son at his sister’s house. We wound our way through the village, finally arriving at the home where our driver grew up.
“Come in to drink some tea,” he invited.
I quickly agreed, knowing that in Kyrgyzstan “drink some tea” is a euphemism for tea, bread and butter, jams, and maybe even some fruit, cookies, or a bit of old plov (a rice dish with carrots and meat). Coming in for tea is always a good idea, because the food is usually good, the fellowship fun, and turning down Kyrgyz hospitality would be insulting.
As soon as we got into the house, bread, preserves, and two kinds of butter appeared on the table. Yes, in Kyrgyzstan there is regular butter (homemade in this case), and then a stronger, darker-yellow butter (also made from cow’s milk, I’m told) that has a strong flavor and a bit of a grainy texture. Regular butter is good; grainy dark-yellow butter is… less good, let’s say.
A big bowl was set before us: kaymak. “It is smetana,” I’m told, which is the Russian word for sour cream. I know better. But kaimak tastes pretty good, really (compared with some things we have had), so I gladly take a few sips and pass the bowl along to Scott. Tea followed (with milk already in it, so it looked at first suspiciously like hot kaimak), and then later ayran, a type of sour runny yogurt that one drinks, rather than eats. We mixed in some preserves, and drank up.
After all of this, our temporary hosts took us out to the orchard to find ripe apricots. I’m handed a couple, and I pass one to Scott. Then I’m handed five more; Scott is also given five more. Finally, we’re being told, “Stick ‘em in your pockets!” and our driver is pulling up Scott’s t-shirt to make a sling to hold the 20-25 apricots he enthusiastically picks and gives to us.
After raiding the orchard, we pile back into the van and meander back through the village to the main road, honking at neighbors and acquaintances the whole way…