Last week I talked about trying new foods in Kyrgyzstan, and this week I will continue with that theme.
The title of the series is “Acquired Tastes,” which reflects my belief that a) some tastes are ‘acquired’ and seem odd to a foreign palate, and b) sometimes it is important to go through the effort of acquiring that taste.
I grew up in a household where turning down food wasn’t an option. “You have to try at least one bite” was a common refrain, and that has probably served me well living outside my home country and away from my home cuisine. I have, thus far, made it my goal to always try at least a bite, which has led me to putting some odd things in my mouth: walrus, seal blubber, and salted salmon heads (all in Alaska), homemade cow-bone jello (Chinese friends – thank God for Coca-Cola!), and mare’s milk, butter from a horse, mutton-with-sheepskin-still-attached, and slimy noodles (thanks Kyrgyzstan!).
It is important to eat what people serve you – and I think being able to do it without grimacing is also helpful – so I strive to acquire tastes that I know might take some work. I’ve had Tahn (mentioned last week) a few times since that initial encounter, and can drink it amicably, even if it is entirely without pleasure. But not all my drink-stand exploits have been in vain. Another drink available in Bishkek is called Maksim ( http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9C%D0%B0%D0%BA%D1%81%D1%8B%D0%BC– Google can translate this decently enough). It is made from wheat or other grains, and usually appears muddy. The first time I tried it on a hot day, it was slightly warm, and I couldn’t get through 0.2L, despite my best intentions. It was more than a year before I tried it again, and this time I stuck with it, downing 0.2L of the brown, gritty liquid. After maybe the fourth or fifth attempt, I could honestly say “I don’t hate it,” and by attempt #5 or #6, I actually liked it. Derrick and I used to get a cup at the end of a long run, and it is surprisingly refreshing. I still cannot successfully down 0.4L though; it is just too much (of a good thing?). So, where I failed with Tan, I succeeded with Maksim, and I have acquired a taste for one of the favorite drinks of the Kyrgyz!