In Kyrgyzstan, one of the most readily-apparent aspects of Kyrgyz hospitality customs is the doggy-bag. Whenever you are invited to a meal in a Kyrgyz home, you are in for a “double portion,” as they will overfeed you while you’re there, and then pack away extra food in a plastic bag for you as you leave.
Regarding the “overfeeding” in Kyrgyz homes, recently I served as a translator for some Americans interested in investing in small businesses in Kyrgyzstan. Their tour of the Karakol area involved looking at some farms and some small home businesses and – of course – drinking a lot of tea with various hosts. One host had even prepared lunch: plov, a tasty beet salad, and the wonderful tomato-carrots-garlic-and-spicy sauce that is ever-present in the winter here: I call it “Kyrgyz salsa,” because I can’t remember the name! While we were eating, the Americans were asking questions, and I was translating stories from the host and his friends.
Culturally, I thought one of the best bits was when he tried to describe an aspect of Kyrgyz hospitality with the words, “In Kyrgyzstan, we force our guests to eat more.” He was right. I cannot remember a single meal at someone’s house where I wasn’t – numerous times – encouraged to eat. Not eating and eating and eating is a way to show disrespect to the host, so I always strive to eat a good portion (though I also eat slowly, in order to protect my stomach from unnecessary stretching!).
At another home – after eating way more than I would normally eat for dinner – the roll of plastic bags appeared and healthy portions of meat began to be divided up between me and Jose (a friend that was also a guest in the home). Large chunks of Kyrgyz-style pot-roast (for lack of a better descriptor) and fresh rolls were put into plastic bags and handed to us. Then my friend was also given a bottle of kefir for his wife (who wasn’t with us), and a large jar of black currant preserves (also for his wife).
“I don’t have anything to put this in, Daryl, but you can go over to Jose’s house to have some,” Aigul said to me. It struck me as funny that I was being invited to Jose’s house by Aigul, but it was just her way of saying to me, “I want to be hospitable and share this with you as well, but it would be awful to just dump the preserves in a plastic bag. So, please have some. You’ll just have to walk to his house.” I asked her if she had just invited me to his house, and we all had a good laugh together. How great to be able to joke with people in their own language!