I have a friend, Jengish, who pestered me a long time about eating a genuine local dish. He would talk about how much I was accustomed to Kyrgyzstan but I would not be complete without this one dining experience. So I said yes. Better yet, we got a bunch of other people involved also. It was a meal that I would never forget.
It happened during a local spring holiday. There are plenty of spring holidays in Kyrgyzstan, especially in May. We invited a bunch of local friends as well as a few other Americans. We sat crowded in our American friend’s living room as we waited for Jengish, the cook for the evening. The late afternoon was full of laughter and tea. We visited patiently for dinner to start. Jengish came into the living room, boisterous, with a sheep head. “Are you guys ready for sheep head dinner?!” he exclaimed to the crowd. We all hyped ourselves up and cheered for dinner. Jengish took the head into the kitchen where the girls gasped and yelped. Cooking dinner was ready to begin. He took the head, which was already skinned and cleaned, and put it into a pot of boiling water. No salt, vegetables, or any other spices were added. Just the pure essence of sheep in the pot.
The rest of the group in the living room chatted and others watched a comedy film. Each room in the apartment was filled with conversation and laughter. There was hardly room for people to walk by each other. After an hour, we were all getting hungry. We had tea and cookies to keep our hunger at bay. For some, tea and cookies became dinner. As for the rest of us, we eagerly awaited for dinner to be served. Then, the head came out on a large plate with some noodles sprinkled around it. The living room was set up Kyrgyz dinner style. There was a large tablecloth on the floor with pillows surrounding. The head was placed in the center and soon after we were served. I had the pleasure of getting the best part, the cheek. Others took different parts of the head, getting whatever meat they could. I tried the tongue, offered to me by one of the local girls I sat near. Then, Jengish gave me a very special part of the head dish. He gave me a small bit of sheep brain. I had never eaten brain until that night. It had the texture of tuna, but with a strong taste of sheep. It was like sheep tuna. It was gross, yet interesting. We ate every bit of that head that night. The evening came to a close around 9:00 p.m. After most of our friends left, Jengish looked at me and asked if I liked it. I told him it was okay. Then he told me, “At least you’ll be smarter now…because you ate brains.”