I remember my friend Sarah and I finding sweetened condensed milk in one of the first stores that I walked into outside of Bishkek. I don’t remember now if that store was in Karakol or on our way from Bishkek to Karakol. I found it odd that such a small store with such a limited stock would have sweetened condensed milk. Since that first encounter, I have noticed these cans just about everywhere, from the largest grocery stores in Bishkek to the smallest side of the road kiosks. I recently bought a can to make a dessert and it really got me thinking…what are most people buying sweetened condensed milk for? It is not really common for people here to make desserts at home. So I asked my Russian tutor. Her first answer was that it was used to make a particular cake. Ok, I thought, but the rare cake doesn’t explain its abundant availability. And then it came…and some people put it in their tea. Aha, that’s it! This is its real use in Kyrgyzstan. They say you can’t live without tea. Well, I tried it. Not yet in my tea. I tried it first in my coffee. Let me tell you, it wasn’t too bad. I don’t think it will be replacing my sugar and cream, but I do now understand its marketability.
Without a doubt, late summer in Kyrgyzstan is the best time to shop for produce. Since produce is largely seasonal and mostly locally grown, it is the most abundant and the cheapest during the end of summer. After summer’s abundance, many produce items simply cannot be found, and those that can be found may be double in price. These facts definitely motivate me to carry on the canning tradition, which my friends and I started last year. Scott recently made a bazaar run for me to buy produce for my latest canning session (salsa), along with some extra fruits and veggies. More about the canning session later.
For now, I want to show you the kinds of produce and the prices that can be found at the bazaar during the summer. (See my blog on a trip to the bazaar I took last winter). Here is a picture of what we bought. It included 2 kg of tomatoes, 1.5 kg of onions, two bunches of cilantro, a bunch of basil, 3 zucchini, 3 bulbs of garlic, 5 bell peppers, 16 other peppers, 3 large potatoes, 1 kg of peaches, and half a kilo of grapes. And the cost? Drum roll please…390 som or approximately $8. Someone want to go buy all of this in the states and let me know how much it costs you? 😉
I shopped for my usual groceries today at my shops that I usually go to. I go to a shop that is owned by my neighbor, I go to a particular lady in the bazaar for produce, and I purchase meat from a shop that my wife discovered in the summer. It was a normal day and I needed some groceries for dinner.
The first shop I went to the lady asked me where I work. I told her I am a teacher at a language center. I left and went to the bazaar to get some fruit. The lady there asked me the same question. “Where do you work? What do you do?” I gave her the same answer. I paid and left chuckling to myself. I left the bazaar to the shop where I buy meat. Of course, the man asked the same question as I paid. “I am real famous today” I thought to myself. I left and pondered why everyone asked me the same question. Maybe the paranoid part of me was thinking that someone is out to get me. But the other side of my brain was telling me that this was the first time that my regular vendors asked me a personal question. But all on the same day? I am real famous today. I thought it was a little odd, but funny enough to not worry.
Last Christmas was our first Christmas overseas. After just two months in Kazakhstan we moved to Kyrgyzstan the week of Christmas. We had bought Christmas stockings in Kazakhstan and I had a nativity set that I brought from the states. But that was the extent of our holiday decorations. I desperately wanted a Christmas tree. Christmas is not widely celebrated in the former Soviet Union, but they do have Christmas trees as New Year decorations. I thought a tree might be available, but I didn’t know how I was going to get one.
As if she was sent by Jolly Ole Saint Nick himself, my new friend LaVena offered to help me find a tree to spread the Christmas cheer in our new home. We headed off to the bazaar. LaVena had seen the Christmas trees at the bazaar just days before so she knew exactly where to go. We found the Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments. I picked out a tree, some colored musical lights and ornaments. The seller put the tree in a large trash bag and we maneuvered our way out of the narrow walkways of the bazaar, trying our best not to snag other shoppers with our find. We decided to get a taxi back instead of pricking the passengers on a crowded bus.
We got the tree home and my daughter had a blast decorating it. I didn’t matter that the tree was small, the musical lights only half-way worked, or that I had not bought enough ornaments to cover even a quarter of the tree. We had a Christmas tree! It was a success and I am forever grateful to LaVena for making our first Christmas overseas that much brighter!
Recently I went to the central bazaar in Karakol with my friend to get some last minutes supplies for a student holiday event. We drove around looking for a good parking spot and found a place at the back entrance. We had our list in hand and made our way in. The first few steps right into the bazaar we saw a couple of locals girls slip on ice but they didn’t fall to the ground. They laughed and walked off. But not too far behind we heard them laugh at us as my friend and I slipped on the very same spot.
The whole bazaar was slick from packed snow that fell earlier in the week. In the middle of this small bazaar we found some vendors selling vegetables. We got what we needed and moved on. Leaving the vegetable vendors, we saw a couple of guys dragging car hoods by some rope attached to them. I thought this was odd and I chuckled to myself. We quickly scouted for the rest of our items and we entered a small store among the “candy” aisle. The doors opened and the fresh smell of meat greeted us. I was hungry. The smell was so strong it made my mouth water. It was not a great idea for me to shop in the bazaar on an empty stomach.
We left the aisles and picked up some bread. It was the last on our list. We started our way out and I noticed the men with car hoods again. They were loading piles of snow from various aisles and shops. The hoods were used to transport the snow across the icy paths. I smiled and thought to myself, “What a great idea. I need a used car hood to go sledding sometime.” I slipped on the same area as before as I thought about the car hood idea. It as a quick trip, but I saw something that day that I had not seen before. I saw a great way to sled using car hoods.
Going to the bazaar is refreshing at times. My wife and I went this past weekend to get some of our usual groceries and some warm clothes for our son. We arrived at the bazaar in the afternoon on Saturday. It was muddy from the melted snow. We set off to look for some toddler leggings, gloves, boots, and socks. Entering the bazaar, there were many plastic drapings overhead to keep the snow and water from spilling on the venders. But these coverings do very little for the shoppers walking through the aisles. Shoppers huddled under the coverings and dodged as much as possible. In tight aisles, there were pedestrian bottlenecks, everyone trying to keep clear of the dripping snow water. Down below we hopped over streams and puddles that were hard to avoid. Every path was iced and slippery. Along one of these aisles I slipped on ice a few times before I stepped completely in a puddle of freezing water. That was my left foot. We walked deeper into the bazaar.
As I walked past the aisle of boots, I felt cold drops of water on my head. We looked at a few snow boots but saw none that we liked. My head was cold. We continued on and then I stepped in another puddle with my other foot. Now both my feet were cold and wet. We bought some things along our stroll and my head kept getting colder as I walked through the aisles trying to avoid the drips of ice water. We eventually got out of the area where water was dripping. Then we entered the muddy side of the bazaar. We looked for produce and grains. We were dodging mud splashes from other people while we walked and bargained. We finally got all the supplies we planned to get. My feet were cold, my head was freezing, and I was mud spattered. Next time I’ll remember to bring a hat. Nonetheless, it was still a refreshing afternoon and we were glad to get out of the house. I’ll keep these thoughts in mind when summer hits.
Bazaar shopping has its certain charm: walking between the colorful stalls, looking for treasures, comparing deals as you go from person to person asking the price of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. Sometimes you get a great deal, and sometimes you get to pay “foreigner tax”. The best part is finding the occasional treat: fresh basil or fresh celery, chili powder… yes!
Then there is the bazaar shopping for bazaar sellers: the early morning hours when the farmers and whole-sellers line the streets with trucks in front of the bazaar and open the truck beds to unload huge sacks of vegetables. The sun barely peeks over the mountain ridges, the ice crunches under each footstep on the ground as we walk from truck to truck and inquired of each seller their asking price for veggies.
Having found the best price, we pull the van around and load up 90 pound sacks of potatoes, onions, turnips and beets. These bags will hold us for the entire winter. Yeah, they might get a little more wrinkled, and dry, but at wholesale prices we got a steal in veggies for the winter. Now, all I have to do is go into the basement to pick out my veggies for tomorrow’s Kung- Pao chicken dinner. Yum!