Monday, April 4, 2011

Kazakh Food Culture v2.0 (Day 16)

Photo: Typical Kazakh restaurant meal; a typcial home-cooked meal would look more like a boiled & butchered sheep carcass...

Mongol-Kazakh food culture is predominantly dairy and meat-based, although Kazakh culture uses more vegetables, mostly in the form of pickled condiments.  Each meal we have eaten has been based around meat (boiled, fried, in meatballs, dumplings, off the bone, in sausages) and a starch (potatoes, turnips, wheatflour noodles, imported rice), with some sort of shredded pickled vegetable salad (carrots, cabbage, capsicum, onions).

While a vast knowledge of preparing & preserving meat and dairy products exists, there is relatively little knowledge (beyond storing root crops in actively heated cellars) about preparing & preserving vegetables.


Photo: Cultural evolution: men typically do not prepare meals for the family.

A class lecture was given about the microbiology of our foods, main pathonogenic (E.Coli, Salmonella, and C. Botulisus) & beneficial microbes (Lactobacilus, and Saccharomyces), and the lifecycles and microscopic processes of succession which take place within our foods.  Once a theoretical foundation was laid, a practical class was held to demonstrate food safety procedures, proper bottling technique, and how to initiate a lactobaccilic ferment.

Tomato chutney was made with tomatoes, onions, and salt, then bottled in sterilized jars collected & re-used from the course kitchen.  A lactobaccilic ferment was initiated using a basic sauerkraut recipie of salt, water, and cabbage (the same basic process is used to make kimchee, pickles, tsukemono, and many other traditional foods from many cultures).  The sauerkraut was taken home by a student to ferment over the next few weeks, to bring back and share with her classmates when complete.

These simple techniques could be used to extend the season's harvest through the cold winter months, boost nutrition (through lactobaccilic ferment), and create value-added food products which can be packaged and sold to local markets (niche markets could be created based on a family's secret recipie).  If a family was able to produce sufficient surplus vegetable produce, and effectively preserve them to last the winters, they could feasibly meet all of their dietary needs by trading their food products for their meat & dairy product needs.

As the Mongol-Kazakhs of Bayan Ulgii develop their own new & unique recipies for preparing & preserving their vegetable crops, adapting to changing climatic & cultural conditions, we will be witnessing the evolution of an ancient food culture before our very eyes:

Photos: Masterchef Janibek prepares (and shows off) a bottled tomato chutney.

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