Karachay Cuisine in Kazakhstan
“At present, our unity is the chief prerequisite for implementing our new Strategy 2050. To enter top 30 best-developed countries is a goal that all Kazakhstani people share. The strategy has adopted the wisdom of our great multiethnic nation. It is based on the high principles of a special peace and spiritual consent which underlie our culture,” our President says. Indeed, over 130 ethnic communities live in Kazakhstan harmoniously. “Kazakhstani culture is largely based on the tight connections between the country’s ethnic cultures. We do encourage the progress of Kazakh arts and customs and still provide opportunities for all the communities to preserve and develop their cultural legacy. We are proud to see our national contribution to world’s art, literature, and sport growing.” One of the ethnic communities that is part of the national culture is that of Karachay people.
A Turkic-speaking Kazakhstani community, the Karachays constitute a part of the Kazakhstani nation as well. Their total population is about 180 thousand, three of which live in the Kazakh Land. They live in peace and concord under the national color. A Karachay saying tells us that all dogs are black in spite of the difference in customs, or that every village has its own way of slaughtering a sheep. Just like the Kazakhs, Karachay people attach particular importance to butchering. The Karachays used to slaughter animals for 16 highly respected guests, for which purpose the meat was equally distributed among four tables, four zones each. It required the meat to be initially divided into seven – four hip bones, two sides, and lumbar vertebrae. The pieces should be then divided by joints (suyok yulyush): front haunch bone to blade bone (zhauurunla), shoulder joints (bazuk), and shoulder bones (qyskha ilik); rear haunch bone were used to cook eight parts of the treat (meat on bone pieces meant for each guest depending on his age) – two hip bones (ashyq ilik), four haunch bones (teschikli zhansyuek qalaq, zhansyuek), two plate part with three ribs (nogana), three parts of two ribs (bash iyegi), and six ribs (bygiyin iyegi). The rest of bones and meat pieces which have a lumbar vertebra should be divided into 15-16 parts: four boyu omurau, five sheshe omurau, four kegey omurau, one qulsyumeyz, and quyruq uchusu as an addition to the main treat.
The Karachays traditionally serve a large dish to their guests. For instance, main course tepsi consists of four parts: blade bone (zhauurun), plate meat (noganu), haunch bone (zhansyuyek), head (bash zharty), sokhtu, zherme, two ribs (bygiyni iyegi), and several spine parts (omuraula).
Female guests are mostly treated to nogana, ashyq ilik, tongue (zhayaq), biteu sokhta, zherme, eki omurau, and eki iyegi. Children usually get smaller parts or legs. Parents would not let their children eat kidney lest they develop moles. Neither adults nor children ate tongue tip, as people claimed that even a wolf would not eat it.
Syy beriu, translated as paying respect, or mutton picnic, sokhta, zherme, two ribs, haunch bone, spine, coccygeal bone, and hypogossal parts were sent to the bride’s family by that of the groom after the wedding as a treat of honor.
Syy yulyus iyerge, translated as giving a treat, is meant for those unable to participate in traditional festivities because of illness or old age and includes mutton picnic, sokhta, zherme, coccygeal bone, spine parts, plate meat, and two ribs.
Qyskha ilik, or shoulder bones, carry meat but are still served to young wives and women.
Nogana, or three upper ribs, are served to women to render respect.
Boyun is boiled neck meant for the host exclusively and not for festive table.
Sheshi omuraula is three to four mutton vertebrae served to the youngest.
Qulsyuymez omurau, or the last vertebra, is served to young women.
Kegey omurau is a vertebra with meat crosscut on it served to young people.
Bishgen zhurek, or boiled heart, is served to men only.
Tigim is a part of the adult treatment distributed among the young guests.
Tigim bash is a treatment of head bones.
Just as the Kazakhs, the Karachay people have age-specific terms to call animals. Let us study this in detail for sheep.
Lamb below 6 moths was called qozu;
6 to 12 months – toqlu;
1 to 2 years – ishek;
2 to 3 years – zada, yengech;
3 to 4 years – uzada, ekinchi yengech;
4 to 5 years - duzada, yuchuchu yengech;
6 years old – mangyramaz.
Sacrificial cattle was called batay.
Domestic and wild animals meat
Ayu et is jerked bear meat used as a medicine.
Ayu zhyurek – traditionally, bear heart was given to an adolescent boy so that he would grow to be courageous.
Qaq at et is dried horse meat. It was mostly stored for winter.
Bishgen qoy et is boiled mutton served with sauce.
Qaq qoy et is jerked mutton served fried.
Qoy et libizha is mutto served with cream and sauce.
Qoy et shorpa is mutton broth spiced with herbs and dressed with fermented milk.
Quuurulgan qyruq is roasted fat tail.
Bishgen qyruq is boiled fat tail.
Qaq qyruq is dried fat tail.
Quuurulgan qaq et is fried dried meat.
Borsuq et is boiled and roasted badger meat used as a medicine to treat unhealable wounds.
Borquq shorpa is badger broth also used for unhealable wounds.
Sapran qoynu eti is mutton cooked or roasted to treat icterus.
Tau kiyikni (echkini, zhugutturnu eti) is wild mountain goat meat eaten to cure insomnia.
Kiyik shorpa is wild ox or goat meat eaten to cure insomnia.
Qoy et qatiq is boiled mutton stored in the kutyr for winter.
Bishgen buzou et is boiled veal served with sauce.
Bishgen tuuar et is large ruminant meat boiled with bones.
Quuurulgan qara et is fillet roasted on a plate.
Et shorpa is soup made of mutton or beef broth with potatoes, rice, and various sauces.
Qaq et is mutton, beef, goatling meat, or game sored for winter.
Ot bashynda chalmanda, otkha mursa atylyp, tyutyunde qatkhan et is jerked meat smoked over nettles.
Tishlik (shashlik) is the highlight of Karachay cuisine. There are many types of shashlik: sandan etilgen tishlik, byuteu maldan tishlik (whole mutton), taba tishlik (meat fried in a frying pan), choyun tishlik (pot-cooked meat), and many others. Thin or well fed, the cattle went under the same names – qyuy for mutton and qozu for lamb. People living in the Caucasus, including the Karachays, are good at cattle breeding and know lots about it. Quite remarkably, a Karachay lamb was a special treat for very important guests in Russia back in old times. This might be the reason why Caucasian shashlik is so popular across the globe.
If you study the two ethnic groups in detail, the Karachay people are very much like the Kazakhs. The well-respected chairwoman of the Ethnic Culture Karachay and Balkar Union Lyudmila KHOCHIYEVA says, “Language is the basis of any nation or ethnic group. Each ethnic community of Kazakhstan can feel sure that their mother tongue is safe. We Balkar Karachays do not have to worry about it, as our language is 80% identical to Kazakh. We share traditions and history. For instance, related marriage up to 7 generations is a taboo; when the bride entered the house, a curtain should be hanged there; the bride does not call the seniors in her husband’s family by their names but gives them some kind of additional names. Matchmaking is another shared tradition. At present, about three thousand Balkar-Karachay people are living as equal to other ethnic groups with their families and children and enjoying prosperity.