As I’ve been writing blog updates, it occurs to me that there are some things that I keep defining repeatedly. Instead of doing so, however, it might be easier to just create a mini-dictionary of terms. So…here it is!
Banya--A communal bath. Here in Almaty, we often go to the Arasan Banya near my house. They have Russian and Finnish baths, as well as a swimming pool and areas where you can have a massage. The Finnish bath is a dry sauna, while the Russian bath is heated by steam. You also bring a switch of birch/oak/myrtle leaves, for you (or a friend) to beat your back in the banya. Once you can’t bear the heat, you go jump into the pool for a few minutes and then go back to one of the banyas. Sounds rather odd by US standards, but definitely an experience worth having. We need more of these in the US--it is incredibly relaxing.
Chai--Tea. NOT the chai that you find in many coffee shops in the US, which is usually spiced and made with some sort of steamed milk. Chai in Central Asia just means tea. You need to specify whether it is “zelyony” or “chorney”--green or black. Additionally, there is “chai s’malakom” and “chai bez malaka”. Translation--with milk or without milk. I personally prefer “chai s’lemonom”--black tea with lemon. Then there is Uyghur tea, which I can’t bring myself to try. It is black tea with butter and salt.
Langhman--a dish consisting primarily of noodles covered in some sort of sauce. Normally, the sauce is tomato-based, with peppers and some sort of meat. Didn’t Marco Polo bring the idea of spaghetti back from this region? It is easy to see where the idea might have come from.
Manti--the equivalent of a Central Asian tortellini, but larger. Meat/onion filling inside some sort of wrapper, then steamed. We had pumpkin manti in Kashgar--delicious and unusual! After all, why would you cook with vegetables?
M’yasa--meat. Don’t ask what kind of meat, because you will receive a puzzled stare. It is meat. That is all you need to know. Why would you ask such a crazy question, anyway?
Pelmeni--Russian tortellini. The filling is similar to manti, but the shape is closer to tortellini. It is also usually served with smetana (a really wonderful and rich milk product that is similar to sour cream)
Plov--also known as Poulo in Xinjiang. A rice dish consisting of rice, carrots, garlic, and meat. In Kazakhstan, the meat is fried and then added to the dish. In Xinjiang, the meat (usually mutton) is boiled and placed on top of the rice. In both regions, the rice is also coated with mutton fat. But it is considered a very healthy dish because it contains (a few slivers of) carrots. Don’t confuse Kazakh and Uyghur plov, since they are clearly (?) very different. People are very proud of their plov, and will tell you that they make the best that there is. However, the very best plov that I have had was made by one of the Kazakh women working at the US Consulate. Asiyat’s plov is topped with pomegranate seeds, and is one of my favorite foods over here.
Quai--Local term for Chinese yen. 1USD=7.4 quai
Shashlik--meat that is marinated and grilled on skewers. Often there is a piece of fat included on the skewer to give the meat more flavor. Don’t ask what kind of meat it is, either. It is m’yasa!
Tapotchki--indoor slippers (or flip flops). It is very impolite to wear shoes inside. Instead, you take your shoes off just inside the entranceway and put on tapotchki instead. If you are staying in a “love hotel” in China, you never want to take off your tapotchki!
Tenge--Unit of money in Kazakhstan. I am told that it literally means “dollar”. Since I have been here, 1USD = 120 tenge
There will probably be some updates to this list in the future-but these are the things that come to mind right now. :-)