Karakalpakstan is a region with a distinctive culture rooted in nomadic peoples.
The Karakalpak culture of everyday life has been shaped over many centuries. The people often wandered from place to place, the main occupation of the tribes was cattle breeding. The unique cuisine of the Karakalpaks was formed mainly under the influence of nomadic culture.
In the early twentieth century, the Karakalpaks stopped being nomadic, there were separate villages, mostly located near the Amu Darya.
We visited Gulzira, a Nukus resident, who told us in detail about the national dishes. According to her grandmother’s recollections, the 1920s were the most difficult and hungry years, there was a shortage of crops. The cuisine of the common Karakalpak consisted of sok (cereal), zagary-nan. Juice is millet, which is added to green tea with milk. Zagara-nan is a thick little flatbread made from jugar (millet) flour.
People who were wealthier could buy wheat and corn.
They baked katlama, a multi-layered unleavened flatbread, now called patir-nan.
Aksaulak (similar to lavash) is an unleavened white Karakalpak bread in the form of thin flatbread made of wheat flour, mainly among the peoples of the Caucasus and other regions of the Middle East. It is cooked in a dry cauldron, rolled continuously.
“Bread — fragrant bread was baked in large quantities. Children would come running in and tear the hot tortilla off their hands.
As a child, my grandmother would give freshly baked bread with “sok”. It was very appetizing and we ate it in a minute,” remembers the heroine.
Tea was almost never drunk in the family because it was expensive. It was imported and not widely available. We mostly drank cow, goat and camel milk. The milk was used to make shalap-katyk, a thick kefir mixed with salt, or shubat, a dairy product made from camel milk. Children who grew up consuming milk are strong and hardy. They get sick much less — added Gulzira.
Next, our heroine went into the kitchen to show the cooking process of Joueri — gurtik.
Gurtik is a dish called “zhueri gurtik” which belongs exclusively to Karakalpak cuisine. It is cooked from jugar flour, which has a lot of nutrients. Salt is added to the flour, hot water is poured and dough is kneaded. Using your fingers you make circles from the dough (similar to dumplings). Boil these dumplings in previously prepared stock of meat. The prepared dish is served at the table. This dish is considered a national dish of Karakalpaks and is cooked with pleasure in many Karakalpak families.
Another popular dish was considered karma, a dish of boiled fish. The population lived near the Amu Darya and fished.
Fish has always held a place of honor in the cuisine of the Karakalpak people. Many different dishes were prepared from fish.
Most often Karakalpaks prefer fried fish, but can also prepare culinary delights, such as tsarma — ukha with dumplings of jugar or millet flour, bread made from caviar. As an appetizer, dried small fish kakpash is widespread. The local cuisine is characterized by the use of spices. Since people led a nomadic lifestyle, they often took with them on the road food that can be stored for a long time. At the same time, it did not lose its taste properties.
Peculiar drinks and sweets have a special place in the national cuisine. “Gozhe’’ is a delicious Karakalpak drink, which is very tasty and helps us win our thirst on hot summer days. That is why Goje is cooked only in the summertime. Its recipe is simple and not difficult to make.
First, we have to take some dried jhu-eri (not corn, but jugars, i.e. “sorghum”) and boil it with a little salt in a pot.
It should be as watery as soup. When the sorghum is soft enough to eat, take the pot from the stove and wait until it cools. When cool, pour some “katyk” (homemade kefir “Qatiq”) into the sorghum soup, and mix it with a little salt. Then keep the mixture in the refrigerator for a while to cool.
Gozhe is not only tasty, but also healthy. The soup helps to win your thirst, and its sorghum keeps you satiated for a long time.
At weddings, traditional baursak — fried butter patties and mai-sok are prepared. Mai-sok is a dish made of sap (millet), milk, sugar and butter. Nowadays, this dish has become a traditional dish at “to’y” (weddings, etc.). They put it in a flat dish (tobacco) and every guest tries to taste this amazing dish.
Children at weddings liked to eat Karakalpak popcorn, kurmash.
Grains of wheat were fried in a frying pan until the grains turned into round balloons. This is considered a true find of the Karakalpaks. The children would gobble it up with a bang!
In summer, fragrant melons and watermelons ripen in Karakalpakstan. The population makes sweet viands from these gourds. One of these sweets is nabat.
Nabat — sweet which is prepared from watermelon. Dipped threads in boiling liquid, and crystals were formed on it. Now nabat is made from sugar.
The second dish is kaun aksaulak. The pulp of the melon is boiled to a state of caramel, it looks very much like jam.
Aksaulak, a thin flatbread (pita) cut into small long pieces, is placed on a saucer. Hot melon is poured on top. In the middle is poured katyk (homemade kefir) and at the end, melted butter.
While Gulzira was sharing recipes for other dishes, our traditional dish, jueri gurtik, was ready. We gladly sat down at dastarkhan and tasted the traditional dish.
This publication was posted as part of the project “Promoting Cross-Border Coverage of Environmental Issues in Central Asia,” implemented by the International Center for Journalism MediaNet in cooperation with the international media development organization DW Akademie with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt).
Authors: Janna Rakhimova, Abror Kurbanmuratov