While Europe continues to reel from the ever-widening horsemeat-in-the-food-supply scandal that has gripped the continent for the last several weeks, attention is now also being paid to those places in the world where eating the meat is the norm.
Among those places, of course, is Kazakhstan, the world's number two producer of horsemeat and probably one of the few countries whose national dish -- beshparmak -- is made using horsemeat. The topic of Kazakhs' fondness for horsemeat has frequently entered Borat territory, more the butt of jokes than the subject of serious discussion, but a new article published by Steppe magazine offers what is a refreshingly sober and unsqueamish look at this culinary tradition. From the article, by author Robert Chenciner:
So, what does horsemeat taste like? The extremely lean cuts are rich, dark and deep-red, slightly sweet, redolent of venison but much more tender. Because the horses are steppe reared, in what must be an original source of the term ‘free range’, there is little fat. In the great intestinal sausage the fat tastes like the richest butter.
At the rear of the market in Stepnogorsk, arranged in rows of wooden stalls, was the covered, refrigerated meat section. Through plastic cold doors there were about 40 stalls in a clean and chilly room. Only one sold horsemeat (and beef). The others sold beef, chicken, and mutton.
On their display table, amongst other meats, were four raw cuts arranged in a square – çürek (heart), baür (liver), kharim (stomach), and öpke (lungs). They also had Khazi (the main rib) and the mane, a beehive-shaped cross-section of meat and fat, both special delicacies. For the most respected guests there is an oval fillet from the chops, called omirtkIa. The oblong rump is called kesekyet, which means ‘meat to be divided’, and is used in bestirmek, the delicious preserved meat which is served sliced cold.
There were various sausages, ready for cooking, called shruzikI and kIarta (the small intestine, stuffed with chopped offal). And, of course, the great intestinal sausage (5-6cm diameter), where two thin strips of meat and fat are cut from the edge of the length of the rib cage and stuffed with crushed garlic, salt and pepper. A 60cm length is then tied off, cooked, and eaten cold. When I commented that not all parts of the horse were on display, they looked me in the eye and told me ‘we eat all of the horse!’
In the Green Bazaar in Almaty, the horsemeat was sold under a sign saying ‘Konina’, a separate part of the meat section of the market, which was as clean and spotless as Stepnogorsk. Each meat section displayed a small, tin flag, featuring a silhouette of the appropriate animal. I was reminded that Mareshchal Kutusov, after the battle of Borodino, repeatedly intoned that Napoleon’s army would be eating horseflesh in Russia before the winter of 1812 was out. He used the words loshadinoye miase, meaning beast-of-burden, as opposed to konili, meaning noble steed.
Another great and very respectful article on how horses fit into the Kazakh diet and culture, written in 2005 by the New York Times' C.J. Chivers, can be found here. For more on beshparmak, take a look at this previous Kebabistan post.