Cheap, plentiful and easy to obtain, dung has long been the home cook's best friend when it comes to heating up an oven. Of course, modernization and the social stigma of cooking and heating with animal excrement have helped push dung back outdoors in many places. But, in Central Asia at least, economic realities are forcing some people to give the original sustainable fuel source a second look. From a new RFE/RL report:
Soaring fuel prices; electricity rationing; early snow -- it's enough to send people scurrying for alternative ways to heat their homes and cook their meals.
In some parts of Central Asia, however, "alternative" doesn't necessarily mean clean burning or eco-friendly. In Uzbekistan, cheap is the operative word, and that means things can get downright, well, earthy.
"Coal is fuel for rich people only," says Eshmurod-Aka, a resident of Uzbekistan's Qashqadaryo province. "Animal manure is only fuel we use now."
Sadirokhun Sophiyev, a resident of the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, explains that "these hardships have prompted us to find rather unorthodox, alternative ways" to keep the heat going and the stove cooking.
The burning of animal dung for fuel is an age-old practice that had largely faded away. But in the current environment households with livestock once again find themselves slapping manure on barn walls, part of a drying process that will result in dried cakes that can be used for heating.
Perhaps it will take some of the charm of the "It tastes good, that's why we eat it!" response that most people give to the reasons behind why they eat certain traditional foods, but a group of researchers has embarked on a trip along the ancient Silk Road to uncover the "genetics of taste." From a release by Terra Madre, one of the groups behind the expedition:
The researchers will follow the historical journey of Venetian explorer Marco Polo, focusing on a number of topics including the genes that determine sensorial perception and taste, how these influence food preferences, the consequences of climate change on native populations, as well as documenting local food traditions. “We hope to gain a better understanding of genetics of taste and food preferences and their relationships with traditions and health of communities,” lead researcher Paolo Gasparini explained.
The expedition will work its way through the Caucasus and Central Asia, stopping at communities along the way that have managed to maintain traditional food production and cooking methods.
Plov and happiness in Istanbul's Mihman restaurant
Good news for Istanbul's lovers of plov and other Central Asian delights. Mihman, an enticing restaurant run by an Uzbek from Kashgar, has recently opened its doors. Istanbul Eats checked it out and came back very satisfied. Their report is here.
Those of you in Seoul, South Korea hankering for a heaping platter of plov are in luck. Turns out the South Korean capital has its own Little Uzbekistan, a back alley neighborhood with not one, but two Uzbek restaurants.
A reporter from the English-language JoongAng Daily recently made it there and filed a report, which can be found here.
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