Tuesday, May 25, 2010


ever since i arrived here in kazakhstan, i’ve been meaning to taste kumis and shubat, both traditional kazakh drinks. kumis is a mildly-alcoholic fermented beverage made of horse’s milk. shubat is camel’s milk (specifically bactrian camel's milk, as that’s the kind of camel they got in this neck of the woods). when i visited uzbekistan in 2003, i had a sip of uzbek kumis and hated it. but kazakh kumis must be totally different, right? i mean, it being kazakh and not uzbek. i decided before i write off kumis completely, i really should try it again here. and i had never tried shubat. so tasting the two dairy concoctions has been on my to-do list since december.

i didn't get around to it until last week. what took me so long? part of the problem was that while i wanted to try both kumis and shubat, i wasn’t very confident that i would like it. i didn’t want to buy a big container when i only really needed a sip. both are sold in the dairy aisle of the supermarkets here. you just need to look for the carton with a picture of the smiling horse or camel among all the milk cartons with the smiling cows. but the cartons i found were for one liter, too big for my single sip and mrs. noz maintained a strange prejudice against alcoholic horse’s milk. plus, i was told by locals that the store-bought stuff wasn’t real kumis or shubat. the authentic (i.e. unpasteurized) stuff was sold out of yurts in the summer time.


at that time, i never thought i would be around kazakhstan long enough to seeing the yurts go up. but suddenly it's may. a few weeks ago, the yurts started to appear and i still have not escaped kazakhstan. may also brought the arrival of JF, an adventuresome friend, who happens to have a particular interest in exotic dairy products.

so last week, JF and i set out to the nearest yurt to indulge. note the interior is decorated with horse posters, just so you don't forget where the kumis comes from.

2-Yurt Interior

she (i.e. the yurt-lady) ladeled out a small bowl of each and set it out on a table with some non (i.e. kazakh flat bread)

3-Ladeling it


(that’s shubat on the left and kumis on the right).

it wasn’t as bad as i thought. shubat was unexpectedly creamy, almost sweet. kumis tasted like milk with a strange, almost vinegary aftertaste and was a little bubbly (from the fermentation). i liked kumis a little better than shubat whereas JF was more into the shubat than the kumis. neither of us got sick, which by itself exceeded my expectations. no doubt that was because of the super-sanitary condition of the recycled soft drink bottles that was used to store it.

5-Sanitary Storage

the whole adventure set us back a whopping 200 tenge. (at 147 tg/$1 you figure it out). and that also included the kurt that only JF ate. i had tried before, and had already declared it disgusting.