So you want to have a picnic? With plov, the national dish of Kyrgyzstan*?
Perfect, here’s how, in pictures.
Find a guide, preferably one on horseback, to take you to a secret spot perfect for picknicking. Ours is Pasha, a hilarious bread maker and host brother of our Russian Teacher. When delivering bread, Pasha is occasionally is swarmed by young children who demand ice cream. I have never known him to turn them down.
Then, find an expert in plov and the largest cast-iron pot you can carry. Our chef is Usen, our unbelievably incredible Russian Teacher, and the pot is roughly the size of half of me. Make sure you carry it for at least one mile, or you won’t have earned the goodness you are about to receive.
Next, start a fire and start boiling at least one bottle of oil. Plov is just rice, onion, carrots, meat, garlic, and oil. Heart health comes second to deliciousness in Kyrgyzstan.
Relax as the fire starts to heat up. Seen relaxing here is Ludmilla, called Luda, our Russian Teacher’s host mother and her husband. Luda is a former professional chef and fabulous baker, so tea breaks between Russian lessons never lack in delicious food. This is the first time I have ever seen her truly sitting and relaxing instead of offering more tea or moving things from the oven to the table in her kitchen. She is incredible.
More relaxing shown by fellow Peace Corps Trainees and teachers in front of fresh fruit from Osh, some of the first of the season. From left to right, Christian, Aigul-Eje, Sara, DeAnna, and Tori.
Fellow PC Trainee, Larisa, relaxes in style.
Next add meat. A whole duck if you can get it. Then onions.
Let it fry.
Then add carrots. Plov requires a certain cut of carrot that I have been told I am consistently failing to provide. Float whole bulbs of garlic in there, and let it simmer.
Crack open the best of local beers, Arpa, while the magic starts to happen.
Count on the greatness of your chef to decide when things move forward. From what I understand, it’s a settling in the stomach and the introduction of a particular smell and then you just know. That’s when you take out the meat and garlic, bonus points if you can do it with only your hands**.
Then add water and rice. At least enough to ostensibly feed several small villages.
Slowly stir the rice into the liquid so it absorbs everything delicious in your massive pot.
Restack the meat and garlic in a pile in the center, then cover with a bowl so it can steam over the rice for a time determined by a gut feeling.
Got that gut feeling of progress towards deliciousness? Great, take the meat and garlic off the rice and marvel at its beauty for a second.
Tear it apart using your hands. Utensils are for the weak and well-prepared, and we are neither. Make sure you clean off every bone and don’t waste a single piece of deliciousness.
Distribute the now bite-sized meats with your hands to fellow picnickers over rice. (Not pictured is the beautiful salad made by other volunteers). Representing 90s American fashion via RunDMC t-shirts and star bandannas are wholly optional, seriousness about the goodness that is plov is not.
Eat up, friends. Alec, on the left, is nibbling on a duck head. Andrew, on the right, is biting into the duck heart (he shared with me, and it was delicious).
Slow down and enjoy it. Plov is best enjoyed in large groups and over a long period of time, rushing eating or spending time with friends or family is sacrilege. Food here is only as good as the people you share it with.
* Every delicious food, from borsok to beshbarmak to plov to vodka, has been described to me as the national dish of Kyrgyzstan. It doesn’t matter which has the rightful title because they are all delicious.
** Convinced that this is not possible without the loss of hands, fingers, or other extremities. Do not attempt bonus points.