Food in Kyrgyzstan has not been something to write home about. Although I often do find myself talking about the new role that raw, lukewarm, congealing sheep fat now plays in my life. Or the times when I come into breakfast to see my mom, her hair in rollers and her newly painted nails drying, daintily gnawing on the rib of a sheep. Or the dark powers of beshbarmak. While the act of eating is important – it is something to be done together, with gratitude and respect and gravity – but the food’s flavor is less so.
There are a few exceptions – one of which is Ashlyan-Fu. Having recently traveled to the heartland of Ashlyan-Fu last week, I was excited to try something new. Ashlyan-Fu is a Dungan dish, migrated over the Tien Shan from China into Karakol where it is made on long, open tables in a warehouse adjacent to the city’s small bazaar.
The food is simple – cold noodles bathed in peppery broth, vinegar, garlic, spices, and chili and crowned with starch noodles. Carved like playdoh from translucent cakes of cornstarch and water, this is the part of the dish that scares off many. Don’t be scared – its spicy and refreshing and magic after months of sheep parts and potatoes.
Top to bottom, Left to Right
Ashlyan-Fu, extra spicy.
Cornstarch cake for making starch noodles. | Assembling a bowl by hand.