Waiter, There’s a Spider in My Soup

Beynew, Kazakhstan

After surviving the pothole gauntlet, we’re nearing the Uzbekistan border. Before crossing, we fill up once more on gas and food. A kindly policeman wielding an enormous orange baton directs us to an antiseptic, nameless little eatery. The floors are spotless, and there’s a fake tree filled with stuffed animals such as a squirrel and a blue bear.

By now, we know the drill at such caf├ęs: eggs, eggs, eggs, with a little bit of odd round meat. However, this menu does offer several local treats we have yet to sample. A dozen purses of tiny lamb dumplings are submerged in a bowl of thin chicken stock. It’s a refreshing break from borscht, save for the spider Mims finds floating in his soup.

“At least it wasn’t a fly,” he says.

The most intriguing dish isn’t on the menu. Beside me, two men in tank tops are vigorously attacking a plate piled with brown, bone-in meat and raw onions. I walk up to the chef-owner and point at the dish. Then I hold up my index finger.

Whereas yesterday’s dinner was squishy organ meat, today’s plate of animal contains shards of bone and bite-size vertebrae. Gristle and fat abound, as well as coarse hairs.

“Dog,” Andrew says. “Definitely dog.”

I take a few big, bold forkfuls. Tough, gamy, greasy flesh is mixed with a few muscular scraps of what may be heart. The meat’s definitely in the lamb-goat-sheep vein, but which animal once possessed these bits? The counterwoman places her index fingers beside her temple, pointing them straight up. Horns. Goat. Question answered. I think.