Milk-Ball Bricks in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Snow-kissed mountains painted green with grasses, trees, and shrubs. Horses, sheep, and goats roaming. Nomads’ tents and yurts, rivers, and deep aquamarine lakes. Amidst this beauty, we dine in a run-down truck-stop restaurant.

“I need to eat,” Andrew says. “My blood sugar level’s crashing.”

After yesterday’s Imodium diet, Team Dinosaur is tired and grumpy. We order manty and pilaf. Beside us, thugged-out twentysomethings watch porn on their fancy cell phones.

The manty are oversteamed, old, and greasy, as is the pilaf. It’s topped by crunchy meat of questionable origin. Is it goat? Sheep? Horse? The sullen waitress ignores our inquiries, which is probably best.

After lunch we continue cruising through the mountainous region. Nomadic tents increase in frequency and clusters, most fronted by makeshift stands selling kumis (fermented horse milk) cured in animal skins. I need not experience that acrid, bubbly brew again.

What interests me more are pinkie-size bricks that appear to be made out of the stuff that’s inside malted milk balls. I walk up to a woman wearing a vibrant purple dress and a green headband. Her front four teeth are fake, which she demonstrates by disconcertingly sliding them around her mouth while talking.

She tries to sell me a bowl of milky liquid, which looks suspiciously like the sour goat milk I despise. But I do buy several bricks for five soms (less than a penny).

“Moo?” I ask. Thankfully, animal sounds are universal. I’m guessing it’s milk curds.

The woman nods. “Aaruul.”

Mims and I take a bite of one brick. It’s as dry as chalk and tastes like sour Parmesan.

“All the moisture has been sucked from my mouth,” Mims says.