A feast of salty tea and lungs fit for newlyweds
Wilco Van Herpen
All the inhabitants of the Ulupamir village near Van come from Kyrgyzstan.Four years ago, just before the elections, I was making a program about Turkish villagers and how they thought about politics. It was then that I visited Ulupamir village near Van for the first time. Ulupamir is not just another Turkish village but a new village, all of whose inhabitants come from Kyrgyzstan. About three months ago Mustafa Pamir phoned me. I didn’t have an idea who he was until he explained to me that we met four years ago. Slowly I started remembering him again. Pamir was going to get married and he wanted to invite me to come to his wedding ceremony. A Kyrgyz wedding is different from a Turkish wedding, he told me, so maybe it would be nice to see an authentic wedding.
The wedding would last for three days. The first two days people were constantly preparing food for all the guests who would come for the wedding. When I arrived, Pamir was already waiting for me in front of his parents’ house.
“I am terribly sorry; I wanted to fetch you from the entrance of the village but it is forbidden for me to leave the house. If the in-laws catch me somewhere here in the village then the wedding will be canceled. This is one of the many traditions we have during our wedding. Fortunately, there is always an escape plan. In my case, if they see me, I have to start some serious negotiations. The family of my future bride does want a bribe in order to forget about my mistake. This can be a yak, camel, horse, cow or sheep. In my case I will offer them a sheep and hope they accept this so the wedding can continue. But I am quite nervous that someone could catch me,” he said.
Pamir looked tired; he had been busy planning his wedding for weeks now. During the three days that I spent with Pamir, I understood the complexity of a traditional Kyrgyz wedding but I did not understand some of the traditions of the wedding (later I found out that even some of the Kyrgyz people do not know all the wedding traditions as well). Pamir had to send the invitations, arrange the food, prepare for the official marriage that would take place in Erciş and many more things. Of course everybody in the village was cooperating but this wedding was, in a way, like a burden on Pamir’s shoulders. He felt too many responsibilities were all being foisted on his shoulders during those three days, and Kyrgyz society is a rather male-dominated society. One of the major problems, at least for Pamir at this specific moment, was that almost everybody was related to someone else in the village. Therefore, it would be possible that 3,000 people might come to the wedding.
During summertime a lot of people get married in Ulupamir. Especially this year, there was a wedding marathon because of Ramadan. During Ramadan nobody gets married in Ulupamir, so many marriages took place before, but most of them occurred after the holy month of Ramadan. Therefore it was not strange that some people got tired of the avalanche of weddings. It was simply too much for them. Every day they were preparing food for yet another wedding.
Well, I can tell you; there was a lot of food. For this wedding alone, Pamir’s family slaughtered at least eight sheep, of which most of them were donated as food to the family of the bride. And then there was tea – tea with milk and salt or black tea. Whenever or wherever I sat down people would directly ask me if I would like a cup of tea. Especially the tea with milk and salt was interesting. They have beautiful big salt crystals that they twist three times (and not more!) into the tea with milk. The taste is, of course, a bit salty but together with fried pieces of puffy pastry this was a great combination. At the end of the wedding I estimated that around a thousand people had visited either Pamir or his bride. But you might be more curious about what I ate during those three days. Let me start by telling you that the Kyrgyz people use most parts of the sheep.
The funny thing was that there was another wedding going on as well, so sometimes it was quite confusing whose wedding I was attending but I managed to stay in the circles of the right family. We started the day with tea after which the women directly went downstairs to clean sheep intestines and lungs. At the other side of the room women were cutting meat into small pieces. After a good rinse, the intestines were put aside and they started making the mixture for the filled intestines. Cutting onions, cutting meat, mixing flower into a dough; it was like a food factory here. The intestines are filled with a mixture of fried little lumps of dough, meat, onions and herbs. They stuff the intestines and then boil them for half an hour. I can tell you that it tasted delicious.
Another important dish was filled lungs. Here the skills of the butcher are very important. If he touches the lungs with his knife there will be a hole in the lung and the women cannot fill the lungs properly with the milk mixture. As if on queue, the tip of the butcher’s knife had hit one of the lungs that the women were trying to fill; the women poured in the milk, but it came out directly again from the lungs. Whatever they tried, like pushing a hot stone in to plug the leak or trying to tie it, they did not succeed.
Finally, in a final attempt, a woman managed to close the hole and they continued pouring in the milk mixture. When the lungs looked like big white balloons, they closed the lungs, put them on a tray and brought them outside. Huge pots were put above a fire. The wind changed constantly and it was very difficult to escape from the smoke. It was already warm but standing next to the big pans on fire with the smoke burning your throat and eyes made it almost impossible for me to work there. Boiling the lungs lasts at least 45 minutes and then when the dish was ready, one of the women cut a slice of lung and gave it to me. It was delicious, but if I were to make this dish myself, I would have added a couple of fresh herbs and maybe a bit of mustard.
Sitting under a starry sky, eating my boiled lungs next to a fireplace together with all those people was a very special experience. Pamir’s uncle took his keman (a kind of traditional Kyrgyz violin) and started playing traditional Kyrgyz songs. You could still hear the pain in his voice; all of the people I spoke to do miss their homeland and especially their hometown a lot. I called it a day; it was already late and tomorrow would be another hectic day.