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Eating (healthy!) in Tajikistan!

Sam Fujisaka Sep 24, 2008 07:22 PM

I just got back from Tajikistan, the poorest and smallest of the ex-Soviet Central Asian Republics, where we are looking for ways to conserve agro-biodiversity in the face of climate change. The country is a center of origin and hugely diverse in terms fruit (e.g., figs, pomegranates, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, persimmons, grapes, and more), melons (so much better than any I've ever tasted!), nuts (almonds, pistachio, walnut, more), vegetables (the tomatoes and cucumbers are small, succulent, firm, and flavor bound--perhaps more so than any hierloom of famers' market in the US), forages, ornamental plants, and basic food grains both traditional and from the Soviet time(wheat, barley, rye, others).

The food was GREAT, albeit not complex in terms of preparation. Most meals have: a huge platter of fantastic fruit (melons, pears, apples, grapes, plums, peaches, and more) and nuts (boiled walnut, pistacio, almond); great delicious full flat breads; plates of salad of the most super sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with chiles, flat leaf parsley, some lettuce/spinach leaves, dill, basil (including aurple much like Lao - Thai), and mint; soup; and meats such as ground meat kabobs, goat ribs, beef organ mixes, mutton, and lamb—and possibly fish; and local foods such as sweet (naturally) mulberry flower, mulberry molasses, local honey, boiled walnuts, almond pits (somehow!), and fantastically on and on!!!

The agricultural landscape was much like that of the Central Valley of California – 100 years ago!

Shown are (probably not happening): a) the starters for a meal under a tree and across from the Tajikistan – Afghanistan border; b) a look across at Afghanistan; and c) part of a fancier Sunday meal of trout with the fruit, the salad, and bread close-by.

A striking contrast to Peru and to Washington, DC, for those of you who connected to a couple of my past posts

  1. poptart Sep 28, 2008 07:20 PM

    Unless I missed it, seems they don't eat any cultured dairy there? Anything akin to yogurt, cheeses, kefir, etc? Or no dairy whatsoever? How about butter or oils for cooking or accompanying foods? Perhaps nut oils? This is very interesting; a part of the world I never hear much about, especially food-wise! Thanks for opening our eyes (and virtual tastebuds!) :-).

    1 Reply
    1. re: poptart
      Sam Fujisaka Sep 28, 2008 11:59 PM

      Cottonseed oil is used for cooking (cotton being a/the major ag output). Livestock include mainly goats and sheep, followed by cattle for meat. I didn't encounter any cheeses in the markets. There was a sour cream being sold for Ramadan. Farmers with cows (apparently from my experience) make thair own butter (very good).

    2. m
      moh Sep 28, 2008 01:22 PM

      Great post Sam, as always!

      Fall is a great to visit places, so many yummy things being harvested. By any chance are you going back again for more work? I would be very interested in knowing how the eating changes with the seasons. I'm guessing with all those fabulous fruits and nuts, there are some really lovely preserves that make the food more interesting when fresh fruits and veg are less available. Emerilcantcook mentioned a fascinating walnut preserve that sounded delicious. And it has been a long time since I have had a nice apricot, I bet they have great apricot preserves too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: moh
        Sam Fujisaka Sep 28, 2008 04:22 PM

        Lots of dried apricots, dried figs, raisins, and the like: and one woman I talked to in the remotest of places had a large jar of canned grapes. Beautiful. Was to be served at her son's wedding next month.

      2. poptart Sep 26, 2008 12:14 PM

        Thanks for sharing your food experiences there. Sounds fantastic. I would also love to know more about the boiling of the nuts, and how different to they taste boiled compared to raw or roasted, which are what I am more familiar with.

        Do they eat many preserved or fermented foods, or is that not necessary due to a year-round growing season?

        4 Replies
        1. re: poptart
          Sam Fujisaka Sep 26, 2008 12:56 PM

          h p and pt, I have no idea why the walnuts were boiled. They don't boil almonds and pistacios. Doubt if you need recipes: the goat ribs were stewed as was the organ stew. Trout was deep fried. Kabobs were just kabobby--ground lamb or mutton cubes were great. The key was: huge platters of fruit and of tomato, cucumber, greens, and herb salad. The mulberry flowers and molasses were real country foods.

          People can (including grapes, but not grape leaves) and dry fruit. There were some quite home-made pickles in the market. Production is very seasonal, with harsh, cold winters. I was there at a good time for the fruit, nuts, and vegetables.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
            Father Kitchen Sep 26, 2008 05:11 PM

            Sam, great post. I've been out of town and then got back nursing a cold and almost missed it.
            Were the boiled walnuts green by any chance? I've read of people pickling green walnuts. But when you think that chestnuts are usually either roasted or boiled before eating, maybe boiled walnuts are not so strange.
            Flatbreads always fascinate me. I presume they were similar to those in neighboring countries. Were there any rice dishes?

            1. re: Father Kitchen
              Sam Fujisaka Sep 26, 2008 06:23 PM

              The walnuts were fully ripened

              I had one unremarkable rice dish as a side. The markets, however, had a wide range of rices, including lower amylose (sticky) types from China and a number of Central Asian varieties that I hadn't seen before. So its like my supermarket here in Cali, Colombia: lots of stuff that I've never seen anyone take home and cook.

              I would have brought back some rice, but traveling with carry-on only limited me to what I brought back: miniature dried figs, small pistachios, tiny dried apricots, large dried apricots, super flavored raisins, tiny almonds, and edible (very) apricot pits.

              Take care of that cold; drink plenty of water!!

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                Father Kitchen Sep 27, 2008 06:40 AM

                Thanks, Sam. Your discoveries make me wonder whether people who eat (mostly) locally eat in greater variety than our supermarkets offer us. When I cook for our community, I get tired of the usual six or seven green vegetables that our local supermarket offers. And as for fruit, we import so very much stuff to keep the same old things available all year round. We had far more variety (apart from temperate fruit) from the vegetable markets in Nairobi.
                As for the cold, water and bed rest are doing the trick.

        2. h
          hungry_pangolin Sep 26, 2008 09:47 AM

          Sam, I always enjoy your posts! Always fascinating.

          Question: What advantage is there in boiling walnuts? Why not just eat them raw?

          Could you possibly post some recipes or techniques? My sister just recently returned from China, where she really enjoyed Uighur cuisine.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hungry_pangolin
            Sam Fujisaka Sep 26, 2008 01:00 PM

            I just remembered: I went to a Uighiar restaurant in Dushanbe. Same fruit and salad platters, but also a meat salad, a dumpling soup, and meat. Nothing spicy. Again, the fruit, salads, and bread were the stars.

          2. r
            Rasam Sep 25, 2008 01:21 AM

            Sam: that's such great documenting of a delicious and healthy local foodway. I fear it will fast disappear and within a few years you'll find McBucks and Kababs-R-Us fast supplanting these ways of eating.

            For e.g. see this depressing NYT piece:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/wor...

            Quote:
            " The fact is that the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with longer life spans and lower rates of heart disease and cancer, is in retreat in its home region. Today it is more likely to be found in the upscale restaurants of London and New York than among the young generation in places like Greece, where two-thirds of children are now overweight and the health effects are mounting, health officials say.

            ....

            The traditional diet, low in saturated fats and high in nutrients like flavonoids, was based on vegetables, fruit, unrefined grains, olive oil for cooking and for flavoring, and a bit of wine — all consumed on a daily basis.
            Fish, nuts, poultry, eggs, cheese and sweets were weekly additions. Red meat, refined sugar or flour, butter and other oils or fats were consumed rarely, if at all. "

            As an anthropologist, you'd be in a great position to comment on why people drop their wonderful indigenous diets and embrace junk food.

            Convenience?

            Or not wanting to be seen as those hicks way over there who eat that weird stuff, but who are modern like all of you, see, we have lots of pizza and burgers and chips and coke.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Rasam
              Sam Fujisaka Sep 25, 2008 09:05 AM

              Point well taken. But at this point there are no fast food places, relatively few restaurants, and--in season--wonderful breads, fruits, and vegetables.

            2. Sam Fujisaka Sep 24, 2008 07:34 PM

              Starters under a tree Tajikistan -Afghanistan border

              7 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                Sam Fujisaka Sep 24, 2008 07:42 PM

                Sorry, the site is not taking my photos!

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                  Gio Sep 24, 2008 07:48 PM

                  Sam... have you uploaded the photos to a site like Flickr or PictureTrail? It's easy, and free then you can just post that link.

                  1. re: Gio
                    Sam Fujisaka Sep 24, 2008 07:59 PM

                    lemmiegiveitatrythanks

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                      Gio Sep 24, 2008 08:17 PM

                      In any case, I'm fascinated by the wonderful assortment of fruits, vegetables, meats, etc. that was available. Mulberry molasses!!!

                      1. re: Gio
                        Sam Fujisaka Sep 24, 2008 08:35 PM

                        The mulberry flowers were sweet - so much so to be a new healthy junk food in developed countries. The molasses was incredible in terms of depth of flavor, light sweetness, and smoothness in spite of very rustic, home manufacture.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          Gio Sep 25, 2008 05:05 AM

                          I have read that mulberries have many health benefits and are high in antioxidants. Who knew? We had a large tree near our garden terrace which we had to take down because of the dreadful mess the berries made when they dropped.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                        Stephanie Wong Sep 25, 2008 04:48 PM

                        Hi, Sam: Have you had any success posting your photos yet?

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