Nomads are not famous for their food having never developed the types of cuisine that come with settled agriculture. Many of the more delicious dishes are of Uighur, Dungan, or other Turkik origins and meals are rotating versions of picky bits. Tables are decorated with homemade raspberry and sea buckthorn jams in cut glass goblets, hunks of fresh bread, carrot salads, and miscellaneous bits of offal. In the city, Central Asian dishes plov and beshbarmak are the main events at a large authentic restaurant where a man sits playing a komuz – a kind of traditional Kyrgyz lute. His playlist includes the game of thrones theme tune, Boney M’s Rasputin, and jingle bells. Later on, grilled meats arrive in a cloud of smoke from a bed of dry ice.
The Soviet sign marking the collective farm still stands at the entrance to the village, along with old street signs with hammer and sickles. There is a degree of nostalgia for the Soviet era, for the investment, for the state sponsored summer camps, for the new buildings and parks. There is a feeling that life was easier or simpler back then. At the same time, there is a strong sense of and pride in a Kyrgyz national identity. People are political and knowledgeable in a way that many, who take freedom and democracy for granted, are not. They are aware of the struggle of nation-building in a new country that is both economically dependent on China and Russia, and at the cultural mercy of globalisation. “Who is the most famous person in the world?” I ask. “Manas” a man replies, proud of his country’s hero. Later on I get a Jennifer Lopez, an Angelina Jolie, a Messi, and – even – a Margaret Thatcher.