In the vast steppes of Kazakhstan, the horse has historically been not only a noble companion in battle and a means of transport, but also a prized delicacy on the dinner table, a status that has continued for centuries.
Horse meat is popular in the Central Asian country not only in stews, but also in the various types of sausages and cold cuts.
BESHBARMAK, FINGER-LICKING GOOD
The nation’s star dish, though, is beshbarmak, which in Kazakh means ‘five fingers,’ honoring the ancient tradition of eating by hand, since the use of knives and forks, food lovers say, deprives it of all its charm.
The dish, often shortened to just ‘Besh’ by younger, trendy Kazakhs, consists of slices of horse meat boiled with spices for at least five hours.
The result is tender, juicy meat that melts in your mouth and is accompanied by thin wheat pasta, boiled in the same broth as the meat, which is full of flavour due to its long cooking process.
The dish is served on a large wooden platter with typical Kazakh motifs and, most importantly and following tradition, it should be as generous as possible.
“Kazakhs are the second biggest meat-eaters after? wolves,” is a recurring joke across the country.
The broth, shorpa, is enjoyed as a second course and with a small amount of ayran, a mixture of sheep’s milk yoghurt and water, or kumis, fermented mare’s milk, which gives it a slightly sour taste.
Kumis, which, depending on fermentation, can have up to 4 percent in alcohol, helps digestion, with Kazakh doctors having no hesitation in recommending it to people suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses.
Horse meat is high in nutrition and very lean: a 100 gram portion has only 2.5 grams of fat, almost ten times less than beef and about six times less than pork.
MODERNITY IMPOSES ITS PACE
The fast pace of modern life has also influenced Kazakh cuisine, shortening the preparation time for its national dish.
In the capital Nur-Sultan, the restaurant chain Tez Besh, or fast beshbarmak, has reduced the cooking time by several hours.
“The special feature of our beshbarmak is that we prepare it with smoked meat, which speeds up the process considerably. It’s very fast and looks spectacular,” Aidana Soltanbekova, a chef at one of the company’s restaurants, told Efe.
The popularity and demand for horsemeat in Kazakhstan is reflected in its market price, which is more expensive than beef or lamb and currently costs 3,700 tenge, about 9 dollars per kilo.
And while in some countries wedding celebrations in rural areas are almost unthinkable without buying a heifer, lamb or pig for guests, in Kazakhstan it is customary to offer a horse.
The consumption of horse meat is widespread in Asia and much of Europe, but not in the Americas, where countries, such as the United States, prohibit the slaughter of horses and the sale of its meat.
A SECTOR WITH GREAT POTENTIAL
With 2.8 million head of horses, just over half of which are for the meat industry, Kazakhstan is the world’s largest horse meat producer after China, and is the only country that has developed horse breeds for human consumption.
In 2019, 131,900 tonnes of horse meat were produced in the country, which was an increase of 4.3 percent over the previous year and represented 11.8 percent of all types of meat consumed by Kazakhs in that year.
“In the domestic market, the demand for horse meat is 98 percent covered, or almost completely. It is a sector with export potential,” Kairat Mutaev, head of the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture’s livestock department, told Efe.
According to the official, 95 percent of the horse-breeding sector’s income comes from the sale of its meat. EFE