The Kalmyks are historically a nomadic population. It was only about 150 years ago that they were settled in the city of Elista. As in all nomadic cultures that I know of, the Kalmyks did not plant crops, so their diet was mostly dependent on meat and milk. There's even a traditional Kalmyk song that goes something like, "As long as you like meat, we like you."
Coming from the United States, where vegetarian and vegetable-heavy options are plentiful, it has taken some getting used to, but luckily the meat is cooked in delicious ways here.
|Dumplings (beregi) stuffed with ground lamb -|
one of the things I was most looking forward to about this trip!
|A brothy lamb soup at a Kalmyk restaurant (which also serves pizza and sushi)|
|The bread is usually a spongey sourdough.|
|Goulash and rice, pictured with cabbage slaw, beet slaw, and a kind of "cheesecake"|
|What's left of my sausage, pictured with barley and a cabbage slaw|
As you can see in the above photos, vegetables usually come in the form of small chopped/shredded salads on the side. The meat is usually served atop rice, barley, or mashed potatoes. Once in a while you can get "home-style" potatoes or cooked cabbage instead.
|Chicken cutlet served atop mashed potatoes, with sauce|
One of our favorite places to eat is the university cafeteria. Yeah, you read that right. Unlike most American cafeterias, the cafeteria food here is cheap, excellent, and tastes "just like home" (we've been told by the locals).
|The smells from the university cafeteria hit you as soon as you enter the front door of the main building. |
After this trip, I will probably always associate the smell of dill with Kalmyk State University.
The basic cafeteria routine is: (1) Choose a side salad: cabbage slaw, Korean-style carrots, shredded beat salad, "crab" salad, or a kind of potato/cabbage/beet/pea salad; (2) Choose your base: mashed potatoes, rice, pilaf (rice containing chunks of lamb), or barley; (3) Choose your meat: sausage, cutlet, meatballs, or goulash. Oh, you can also get lamb stroganoff.
|Our first cafeteria lunch cost less than $4 U.S. We got a meat-filled pirochki,|
two slaws, a plate of rice with sausage, a plate of lamb stroganoff, and a juice box.
You can also get a bowl of borsch (which is not beet-based here - it's cabbage-based) or chicken noodle soup, garnished with sour cream if you'd like.
|Just like home!|
Finally, there are many pastries to choose from, including potato-stuffed pies (pirozhki), sugared cookie-like pastries, pig-in-a-blanket, or plain bread, all of which are eaten at room temperature.
Needless to say, we eat lunch at the university cafeteria several times a week...
There's plenty more to write about, but I'll save it for another post. Anyway, it's almost lunch time here, and Ted's getting HUNGRAY!