Monday, 29 September 2008
It is a strange thing to say, but moving to Kazakhstan has felt like moving home in some ways, or certainly, back to Europe. I guess we have been too long in the wilds of leaving NE Asia and had got so used to Seoul and all its special and unique things. When we first went to live there, there were regularly sights and events that I witnessed which made me stop and gawp: people exercising by walking backwards up hills; small, poochy dogs with their ears dyed purple to match their fluffy booties and things like that. Moving to the Stan, it all feels much more Western and normal.
But I was sad to leave the Far East and worried that there would not be the markets and things that make life so much fun over there.
Having been shown around Ramstore, the Turkish-owned supermarket chain here
(complete with cheese counter, deli section and noone shouting at you in the aisles to buy
their newly-in smoked, dried, squid chews) I thought that life was moving back towards the boring old Tesco run. Actually, you can buy almost everything in places like Ramstore, but the veggies and fruit are rank and old and of a VERY limited range.
But not to worry, because there is the fantastic Zelony Bazaar in town which is a fabulous fresh market (actually, fresh and more or less everything else). Here there are piles of Tajikistan apricots and peaches, pails of luscious creamy yoghurt and sour cream, fresh bread on trays that is still warm when you buy it, pickles and salads and Russian-style Kimbap (like a Sushi roll, but with smoked salmon, egg and cucumber inside), sheeps heads, horse dick sausages, cow guts and pig brains...what else could you ask for! ha ha
I've been to Zelony many times already. The fruit sellers are fascinated
with the baby, they laugh and chatter and grab her to kiss her with their hairy upper lips and mouths full of gold teeth. She is fed goodness knows what samples by stall holders who all want to feed her up, treat her to something tasty and special. When I went with the girls after school one day, we all
ate cheesy Samsa (like a puff pastry roll turnover) for lunch, followed by Apple Samsa dusted with icing sugar and crispy as a crisp thing. I thought Connie had eaten hers but later found that she had been using it as a cushion in her pushchair.
Everything here seems to taste better than normal and a visit to the bazaar is a sensory overload experience - the raspberries burst in your mouth like sweeties, the cream and yoghurt are beautiful to look at as the milky-skinned women stir their vats and ladle great scoops of it it into plastic bags for you to take home, ancient old crones sell mountain honey, their faces so wrinkled and aged that you feel they have lived in this region for 1000 years. I like it.
I have also visited Baraholka market, a long-roadside market where you can buy kitchen stuff, carpets, fur coats, plastic boxes, DVD players, nail accessories and the most enormous range of sheep skin car seat covers I have ever seen in my life - I suspect you can find almost anything here if you spend enough time looking. Baraholka is massive and I have not yet explored it properly. Large sections of it are made up of shipping containers converted into shops and it does not have the charm of Bangkok's mighty Chatuchak - king of all markets in my opinion, but will have to do for the time being.