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Kymyz | The Kyrgyz Cure-All

Take a summer drive to the mountains, or to Issyk-Kul, or any valley stemming into the ranges of Kyrgyzstan, and you will undoubtedly see the large, hand-painted signs advertising “кымыз”.   Kymyz is a form of fermented mare’s milk that gets collected, brewed, and consumed in the space of a few days.  It has a fairly low alcohol content, about 2%, and a very, very distinct smoky flavor.  For those that have grown up in the region, almost every Central Asian culture has their version of this milk.  It can only be produced (naturally and fresh) during the summer, when mares are feeding their young, and has a rather short shelf life. 

Kymyz is made by pouring fresh milk into a wooden barrel, then pounding it with a stick (called “bishkek”, interestingly enough) for several hours.  It is then left to cool before being bottled or served.  

Before the modern age, when manufactured materials were widely available, kymyz was stored in leather skeins.  It appears that even the nomadic groups of the past also had a sense of humor, mixed with ingenuity, and would use the tanned skin from the udder of a butchered cow as a storage vessel.  

Fresh milk is high in nutrient contents, and Central Asian cultures revere the drink for its detoxing effect, along with the slight alcoholic content and smoky flavor.  For foreign guests, the flavor can be hard to stomach, and often a few sips are all that are needed to appease the hospitable offering of fresh kymyz.  

In June, retreats into the mountains will sometimes follow a schedule of drinking samal, which is kymyz mixed with fresh milk.  This practice is very similar to a juice detox, with similar results, though a very different taste and experience!

The History Museum

On the outskirts of Bokonbaevo, on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, a new set of yurts has appeared. The home of a renown eagle hunter, they are developing the site into a tourist attraction, complete with eagle demonstrations, traditional dance performances, and a yurt packed with artifacts of the nomadic history that defines Kyrgyz culture.

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