#115 Kazakhstan: sidewalk Kazakh ziplock pilaf


In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not really a huge fan of fancy restaurants with fancy table settings.  Once, I happily ate tasty Honduran beef out of a large, black trash bag in a park in the Bronx.  One of my all-time favorite New York meals is served in a parking lot in Astoria.  And now, I’ve eaten Kazakh food—prepared by somebody I’ve never met—from a ziplock bag on a sidewalk in Manhattan.  And guess what? Sidewalk Kazakh ziplock pilaf is delicious.

little-known fact: the word "hefty" is actually derived from the Kazakh word for "oink"

Here’s the story:  a friend of my fiancé happens to attend law school with a lovely Kazakh-American woman named Aika.  Aika’s mother is a Kazakh immigrant who occasionally cooks enormous quantities of Kazakh food.  Sometimes, she freezes the leftovers.  And on rare occasions, Aika randomly stands on a street in front of her mother’s apartment, and hands out bags of the frozen leftovers to random food bloggers.

Actually, she might have done that only once.

(By the way, do you have any idea how difficult it is to write a post about Kazakh food without making some sort of Borat reference?  If I were from Kazakhstan, I would probably hate Borat more than anything.  So I’ll try to refrain from making any rude Borat references, but just for the record, I am wearing a banana hammock right now.  You’re welcome.)

Aika seemed to be a little bit embarrassed by our encounter on a sunny Friday afternoon.  Her Kazakh Mom had made a mountain of Kazakh food on Wednesday night, and Aika was planning to provide us with a full Kazakh feast.  Unfortunately, Aika was surprised to discover that most of the food had been eaten during an impromptu party on Thursday, and Aika could only provide us with one small, firm, icy bag filled with Kazakh rice pilaf.

rice pilaf with lamb is never embarrassing; banana hammocks, on the other hand...

No need for embarrassment, Aika: you handed me a bag of Kazakh food seasoned with dill, and for that, I’ll love you forever. The ziplock pilaf was damned tasty, thanks to a lovely combination of lamb, carrots, chickpeas, a mysterious spice blend imported from Kazakhstan, and dill, which happens to be my favorite seasoning.  We carried our ziplock prize home, unloaded the ziplock pilaf onto a plate, popped it into the microwave, and happily chowed down.

You know, it’s funny how sometimes you feel like perfect strangers must be reading your mind.  Lamb and rice make me happy.  Dill makes me even happier.  Thank you, Aika and Kazakh Mom!  You made me very excite.

Huge thanks to Aika for feeding us, Mira Ness (a.k.a. Kazakh Mom) for preparing the delicious Kazakh ziplock pilaf, and the always-amazing Sarah Wegmuller for arranging the encounter. 

always trust a smiling Kazakh... especially if she smells like dill

9 Responses to “#115 Kazakhstan: sidewalk Kazakh ziplock pilaf”

  1. […] Taiwanese menu items. Charles Biblios fulfills his quest to try Kazhakh cuisine by eating home-cooked pilaf from a Ziplock bag. And James Boo announces that he and Jeff have three food tours for sale on Rama Food, the food […]

  2. vera kaltinick says:

    My daughter is adopted from Kazakhstan and we are desperate to try some Kazakh food and meet some fellow Kazakhs. She is 12 and her name is Lily She is from Actobe and came here as a baby of 6 mos.

    It is so difficult to have any brushes of culture for her so I thought I might reach out to you fabulous sounding women .

    I am a chef and am very curious about the food of Kazakhstan. Would you share a recipe for the pilaf, and what is the spice mix ?

    Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.


  3. I’m doing my best to put Vera in touch with the family that graciously fed me, but if anybody out there has some some Kazakh recipes for Vera, please email me at unitednationsoffood@gmail.com, and I’ll pass them along…

  4. Tatyana says:

    Dear Vera and Lily,
    I am Russian and was born in Actobe, Kazakhstan, left it more than 30 years ego but still enjoy my childhood favorite food and introduce it to all my friends.
    Last week of August 2014 I and my friend from another town in Kazahstan will have Day of Kazakhstan Culture for our kids. I will be happy to send you some recipes even with step-by-step pictures.

    Dear unitednationsoffood!
    Please forward my personal e-mail address to Vera and Lily.


  5. You’re awesome, thank you, Tatyana! I’ll pass your email along.

  6. Florian says:

    I’d like to humbly suggest my blog 🙂 I have an Uzbek plov recipe here: http://foodperestroika.com/2013/10/18/traditional-uzbek-plov/ (in fact, you’ll find a few other plov recipes there!). Kazakh plov is very similar.

  7. Food Perestroika! I love it. Great title and great blog!

  8. Dennis says:

    So what are your rules about food origins? Plov is eaten widely in Kazakhstan but is NOT Kazakh food. Kazakhs were nomads and traditionally ate food products they could get from their cattle (i.e. meat and dairy). Plov is associated with settled Central Asian people like Uzbeks and Tajiks.

    I’m still looking for a place to get you real Kazakh/Kyrgyz food, which would probably be a dish called beshparmak.

  9. Thank you, Dennis! I don’t really have rules about the origins of the dishes themselves, mostly because it’s a really slippery slope for me to try to decide whether something is truly an “authentic” or “original” dish from a particular country. I do the best I can to get something that’s truly deeply part of a nation’s fabric, and not just a regional dish with origins elsewhere — so if I can get my hands on something that actually evolved in, say, Kazakhstan that’s unique to the country, that’s always ideal, but it’s hard to make that happen sometimes. 🙂

    Let me know if you find a place that serves beshparmak! I would love that. Happy eating!

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