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A Varied Diet

As a child I ate, or was forced to eat, liver and onions, kidneys and the like. I’m not squeamish about food generally, but draw the line at offal of all sorts, lungs, brains and other organs. However, if you travel to countries which are “off the beaten track” you need to adapt your culinary tastes unless you’re staying in an international hotel.

While conducting safety audits, it’s often that the host company will take the auditors out for dinner at some stage. Likely diners might have included the management and senior department personnel. At one such event in Kazakhstan, there were about fifteen or sixteen people plus my colleague and I. Most of them didn’t speak English, and we two certainly did not understand Kazakh. So we had an interpreter, who was a lovely lady in all senses of the word.

There was a lot of chatter at the table and frequent glances at us at the one end. Then the interpreter asked if we would like some fermented mare’s milk. Willing to try most things, I said yes, and my friend, after some hesitation based on not wanting to offend our hosts, said yes as well.

So we each received a glass of kumis. I thought it was great, but my colleague didn’t and offered me his glass, which I duly downed. Now the looks from the rest of the table intensified, and giggles could be heard. Our lady friend was arguing with the others (I think she was trying to protect us) before she turned to me and explained in a very embarrassed way that kumis is very beneficial for the gut and general well being, but it also has a strong laxative effect.

Well, it was too late to do anything about it. I had to take what came, so I laughed it off, but spent the evening and the rest of the night nervously ready for action in that department. The effect was nothing as it happened, but that didn’t stop the enquiries about my health and the curious looks from the auditees the next day.

Kumis is delicious, I think. It’s mildly alcoholic and very tasty. In Iran they have a drink called doogh. It’s a mixture of yoghurt and soda water, perhaps with some herbs added. We used to climb Tochal, the 13,000 ft mountain behind Tehran in the morning (starting at 7,000 ft) and run down to wet our tongues with doogh in the afternoon. It’s a tremendous thirst quencher and is very similar in taste to kumis.

I had another taste of the beverage while travelling through Mongolia. Our hostess stopped the car at the top of a pass and we went into a yurt where a woman was selling bowls of kumis to thirsty travellers. Truly delicious.

The one dish I was warned about and so never tried was the sausage with the hole down the middle. You can use your imagination on that one.

Perhaps next time I’ll share the most disgusting dishes I’ve ever had and invite challenges.

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