Syedyshev Oleg
Syedyshev Oleg

Humorous Essays Based on students' memories

"All have died
except for those who are alive, and those whom we remember"Confucius

Essay 59. Pilau on Issyk Kul

Issyk-Kul - is a pearl not only of Kirgizia, but at old days of the whole Soviet Union, and Cholpon - Ata is the capital of the Nothern coast of the wonderful mountain lake. During my student years I had an occasion to spend three or four weeks on the lake every summer.

Petya Kozlov

Petya Kozlov

Sasha Salmayer

Sasha Salmayer

Marik Golubkov

Marik Golubkov

My parents arranged for me rest and rehabilitation after another academic year there. My friends happened to go there as well; my parents helped them to have vacations on Issyk Kul. Marik Golubkov, Sasha Salmayer and Petya Kozlov came there.

Now I want to remember the unforgettable three weeks we spent on Issyk Kul together with Peotr in summer 1971. I just came to Frunze after the army camp. And Peotr finished his fifth year at a Tomsk Military Medicine Department and had his internship at a tank unit in Atbashakh, which was fifty kilometers away from Frunze. He on purpose chose to have his internship there, in order to meet with me and go to Issyk Kul right after the internship.

Aleksandra Mikhaylovna (my mother) arranged 21-day vouchers to a vacation hotel of Cholpon-Ata for us. Time was flying during the vacation. We were swimming, sunbathing, fishing for Issyk Kul dace. This is a small fish of ten or

fifteen centimeters and very delicious when dried. And it takes it just a couple of days to dry. Every day we fished a bucket of dace each, buried it under salt for a night, and in the morning washed it and hung on a fishing line at the balcony to dry. Fish was hung all around our balcony.

It was getting dark early on Issyk Kul, the nights were long, and we went to dancing parties and got acquainted with girls... The vacation hotel at which we stayed was located on a side of the bay, and on its other side there was some other beautiful hotel. It was buried in verdure, and buildings were fundamental there made of brick and very beautiful. Petka and I were driven like by a magnet to get there. We also were intrigued by the fact that there was a great beach there, but it was empty all the time.

We did not want to bother to walk all the way around to its gates, so approximately on the tenth day we decided to swim across the bay and have a look at that beautiful hotel of Cholpon-Ata I had not visited yet. Yes, I have to tell you that at that time I had new Japanese nylon swimming trunks, the very tight ones, shaped like shorts, dark-blue with a wide white belt and a small pocket on a zip; everybody envied me, and I showed off in them. In the pocket I kept five or six one ruble coins I had deliberately brought. We swam. Without any problem we crossed the bay and went ashore. There was nobody around.

We walked along a beautiful alley for about fifty meters; there were especially beautiful roses around, and saw a small store. We came in and grew dumb with astonishment; Petka and I had never seen such assortment in Soviet stores before. And we bought... So what did we buy? What do you think? Six packs of American cigarettes "Philip Morris". They were in a ribbed brown plastic pack. The clerk was very surprised then: "Where are you from, guys?". We honestly told her that we swam from the other side and would swim back now to take money, well, and when we would return and buy everything... And we asked her to give us something to tie the cigarettes we had bought to the tops of our heads.

She gave to each of us a wide bandage. Oh, we had some funny mugs, when we swam back with the packs of cigarettes bandaged to the tops of our heads. We equally shared the cigarettes, three packs per person. Petka was a sly guy; he hid his packs without opening saying that he would show off at his department. And I, a smarty-pants and a boaster, treated girls to "Philip Morris" cigarettes at dancing parties and Petka as well, though every time I reproached him for that, but Petka was a guy without any complexes, he listened to my reproaches, but took the cigarettes and smoke them without any problems.

All that was later, but on the day when we swam there for the first time, we took all the money we had and swam again. What for? What did we want to buy? I did not think and did not know that. The second time the very moment we reached the beach, three hulks approached us and offered to follow them. They offered that in such a way that we could not resist.

Petka and I got scared, we felt that we had got into something, but we did not understand into what exactly yet. We were brought into a building and led into separate rooms; and they were talking to us, as one can put it this way, there. It was rather a very gentle examination. Without entering into details I would say that that lasted for more than two hours, and finally Petka and I were told that we were lucky that we were saying everything alike, and the main reason was that there were nobody staying at the hotel that year, and nobody was expected to arrive. We were told that that was a vacation resort of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kirgizia, and we were released.

Peter and I were given our IDs (How did they happen to be in their hands? We had left the documents at our hotel when checking in). And by car we were brought back to our hotel. On that day Petka and I did not go to a dancing party; we were discussing what had happened and came to a conclusion that we would not suffer any consequences. At least that was what we wanted to hope for. Also after long deductive contemplations we concluded that it was the store clerk who had reported us; we called her "the Informer".

And the next day Peter and I were in the center of attention. Our acquaintances and strangers approached us and asked about our adventure of the other day. How did they know? We could not understand that at the beginning, but later we found out that the other night, when Petka and I stayed in our room and discussed what had happened, the administration of the hotel arranged a meeting for the guests and told them, that it was not good to do what Peter and I had done, that one was not allowed to swim to a controlled-access facility. And they did not explain to the guests what kind of facility that was, which caused agitated curiosity about the vacation resort on the other side of the bay. Petka and I were not from the administration, we gladly and with lots of details, some of which were true and some of which were made up, told about how we had swum there, and what we had seen there. Though we kept silence about our second swim there, we told nobody about that. And American cigarettes I treated someone with were the proof of credibility of our story. Generally speaking, we were guaranteed unprecedented popularity both among the guests and the staff of the hotel.

Peter and I did not fail to use it. Three or four days before our departure we decided to make a pilau on the coast of Issyk-Kul. We were inspired with the pilau idea by a Tajik Ergash from a next door room. He boasted to us that he had brought a set of spices for a pilau together with ajowan caraway and barberries; he even had a small beg of "Devzera" rice.

He offered his help in making the pilau, and specified what we would need for the pilau. To buy mutton we together with Ergash went to a market place at Cholpon-Ata; and Ergash picked a wonderful piece of mutton and also got a sheep's fat tail. The rest we hoped to receive at the hotel's kitchen; we could use the fruit of our popularity. And we took from the kitchen a cauldron, kumgan, white onions, carrots, salt, a wooden spoon and other kitchen utensils. The process of making pilau with mutton takes about two hours, so at about five o'clock we started arranging our bivouac on the lake next to the beech. Ergash and I chopped the onions and carrots, and Petya was bringing firewood from the backyard and was preparing it for the fire. From some place in the back yard he brought four slag stones, and we used them to make a hearth. Audience started gathering around us. There were too curious characters among them, and they bothered us. We had to drive them back almost applying force; we drew a circle around us, which our volunteer - assistants did not allow anyone to cross. The process was going on its way: the audience was giving us pieces of advice, and we were telling them to get lost together with their pieces of advice...

Everything was fun and neat. I cannot resist it and will describe the whole process of making pilau to you, as it is like a poem. So we kindled the fire, poured water into the cauldron and started boiling it out by doing that we were heating the cauldron to the necessary temperature. Water boiled in the cauldron, we splashed it out by the wooden spoon and let the rest of it evaporate; the diced up sheep's fat tail was the first to go to the cauldron. It was sizzling loudly, crackling, and yellowish mutton fat was melting. The fat was getting hot and started producing whitish smoke, at that moment Ergash threw a peeled, but not chopped onion into the fat, and explained to us that it would take a bitter taste, if it appeared when fat was heated. The onion even bounced in sizzling fat and turned black on the top. Ergash removed it out of the cauldron; and there came the turn of the chopped onion, all of it was put out in the fat, and we started frying it stirring continually with a wooden spoon. And there it was crucial not to miss the moment; the onion should not get burned, it had to become glassy. When that was achieved,

the cut in circles carrots were added into the cauldron. The carrots had to be fried till their color would turn into golden-yellow and they also had to be continually stirred. And there came the turn of the mutton. It was cut in big pieces obligatorily with a bone and was also put into the sizzling fat. Everything smelled deliciously around. The audience was growing, and as one of comics said, it was raving. People in the audience started forming a line to receive some pilau when it was ready. We were not even asked for our consent. Several guys quickly went to a store and in half and hour brought a box of "Violet Muscat" (at that time that was a wonderful wine in Kirgizia; it had 16 per cent of alcohol and extremely nice taste characteristics). The mutton became white in the fat, which meant that proteins of the upper layer coagulated; and one could be sure that the meat would be juicy and tasty. Fire was lowered under the cauldron up to the minimum; at that time water was carefully poured in order not to splash, salt was added (pilau is salted two times: first when zirval is boiled (that was what we were doing) and the second when water is poured to cover rice) and after that we added a mixture of pilau spices. Then zirvak was slowly boiling and gradually was steaming away, and becoming thicker and thicker. And smells around were growing richer and more concentrated. Part of the audience could not stand the torture by flavors and left cursing us up hill and down dale. The tougher part stayed and was finishing a half of the box of Muscat, they were having a good time already. And then a moment came to put rice into the cauldron; and for all that time the rice had been soaked in generously salted water. It should be separately said about rice: rice should as little as possible be touched by hands in order not to damage its surface film and lose gluten. So, zirvak was ready, on its top we put a layer of rice and poured water to cover it about two centimeters above it. Everything was salted for the second time. Big fire was made under the cauldron to start vigorous boiling, and with a wooden spoon rice was continuously removed from the cauldron's sides into its center.

ВодаWater quickly steamed away. Then by the sound of splashing with the wooden spoon on the rice one determined the time to cover the rice. The sound of splashing should not be squelching. Then the vigorous fire was removed from under the cauldron, and only live coals were left. The rice was pricked several times with a specially prepared willow twig in order to form canals for steam to go away; then rice was sprinkled with ajowan caraway and barberries and several garlic heads not divided into cloves were pressed into the rice; and in autumn when there is quince, it is pressed into rice together with garlic. And rice was covered with a dish, and the cauldron was covered with a lid for half an hour. When we announced that, a couple of women ran into there room and brought a heap of grapes and a bottle of cognac; and we started making green tea #95 in kumgan. Tension among the audience increased up to the extreme point, and in order to prevent a riot we suggested the following order: we, like the main participants, made big bowls of the pilau for ourselves, the rest of the pilau we put on a tray and treated our audience. The proposal was accepted with applause. And when Ergash took meat out of rice, cut all of it into small pieces and mixed it with the pilau,

made for the three of us a big bowl of the pilau each, and the rest of the pilau put in a shape of a nice heap on a kitchen tray, decorated it with the garlic baked in the pilau, and with an artistic oriental bow put it in front of the audience, thunderous "hurraaaaay!" was heard far away along the coast. Someone brought a camera, and they started taking photos with the dish. They forgot about us for a while; and we enjoyed the wonderfully delicious pilau with green tea. Finally the audience remembered what the pilau was made for and started eating. There were only three spoons, and they were in our hands, but that did not become a problem; they started eating with their hands and so fast, that in fifteen minutes only memories were left from the pilau. And there the cognac and Muscat were remembered about. The women, who had brought the cognac, demanded that it had to be given to us to drink it later in our room, and for that moment everyone could have Muscat with grapes. Fun was becoming to flair up, and everybody went to the pier to swim, though it was forbidden to swim at night, and a poster at the pier warned about that.

In several days when we were leaving, my passport and Peter's military ID were given to us by the hotel's director personally, who was an old man. He wished us good luck and said that he would have a rest from us. And what did we do wrong to him?

20 September, 2011.

© Copyright: Oleg Syedyshev, 2012
Publishing licence #21204260480

Translated by Viktoria Potykinato content