From an email with the production company: (disregard the typos)
“The other things I wanted to talk to you about are the things you like doing around the town of Kygyzstan. I read one of the interesting foods you have them is like a Hamburger, but instead it’s called a gamburger. I thought it would be nice to see you and Farrell going up to stand to order some of that to eat. I don’t know if that something you would normally eat or if it’s something that you would be even thing about trying.”
Nothing more exotic than eating some good old Soviet-style gamburgers. Local delicacy, right?
Wrong. Quick language lesson: when some English words beginning with ‘H’ are translated into Russian (Hong Kong, Holland, hamburger, etc), they change to ‘G’ (Gong Kong, Golland, gamburger, etc). In fact, I even wrote about a homemade gamburger-making experience on this very blog, which the production company apparently stopped reading after initially contacting me.
I suggested two other places for the obligatory food-eating scene; Obama restaurant (for some super kitsch) or Supara, a Kyrgyz-style restaurant/banquet complex bursting at the seams with anything you could ever want for an authentic Kyrgyz experience.
Luckily, they decided on the Kyrgyz restaurant.
I assumed the restaurant scene would logically fit in to the three-months-later portion of the show, to demonstrate how well Farrell and I are settling into our new, authentic life in Kyrgyzstan with real, authentically Kyrgyz friends.
We invited two exotic-looking friends (one is Kyrgyz, one is not, both are gorgeous and I don’t think an American audience would care much past that) only to be directed as such: Still on their first trip to Kyrgyzstan, Kirstin and Farrell arrive at a yurt. Inside there are several locals, to whom they will introduce themselves and request a lesson in Kyrgyz cuisine.
Hello, good people of Kyrgyzstan! Sorry to crash your private meal, but we’re clueless Americans, and we were wondering if we could intrude while you tell us about what you’re eating? Thank you!
To take the whole scene just a bit further from reality, the director insisted on using the translator as the main “local person” who would be responsible for carrying most of the conversation and food instruction. He was a nice guy and all, but it left our actual friends, the ones we’re more comfortable conversing with, who were actually prepared to be on camera, huddled out of the frame for most of the scene.
The actual eating part was unremarkable. We all wanted to order manti and samsa (different riffs on dough stuffed with meat/veggies), but the restaurant estimated those would take several hours to prepare. We needed dishes that were pure Kyrgyz and would be ready quickly, so I settled for beshbarmak (boiled mutton and noodles), while Farrell got lamb shashlik (grilled chunks of lamb). (More info on some typical Kyrgyz foods here)
Despite being explicitly written on the official production schedule, I was relieved that I wasn’t forced to eat horse meat or drink kymys (fermented mare’s milk). Sorry, Kyrgyzstan, but I’m not mentally prepared for that yet. I did have to drink jarma on camera, one of many national beverages consisting of a combination of dairy, grain, salt and fermentation. I tried to be diplomatic (we were specifically instructed not to insult the food), but it tasted like a cheap, mild brie. Mixed with water. And cracked wheat. And left out at room temperature all day.
Notice the french fries? By now, with ten wise months of experience sampling every type of cuisine available in Bishkek, I can confidently say that french fries are a common factor between every restaurant. Nevertheless, we were instructed to gleefully enjoy the “taste of home” that our “new” friends ordered for us.
Despite the awkwardness in having to wade through all of the strange whims of the production company, this part was probably the most fun I had during the shooting. Trying so hard not to burst out laughing while our two friends were directed over and over to do retakes, “You, miss, that was great when you asked them what they’re doing here. Do that again… just differently.” Trying even harder not to burst out laughing listening to the translator’s attempts to make a catchphrase for himself, such as, “If it’s nice, do it twice!” (I can’t hide my expressions that well, so if that makes it to the final cut, expect a WTF face on me.) Free lunch, taking pictures with all of the costumed-staff (the guy with the spear is the security guard), it wasn’t a bad way to spend a Thursday.