Tuesday, May 11, 2010

36 Hours in Uhstan, Kazakhstan: A Travel Guide*

*Not associated with the New York Times article that pissed me off.Last week, when the editors at George Magazine pitched this assignment, I jumped at it. With the exception of Houston, Texas, there are not too many places in the world I won't visit as long as I'm paid well and get to expense everything. Zagreb, Rajasthan, Phuket, even Mexico City, I've visited them all in search of a paycheck and a good time. Kazakhstan? No problem. Everyone laughed at me when I took three years of Kazakh in high school instead of Spanish. Who's laughing now?

Kazakhstan is known as the Texas of Central Asia. It's the biggest, it's the most obnoxious, it's got the most horses and the most oil, and it has a lot of Bush. Springtime in Kazakhstan! Average daytime temperature in May? -20°C, that's -348° Kelvin. I packed the long underwear.

5:30 PM Friday
Uhstan (pronounced you-stun) is often called the Houston of Kazakhstan and when you see all the generic gray and glass towers, and the smog, you'll understand why. Ignore the ugliness of the surroundings and head to Repressdom Square, a welcome Soviet-era respite from the concrete jungle. Enjoy a tepid bowl of kumis (8 borats), a delightful local beverage derived from fermented mare's milk, as you gaze upon the most glorious landmark in all of Kazakhstan, the statue of the favorite son, Borat Sagdiyev.

8:00 PM Friday
A horse is a horse of course, of course. And you have never eaten a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed... Never eaten a horse? Welcome to Kazakhstan!!! Where horse is the new red meat, the new white meat, replaces most vegetables and fruit, and well, here's the Kazakhstan Food Pyramid:

Uhstan's young chefs are boiling enough water to fill the Aral Sea, so that any horse you order is fork-tender, sweet and as gray as an afternoon temperature inversion. The best beshbarmak, the National Dish of Kazakhstan, is served at From the Horse's Mouth (47 borats).

Boiled for over 6 hours over horse dung fires, the tender morsels fall off the bone on to the tasteless pieces of boiled dough.

10 PM Friday
The nightlife in Uhstan is famous throughout the central steppes and is second only to the far hipper town of Austain. At the slick Mecca Lecca High Club, order a Golden Shower (22 borats), an intoxicatingly, sweet concoction composed of schweem, fermented gelding urine, and the ubiquitous kumis. Watch the non-Muslim minority locals bop until the State-mandated curfew closes the doors at midnight. Hint, the chickens are usually easier to pick up -- just stick one under your arm.

11 AM Saturday
Get out of bed and head over to Steppe Right Up for a light breakfast of kazy and eggs (9 borats). Kazy is a traditional sausage of horse rib meat stuffed into horse intestines. Dried for 3 days in the sun and then boiled for 2 hours, kazy is like a little bit of Kazakhstan right on your tongue and is truly a breakfast that sticks to your ribs.

1 PM Saturday
Stroll through the bustling Uhstan Meat Market and marvel at all of the exotic delicacies derived from the lowly horse.

At Doshkan's House of Horse, order a sample plate (14 borats); favorites include Clydesdale carpaccio, Mustang meatballs and a pair of plump, Lypizzaner lips.

2 PM Saturday
Take a quick day trip on horseback to the old city of Karaganda. Pack a box lunch of zhaya (6 borats) a stewed meat dish that is made from horse back. The upper muscular layer with fat is cut off and salted. Then it is dried, smoked and boiled for at least 9 hours. Karaganda, a former coal town, is now a vibrant city with two major exports. Take a stroll through the bustling Karaganda Meat Market.

I picked up a vintage, post-Soviet model (8,400 borats) for my loser brother-in-law. There is convenient shipping available (50 borats) so that you don't have to splurge on a plane ticket (2,600 borats).
The other major Karaganda export is white, pink and beige babies. I wasn't interested so I spent my time window shopping.

7:30 PM Saturday
Back in Uhstan, don't be a horse's ass and get in the long, long line at Kasym Khan's Kozy Karta Klub, make a reservation.

The only food on the menu is karta and that's okay because this karta is the best karta you'll ever eat. To make his karta, Kasym takes the thick part of a horse rectum without removing the fat, and then carefully turns it inside out so that the fat is on the inside. Then he salts the rectum, dries it in a cool place for 3 days, smokes it for 24 hours and then dries it again for 2 days. Finally, he wipes the rectum well and then boils it for 2 hours. The karta is then cut into rings and served with a sprinkling of dill. You'll never settle for a simple rusty trombone again.

11 PM Saturday
Go back in time to the giddy days of the Cold War at Laikas. Named for the dog that the Russians sent into space with no means for return, this Soviet space themed bar is heating up both sides of the Iron Curtain as the locals and tourists glasnost the night away on the dance floor.

Order the house special, Uranium 238 (17 borats), made with Semipalatinsk Vodka from potatoes grown in the some of the oldest radioactive fields in Kazakhstan, this drink would make Daffy Duck proud.

10 AM Sunday
In Uhstan, Sunday brunch means just one thing, horse. Dig your spurs into a steaming bowl of zhal (10 borats) at the trendy Equestrian Eateries. Zhal is the oblong accumulation of fat in the under part of the horse’s neck. It is salted for 6 days then dried for 10 hours. Before boiling, zhal is soaked in cold water for a day; then it is boiled on a slow fire for 12 hours. Served with toast, fermented horse butter and a horse eye jam called zretya, this is a dish that will race neck and neck to the top of your favorite food list.

12 PM Sunday
Before your flight home, take in a local game of Kyz Kuu or "Girl Chasing." It's sort of like polo for krazy Kazakhs. At KazMunayGas Stadium (upper deck: 34 borats), a girl on a horse does her best to gallop away from a bunch of young men on horses but as soon as the latter tries to overtake her she lashes him with a whip. If the young boy fails to overtake her before the finish line she rewards him with a whipping. If a lucky and skillful boy catches up with the girl, he attempts to snatch a headscarf out of her teeth. If he is successful, he earns a kiss. Then they boil the horses and eat them.

It's amazing anyone gets laid in Kazakhstan.

Imagine my surprise when I handed in my story and the editor told me that he thought I was going to Houston, Texas not Uhstan, Kazakhstan! Imagine the editor's surprise when he gets my expense form!

Other Wasted Weekends


  1. Bobby,

    Reading this post was worse than a weekend spent in Houston!

    Worse 36 hours, ever.


  2. Bill,

    Worst 36 hours ever? Phuket, Mexico City was worse.

    Given that my standard opening to all these bits includes, "With the exception of Houston, Texas, there are not too many places in the world I won't visit as long as I'm paid well and get to expense everything." I had to do it!

    It was like the travel guys at the NY Times wer playing with me. With all the exotic, incredibly expensive cities in the world, why Houston, Texas!

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. haha, dude, hilarious. Great blog.

    Did you make any borat jokes with the locals?...you really should have.

    I bet you have a new appreciation for horse meat. Next stop Korea, let me know how it goes making a meal out of Roasted Lassi or skewereed Tinkerbell. In return, i'll bake Bambi's Mum into a pie.

  4. Alpha Za,

    Thanks for the comment!

    There was a pile of jokes on the floor after this bit. Endless possibilities. I'm gonna have to talk the editors into sending me back.


  5. Shallow, stupid and mean

  6. Shallow, stupid and mean... and funny!

    You forgot the funny!


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