The festive season, part 1: a very Kazakh Christmas

January 7, 2007

On 24 December, my friend Gulnara invited me, Jess and Chin from Malaysia, Emiko the Japanese PhD student on the floor of our dorm, and a number of her Kazakh and Uzbek friends, to celebrate Christmas together.  The venue was the cooking room at our dorm in the Tokyo International Exchange Center, which boasts a couple of gas ovens, a couple of gas stoves, and plenty of tables and chairs.  There was also a white plastic Christmas tree next to the fridge, adding a festive element to an otherwise empty room. 

He is a picture of me sitting (closest to the wine) with a Kazakh woman, Soleya, and an ethnically Russian woman who moved to Kazakhstan but has since married a Japanese man (I can’t remember her name):

Me, with Soleya and a Russian friend of Gulnara

The food was traditional Kazakh.  The main consisted of manti – diced beef with pumpkin or another vegetable, covered in pastry and then steamed, and served covered with a tomato and onion sauce.  It is sort of like a Chinese of Japanese gyoza, only prepared and cooked differently. 

The accompanying dishes were salads and a lovely shredded carrot-garlic-mayonnaise paste, which went well with the manti.  Here is a photo of Gulchakra, Gulnara’s Uzbek friend and fellow GRIPS student, preparing the salads:

Gulchakra showing her culinary talent

Kazakh lunch

The dinner went on from 12pm to around 5pm, Russian dance music (no different to the stuff on video hits, really) providing the ambience.  There were numerous long toasts.  Hasan (the running fanatic) told me an unrepeatable joke about a Scots farmer, a flock of frigid ewes and a range rover, and then said to everyone ‘I think Uzbek sheep are better than Australian sheep’, so my toast recounted the John Macarthur story and was in praise of the Spanish merino.  Almaz, a two-metre Kazakh, said ‘I’ve never said a toast for sheep before’.

The drinking and talking ended at around 7pm.  It was very pleasant to experience a different sort of Christmas, and a happy surprise to find that it was celebrated in such a relaxed atmosphere, and with non-neurotic responsible alcohol consumption, by a group of Muslims.  If only there were more of this relaxed cross-cultural festivity in the world.


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