From Sur-Et to Irimshik
This Sarbaz.kz article will delve into the details of field rations of a Kazakh Batyr (kaz. “warrior”). It is known that in the Kazakh Khanate, there was no permanent army, but as the need arose, entire militias would gather at the right time and place. Each warrior had to set out on a campaign with their own weapons and equipment and a minimum of two war horses. As soon as mobilisation was announced, Kazakh nomadic warriors would prepare meticulously for battle – sharpening their sabers, and spears, checking their bows and arrows, while their wives and mothers prepared what was known as the "dry ration." It consisted of non-perishable items. Let's take a detailed look at what was included in this list:
The Kazakh people have always loved meat. However, preserving it in its fresh state without refrigeration was no easy task. Therefore, often after cattle slaughter, Kazakhs would dry the meat. They would salt it and hang it out to dry in a dark and dry place. This allowed it to be stored for a long time. This method was not limited to just beef; it applied to any type of meat. Nowadays, with the presence of freezers, sur-et is gradually disappearing from our use, but in some villages and settlements, this ancient method is still adhered to.
It is not known precisely when the national Kazakh bread – baursaks – appeared on the nomad's dastarkhan (tablecloth), but what is known for sure is that it is a beloved delicacy of the Kazakh people. It replaced both bread and sweets for the nomadic people. This versatile dough product is prepared quickly, and has a long shelf life without losing its freshness and taste qualities. This is why Kazakh batyrs' wives confidently added baursaks to their peculiar field rations.
We have already written about the beneficial properties of this miraculous drink made from mare's milk. No milk contains as much lactose and as little oily fat as mare's milk. If stored in specific leather vessels and adhering to certain storage techniques, kumis does not spoil for a long time. In the past, Kazakhs preferred to store kumis in leather vessels because, unlike wooden ones, it oxidized more slowly and did not get soggy as quickly. Therefore, batyr's wives would pour kumis into a special container called a "torsyk" and would not worry that their husband would be thirsty.
Kurt is an ideal delicacy for nomads. After complete drying, it does not spoil and does not require special storage conditions. Moreover, kurt is very nutritious and calorie-dense. A couple of "salty balls" are capable of satisfying hunger for several hours. It's no wonder that this product was in the arsenal of the Kazakh warrior. In the steppe, a warrior could reach into his pocket, find a couple of kurt balls, and eat them on the go. That's the whole lunch. A light "hunger pill," quite unlike your heavy canned rations.
This is another indispensable dish for nomads. During extended military campaigns, it also satiated the hunger of our batyrs. Irimshik can withstand high temperatures for an extended period – from several weeks to several months. Therefore, taking it with you was a reliable choice. Moreover, irimshik contains not a gram of sugar, but it is very tasty due to the lactose that appears after moisture evaporation.
All these dishes from the traditional Kazakh cuisine are not only hearty and nutritious but also compact, making them easy to carry and consume in field conditions. Kazakh batyrs' resourceful wives knew this and could provide their husbands with nourishment during their campaigns.