March 21, 2014

Sibu Tales : Tolstoy and Airag or Mare's Milk Wine

Tolstoy ( drank koumiss for health reasons. My primary school English teacher did not introduce koumiss to us but  Tolstoy's simplied story, "How much does a man need". I remember in class, Mr. Wong asked us to re-enact the story in simple English and I was very impressed by both English teacher, the boys who acted and the whole Russian story.

I would like to thank my primary school English teachers/class teachers for the Class Libraries and the books they "made" us read. Otherwise we would never have been introduced to great writers like Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Rudyard Kipling etc. The list is too long.

"How Much does a Man Need" remains a cornerstone in my life's philosophy.

 Fifty years or more later, I re-connected Tolstoy and Mare's milk as I prepare my posting on Airag.

Please read :

Known as Airag in Mongolia and Kumis in Russia, this alcoholic spirit made from mare's milk is culturally significant to the peoples of Central Asian steppes of Huno-Bulgar, Turkic and Mongol origin (Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Uyghurs and Yakuts).

From the West, interesting points can be gathered: 

In the West, kumis has been touted for its health benefits, as in this 1877 book also naming it "Milk Champagne".
Toward the end of the 19th century, kumis had a strong enough reputation as a cure-all to support a small industry of "kumis cure" resorts, mostly in south-eastern Russia, where patients were "furnished with suitable light and varied amusement" during their treatment, which consisted of drinking large quantities of kumis. W. Gilman Thompson's 1906 Practical Diatetics reported kumis has been cited as beneficial for a range of chronic diseases, including tuberculosis, bronchitis, catarrh, and anemia. Gilman also said a large part of the credit for the successes of the "kumis cure" is due not to the beverage, but to favorable summer climates at the resorts.Among notables to try the cure were writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, long-suffering from tuberculosis, checked into a "kumis cure" resort in 1901. Drinking four bottles a day for two weeks, he gained 12 pounds, but no cure.Wkipedia



2014 in Miri - a mare's milk wine and the Year of the Horse came together in my posting.....

I bought this pretty wine skin at a roadside tourists' shop before reaching Kunming a few years ago. There is still some horse wine in it, but I wonder if the wine is still good. Kept it for this year, the Horse Year and a lot of guests have found it very interesting as a conversation piece. But most have declined to take a sip...

Although I make tuak or rice wine, the Sarawak indigenous way, I do not claim that I am an expert in rice wine making. Just enough to produce a few bottles every three or four years. I use my own rice wine for cooking purposes.

Wine from milk is entirely different from rice wine which can range from sour to very very sweet depending on the quality of the rice, yeast and the container used.

A writer has written " Kumis is very light in body compared to most dairy drinks. It has a unique, slightly sour flavor with a bite from the mild alcoholic content. The exact flavor is greatly variable between different producers."

Unlike Borneans, the peoples of the Steppes traditionally sipped their airag out of small, handle-less, bowl-shaped cups or saucers, called piyala. The serving of it is an essential part of Kyrgyz hospitality on the yaylak or high pasture, where they keep their herds of animals (horse, cattle, and sheep) during the summer phase of transhumance.  (wikipedia)

The capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, is named after the paddle used to churn the fermenting milk, showing the importance of the drink in the national culture.
The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in A Confession spoke of running away from his troubled life by drinking kumis.
The popular Japanese soft drink Calpis models its flavor after the taste of kumis.

Thanks to my Methodist Primary School, Sibu English Teachers for the Class Libraries which they opened every day to "fan" our reading interest.

And here is my Chinese pinyin poem(?)

Lai lai lai...
Wo men lai
He i bei ma nai jiu
Jia yiu Jia yiu....
How pen yiu
duo duo jia yiu.

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