Saturday, November 3, 2012


The man at the shawarma stand is not Kyrgyz. Nor is he Russian. I ask for a gamburger and today he doesn't say anything to me. I used to order shawarma until I discovered that gamburgers are the same thing but with some sort of extra unexplainable deliciousness. You can't order a hamburger in Bishkek. The first reason being that they don't exist except in a very small handful of ex-pat restaurants. The second reason being that the Russian and Kyrgyz languages spoken here don't really have an 'h' sound as in English. The options are the 'guh' sound or a sound represented by the letter 'x' which sounds more like the 'h' but with a clearing of the throat, and even sometimes makes a 'kuh' sound. So I walk to the corner stand and order a gamburger, "bez ketchup". The not-Kyrgyz, not-Russian man stands up and begins his performance. He is deliberate about his motions making my wait for fast food maybe two or three minutes instead of the one I know it could be. He slices the bun and smears it with smetana, a delicious thick sour cream, which at this particular shawarma stand might be cut with mayo. He lays a half slice of tomato on the bun and a slice of pickle to the right of it. Yesterday the tomato was on the right and the pickle on the left. He sharpens his knife then slowly and carefully carves thin greasy slices of meat off the rotating spit, scoops them out of the pan with the tongs and lays them atop the veggies. Next is the french fries, then the slaw. Yesterday he remembered just in time, as he was reaching for the red squeeze bottle, that I had requested no ketchup. Today he doesn't even glance at it and goes straight for another smear of smetana instead. Perhaps the second scoop of that white sauce accounts for the extra tastiness. And I suspect that it is also the source of my addiction. With all components in place he folds over the top of the bun and gives the whole thing a little squeeze between his palms, not to smash it, but just to get it all set in place. Again with slow intention in his movements, he holds the gamburger in one hand and folds a bag over it with the other then hands it to me delicately with both hands and a deep nod. I smile and hand him my money, 60 som, about a dollar twenty, and with another deep nod and a somewhat theatrical swoop of his hand, as if taking a bow, he plucks the bills from my grasp and returns my change. I smile at the man, whom I now judge to be Turkish, and offer a Russian "thank you", but what I really mean to say is "see you tomorrow". The Turk smiles and continues to say nothing, but I know that what he really means to say is, "it will be my pleasure".  

 A little late night snack from the shawarma stand.


  1. You mean to tell me they do it Pittsburgh style in Bishkek? (Fries on the sandwich?) That's great! See you next year, Sunny.

  2. Ah, Sunny what a lovely scenario...some times words are overrated but what you have written to describe the essence of your experience is so beautiful it makes me cry! Love YA. mom