Well, how do we follow our last post? And how do we respond properly to so many wonderful messages of congratulations from friends old and new, some of whom we had no idea were even reading (Hello Kim and Arfa!).
Well, the answer has to be yet more multi-cultural stunt drinking. And after kava in Vanuatu and banana homebrew in PNG what better than Chal, that lovely Silk Road drink made out of semi-fermented camels milk? Mmmmm…
We were still in Turkmenistan, and had been dotting about seeing the sights – beautiful, psychotic Turkmen horses, ancient ruins, semi-mythical (and only semi-Islamic) shrines and home stays in the mountains. We had eaten fresh grapes in the shade of the vine and I had come within a hair’s breadth of milking my first cow. But – and it is a reasonably large but – we had drunk no vodka. We had been expecting to encounter a wave of post Soviet nostalgia and to be welcomed with multiple vodka toasts to comradeship and to blinding headaches. As it was, we were welcomed extremely warmly, but with Islamic grace being said at every meal we were not expecting any serious booze at any time soon. As it happened, we were not to have vodka until I got hoiked out of a hotel swimming pool by the Kazakh 2007 All-Asia powerlifting champion (180kg bench press, apparently, as mimed on the fingers) and made to down shots to the glory of world peace, but that is another story.
We were having lunch after a short swim. In a cave. 60 metres underground. In a seemingly bottomless pool of lava-heated water (15 feet deep near the shore, and sloping down into the blackness as far as the imagination can see). I made a jokey reference to wanting a beer with lunch, and instead was offered Chal. Why not?
Here’s why not:
- Serving: life lessons, number 368 – never, ever trust a drink that comes in an old plastic soda bottle with the label peeled off. Particularly if someone tells you that it has come out of a camel
- Appearance: imagine crumbling fine, soft cottage cheese into turpentine that your Polish decorator has been using to clean off-white paint brushes for a few days. Put in above-mentioned bottle. There you go
- Technique: I don’t really know. I do know, however, that my instinct to shake the bottle to mix up the cheesy-looking bits into the liquid failed for two reasons. One: the cheesy bits steadfastly refused to emulsify (they don’t like collaborators in this part of the world). Two: the stuff is fizzy, and warm, and explodes absolutely everywhere when shaken and then opened
- Aroma: exactly as you would expect semi-fermented camel’s milk to smell. Kinda milky, kinda camelly, kinda semi-fermented (As an aside, what does semi-fermented actually mean? What does it MEEEEAN?)
- Taste: would you believe it, actually rather nice. A little yoghurty, yet surprisingly refreshing. It tastes a little cooler than it actually is, which boggles the mind slightly – in a good way
- After effects: I have no idea whether semi-fermented actually means alcoholic (see above plaintive question to the universe regarding meaning). There was no booze buzz, no hangovery effects, no poisoning of any kind – just a swagger in the step that yes, you have drunk slightly off camel’s milk and yes, you get to brag about it