There was an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin says to Hobbes, "I wonder who was the first person who thought 'I going to pull on those things hanging from a cow and drink what comes out." Well, apparently someone had a similar idea about a horse. The only difference being that this horse person decided to go one step further by saying, "First I will mix it with yeast and leave it out in the sun so that it curdles and ferments. Then, when it's chunky and contains alcohol, I'll drink it." That person acted accordingly and therefore Kumis was invented. (I kid you not, this is a real beverage made from fermented, curdled horse milk.)
Naturally, upon hearing of this, I was both grossed out and intrigued. While I was pretty certain that consuming it would make me sick, part of me just had to know. What does it taste like? Could it be something like cow's milk mixed with vodka? How long will I be able to hold it down before it inevitably comes back up? These were all questions I needed answered, but there was just one problem. I was just a bit (actually very) nervous.
Within my first hour in Kyrgyzstan I had my initial encounter. Right there, on the street corner in the hot sunlight, an older woman sat next to a giant cooler that read 'кумыс - 25 сoм' (Kumis, 25 som), and next to the cooler stood a stack of rather large plastic cups that appeared to have already been used at some point. That meant just about 35 cents for a full glass purchased from a local. It was oh so tempting, but for some reason (mostly the fact that the cooler seemed to have been sitting out all day in the sun without any ice or refrigeration), I ultimately declined, telling myself maybe next time.
But as it turned out, I didn't have to wait long for that next time because right after checking into my hostel, the hostess pulled out a two liter bottle from the fridge and asked us all (me and the other guests) if we wanted some. Again, I was tempted. This time it would be free and clearly more sanitary than the previous opportunity. My two friends Stefan and Gautier took one look and backed away. Stefan declined, admitting he'd already tried it and was unable keep it down. Gautier, the same. The focus was now shifted to me. Do I accept this offer of the country's national drink from a local upon my arrival even if it might make me throw up? Of course I do!
I asked for just a mini glass, to which our hostess happily obliged. I then hoisted it up and noticed the uneasy expressions on my friends' faces. The substance was white, thick, and (to my unpleasant surprise), a bit chunky. But I had come this far. There would be no turning back. It was time to face the music, so closing my eyes, I took a sip. Instantly, my taste-buds were flooded with a rather strong, sour dairy-ish sensation, complimented with the aftertaste of hard alcohol and salt. It was very, very salty. It's consistency was thick, like that of a watery milkshake with chunks starting to separate. Summoning my strength to be a good guest, I stoically kept it down and used every ounce of energy to keep my face from going into tight contortions, but I did not ask for another glass.
In retrospect, Kumis was not for me, to say the least. But still, I must honestly admit, I thought it was going to be worse than it was. I'd still take it over Genesee Cream Ale. Therefore, if you ever happen to come across it, I won't tell you not to try it. I'll just say, you've been warned.
(p.s. I also tried camel milk, which was also not particularly delicious, but significantly less sour and easier to drink. FYI)