Farm to Table: China Style

You may recall our recent post about the Karakol Animal Market in Kyrgyzstan. We were fortunate enough to hit back-to-back Central Asian Sunday animal markets, with the pièce de résistance being the well-known Kashgar Sunday Market in far western China.

Traders and vendors come from all over, and even driving up to the parking lot you pass people and animals making their way up the highway into the parking lot spilling out with motorcycles and their attendant humans and animals.

Once again, the parking lot rivaled the actual market in awesomeness. Watching a man tie a fat-tailed sheep to his motorcycle is probably one of the coolest things I’ve witnessed.

Like the last animal market, this is a market where people bring their animals to sell, or come to buy them. You can of course find your fat-tailed sheep, goats, cows, and horses, but the Kashgar market is both more abundant and varied, as you can often find donkeys and even camels and yaks (though we were sadly there on a day with no camels or yaks (womp womp)).

Again, like Karakol, it is pretty much madness, though in my opinion it was a bit more controlled chaos here as there seemed to be a little more in the way of organization, including lined rows where people posted their animals. But even with order, there is still animal excrement. And this time it went beyond the inevitable stepping in it. Alan and I were hit. Sprayed with animal poo by a passing vehicle full of cows or sheep, I don’t even know. I was in shock that I got shit-sprayed. If you look closely at the trucks they bring these guys in on, you’ll notice streams of dried crap. Lovely, I know.

Unlike the Karakol market, there were tons of prepared food stalls here. I realize transitioning from the shit-spray story to the part where we eat food here is kind of gross, but that’s part of the charm, the je-ne-sais-quoi appeal of these markets. There were some men kneading and tossing noodles with impressive skill, a few guys selling watermelon, some large vats of plov, and lots of people butchering and cooking up lamb meat and lots of tail fat. Alan tried a samsa (think Kashgar hot pockets), and I’m told they were quite tasty. I have to say, though, that the fat to meat ratio is much too out of whack for my taste.

The cows here were enormous. Way bigger than normal cows. I think they’re on ‘roids man. They had some serious ‘roid rage, too. We saw one get hit by a truck, and he was no happy camper. All I can say is, I’m glad I wasn’t responsible for pulling them off the trucks, like so:

The people watching rivals the animal viewing. The faces! And facial hair!

The fat tailed sheep are always a fan favorite. And for animal lovers like me, you can almost treat it like a gigantic petting zoo 😉

For some reason the goats seem to stick together in tight little packs. Every once in a while one would jump up and try to crowd surf. I don’t even care that this one almost broke my camera lens, he’s just that cute.

Of course, the donkey section was a highlight. For two main reasons. One: have you ever hung out in a crowd of asses screeching at one another? It’s epic. Exhibit One: this video. And if you listen closely at the very end, you’ll find out the second main reason this was a hilarious highlight.

Two: I’ve heard the expression “hung like a horse,” but it should really be “hung like an ass.” Good god, man.

This is by far the most famous animal market in Central Asia (and pretty much the main attraction of Kashgar), so there were definitely more tourists here than at the Karakol market, but we were still hugely outnumbered by locals (and animals). This was very much the real deal, and very much a highlight for us.

Practical Info

The animal market is now located several kilometers outside the city, so you will need transport. It takes place only on Sunday. We arrived at 11:30 am, and this seemed like good timing. The action starts much earlier, but it takes some attendees so long to reach the market from afar that we heard arriving early is ill-advised.

We had visited the Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) animal market the previous Sunday so can offer a comparison. Karakol is much smaller but actually felt more intense, in a way. We were the only tourists for most of our time there, and it is a bit less organized and more crowded. There were only sheep, goats, cows and horses, and the cows were not nearly as big as those in Kashgar. The scenery is certainly superior, as there are snow-covered mountains in the background. Though I’m not sure what the backdrop is like when there is less dust in Kashgar and you can see more than a mile away. The Kashgar grounds are bigger, and there were enormous cows plus way more sheep, goats, and some horses and donkeys. We were disappointed not to see any camels or yaks. I’m told these are present sometimes. Our guide thought perhaps the construction on the Karakoram Highway impeded animal flow.

Where Kashgar has the clear edge is live animal quantity and food for immediate consumption. There were some snacks and a touch of grilling in Karakol, but Kashgar had a full-blown culinary scene. We saw countless vendors hand-kneading dough and pulling noodles for lagman; selling pieces of watermelon; boiling up meat; chopping sheep meat and combining it with fat to stuff inside a pastry and then bake in a clay oven. I tried one of these samsas (cost 2 CNY) and it was delicious, if you don’t mind a lot of fat. There are bagels too, moderately tasty if rock hard and filling at 1 CNY.

May 18, 2014 (Sunday)

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