I can hardly believe that my six week visit is due to end this weekend, but there are certain signs that it is time to move on.
The shops ran out of Diet Coke a week or more ago. If anyone from Coca Cola is reading this please let your distribution organisation know that Pepsi has you licked when it comes to supplying Western Kazakhstan. I know that may not get the immediate attention of senior management and cause heavy hearts in the halls of power, but there are lots of people here, from all over the world, who are having to train themselves to drink other beverages!
Personally, I thought that I had cracked it, and found the perfect Diet Coke substitute. And I suspect that others have been doing the same, because in the last day or so the bars have started to run out of Draft EFES! When the coke runs out it is unfortunate, but when the beer runs out it is a crisis and ones thought move back to California.
And California brings me to wine! Tonight we are going to have a wine tasting. We will attempt to reach concencus on the best value wine in Ram Store. More on this, hopefully, later, including the results. But let me just say that wine could soon be the beverage of choice for ex Coke and Beer drinkers here.
As I started, this trip has flown by and I have not got to blogging on so many things I had hoped to address. For example, it seems like we could use some restaurant reviews...but then again maybe not! I do understand that when you are a new arrival this could be useful, but after a month or so you will probably have been to all the restaurants that you want to go to (I have found a pioneering spirit for new restaurant discovery leads to great disappointment here). You will have found that they fall into three grades
2. Local plus Western
3. Western plus Local
The Local doesn't necessarily mean that the food is local. The service can be local which means that courses arrive somewhat randomly (I did have dessert and tea before my main arrived the other day), or that they come in a Western style sequence, but for each diner individually. Local can also mean that the restaurant "quality" scale is different to the western "quality" scale. In the west we look at things like cutlery/silverware, and table linen, to give a signal. Here it is more appropriate to look at the brand and number of televisions on the wall, and the hight of the tables. It seems that the lower one is to the ground, the higher the price.
Similarly, you quickly find out that the Italian influence is ubiquitous in the western menu selection. Although the Americans at Chevron were the first ex-pats here, they built themselves a little village with a wall around it and for all I know have a MacDonalds and Thomas Keller restaurant in there. The Italians came along and live closer to the community, and I suppose did what they always do and went out to eat. So now there is Pasta and Pizza on almost all the menus that are not purely local, and even some of them have spaghetti, though it may come with potatoes and not much meat.
The really chic restaurants, like those in Renaissance Hotel, Marriott Dining Room and Renco Residence make western food the main theme with possibly some local dishes, and style. They will offer Caesar Salads, though they may be heavily improved upon with the addition of ingredients that I bet Mr Cardini had wished he had thought about when he invented his beautifully simple little salad.
Then the other thing that you will discover is that the menu presented with its wide selection of enticing dishes is more the chefs favourite recipe list than what he is able to produce for a customer. In some cases it gets so bad one has to stop selecting from the menu and ask what is available. But being told that something is not available is good sometimes, what is worse is when they accept the order then reconstruct the dish based on what is in the kitchen. Waldorf Salad with no nuts! Taco and Guacamole with no Guacamole!