Following the founder’s death last month the country has been celebrating Shoro, one of Central Asia’s most beloved brands.
Few figures have been as publicly mourned in Kyrgyzstan as Tabyldy Egemberdiev, owner of the largest non-alcoholic beverage retailer most loved for its fermented drinks.
Egemberdiev, who died last month, built the company Shoro with his brother, calling on his country’s nomadic heritage to create one of the most distinctive commercial brands in Central Asia.
Shoro, which means “salty” in Kyrgyz, comes in four varieties and is based on traditional fermented wheat-based and yoghurt drinks: jarma, maksym, aralash and chalap, and is known for its slogan – “Shoro is strength”.
While for many foreigners this drink – made of animal fat and wheat – is an acquired taste, the huge success of Shoro lies in the brand’s roots in countryside cuisine, unfamiliar to city dwellers before Egemberdiev’s venture started in 1992.
Drinks like the tangy-tasting kumis has always been popular on the country’s mountain pastures. In the country’s capital, Bishkek, the drink is a relatively new taste, but and in the summer months Shoro stalls staffed by ladies in distinctive uniforms sitting behind barrels have become a familiar part of the scenery.
French illustrator Nicolas Journoud, who spent a month in Bishkek, was inspired to immortalise these street corner vendors in a series of comic strips titled Shoro Girls.
‘The guardian of national treasures’
Ian Claytor, who works in Kyrgyzstan’s tourism sector described the formation of the company in a blogspot: “They [the Egemberdiev brothers] began with one 80-litre pail of the drink – which they took to the market and sold out in two hours. They then gave up their jobs and started the company. Now there are five factories producing 70 tonnes a day. Much of the production is exported – especially to the Moscow area of Russia.”
Sales of the drink are not are not only limited to Kyrgyzstan and Russia: Shoro has also appeared in the Kazakh market.
The company’s most popular line of national drink, Maksym, was even served outside the Kyrgyz embassy in the US capital as part of an Open Doors Day, offering passers-by a taste of the country.
In an interview in 2012, Egemberdiev’s business partner and brother, Jumadil, said: “My older brother is a creative person, a little bit absent-minded, but very wise. At school, he did homework assignments for me, [and] I fulfilled his part of the housework: chopping the wood and carrying the water.”
Egemberdiev’s death prompted messages of support and condolence from Kyrgyz Twitter users.
Tilek Mamytov summed up the feelings of many when he tweeted: “Egemberdiev and Shoro is a wonderful success story for everyone. Now he lives only in our memory. Very sad.”
One Twitter user wroteof the Shoro brand’s addictiveness: “I started to save money for a car, but couldn’t resist the temptation to buy Shoro.”
The Kyrgyz national news service Kabarlar called Egemberdiev “the guardian of national treasures”.
For those a long way from Bishkek’s Shoro sellers, Ian Claytor offers the following recipe on his site:
Makes 10 litres:
200g of animal fat, 200g of wheat flour
0.5kg of talkan (splintered barley)
10 litres of water
The flour is cooked in animal fat until it goes a light brown colour. After that, cover with water
When it starts boiling, add the talkan to the water and boil for 30 minutes on a low heat
Cool to 30C. Mix 100g of flour and yeast, and melt in salt water. Mix together the mixture
The mixture should stand for 12 hours in a covered dish. After 12 hours, stir well before serving. Drunk cold.