Hospitality is the supreme commandment of the steppe. Every traveller can be certain that wherever he sets foot he will be given shelter at all times. In such a vast territory of climatic geographic extremes, this cultural imperative means survival.
'Kuday konakpin!' used to be-and often still is-slaughtered in honour of the guest, and cooked in a large cauldron. Often neighbours are invited to take part in the feast. The guest is served the best piece of the meat on a plate, cuts it into mouthfuls and divides it among those present according to age and status: first to the host, then the lady of the house, and then the others according to rank.
After this substantial and lengthy welcome, and before he leaves, the guest is bound to be offered a sarkhyt-or food for the road-since the journey to the next yurt could be as much as a day's ride. The host will often take the opportunity to accompany his guest along the road for some distance.
Such feasts in honour of one or more guests occur more infrequently these days. However, one should be aware of this type of hospitality in order to react appropriately. Certainly as a visitor to Kazakhstan you will be treated with great hospitality wherever you go, and you should be prepared to spend many hours around a dining table, giving and receiving toasts over bottles of vodka or cognac. Indeed, the Russian love of strong liquor has been embraced by the majority of Kazakhstanis, so be firm if you do not wish to drink tumbler after tumbler of vodka, or be prepared to be drunk under the table and suffer the following day, when it will begin all over again!