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Kebabs, Kabobs, Shish Kebabs, Shashlyk, and: Chislic?

This is a guest post by Science Reference Librarian Stephanie Marcus.

Everyone loves meat on a stick (well, probably not vegetarians). The website “Overlooked Holidays” alerts us that March 28th is “Something on a Stick Day.” Well in advance of that, I’d like to introduce you all to my native state’s contribution–chislic. I hail from South Dakota, where meat is king. When I recently mentioned liking lettuce and tomato sandwiches, an old friend repeatedly said, “you have to have bacon!”

GENERAL VIEW, SOUTH (FRONT) ELEVATION - University of South Dakota, University Hall, Clark Street, Vermillion, Clay County, SD

GENERAL VIEW, SOUTH (FRONT) ELEVATION – University of South Dakota, University Hall, Clark Street, Vermillion, Clay County, SD

Chislic is bite-sized cubes of meat–lamb or mutton, to be authentic– that are deep-fat fried or grilled, sprinkled with salt or garlic salt and served on toothpicks or small wooden skewers with saltines on the side. I remember them from my freshman year at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion as an accompaniment to all that beer we drank. I had completely forgotten about that tasty treat until a friend from Yankton, South Dakota mentioned recently that he and his family were going out to eat chislic for dinner. Yankton falls within what they call the “chislic circle”, where it all began and is still centered. However, it seems there is now a lamb shortage and the largest supplier of lamb is shutting down, so chislic may become a disappearing delicacy. It is served in much of the state now, using meats, marinades and sauces that are not true to its heritage, but it does not seem to have spread beyond the state borders. Go ahead, ask your acquaintances if they’ve heard of it!

Pioneers of South Dakota, c1911.

Pioneers of South Dakota, c1911.

Title Translation: Scenes at the Samarkand Square and its market types. Grilling chopped beef (grilled kebab), between 1865 and 1872.

Title Translation: Scenes at the Samarkand Square and its market types. Grilling chopped beef (grilled kebab), between 1865 and 1872.

The origins of the name have been debated, but the one that makes sense to me (especially as a Russian-speaking American) is that it was introduced to southeastern South Dakota by John Hoellwarth who immigrated to Hutchinson County in SoDak from the Crimea in southern Russia in the 1870’s. What we know as kebabs or shish kebab was called shashlykh there (from Turkish shish, meaning skewer or spit), so it would have been an easy evolution from shashlyk to chislic.

If you ask me, chislic would be a great snack food for that Super Bowl party you are planning. Why not give it a try? You can find recipes on the Internet or make up your own to suit your tastes. I’m going with the real thing–lamb and garlic salt!

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