Kyrgyz dishes include horsemeat delicacies and grilled mutton and other mutton dishes. Common dishes include: lagman (hand-rolled noodles in a broth of meat and vegetables such as onions, cabbage and tomatoes), manti (steamed dumplings or pasta filled with either onion and meat, or pumpkin), plov (rice fried with carrots and topped with meat), pelmeni, (a Russian dish of small meat-filled dumplings in broth), ashlam-foo (cold noodles topped with vegetables in spicy broth and pieces of congealed corn starch), samsa (meat or pumpkin-filled pastries), and fried meat and potatoes. Most meat is mutton, although beef, chicken, turkey, and goat are also eaten. [Source: everyculture.com]
Kyrgyz people don't eat pork, but Russians do. Fish is either canned or dried. Lagman and manti are the everyday foods of the north, while plov is the staple of the south. In Dungan areas such a Karakol and certain neighborhoods in Bishkek try “ashlyanfu” (cold noodles with jelly, vinegar and eggs), steamed buns made with “jusai” (a kind od wild onion), “fytntozi” (spicy cold rice noodles) and “gyanfan” (rice with meat and vegetable sauce).
Plov is the most special dish to serve the honored guests after Besh barmak. It is specifically served as a large mound of cooked rice with carrots, garlic and onions, served with sliced boiled meat cooked with spices. Plov — really an Uzbek dish— often has other ingredients such as raisins, all cooked in a semi-hemispherical metal bowl called a kazan over a fire. Plov is a favourite dish in the south. The meal is not considered over until it has been served.
Lagman — an Uyghur dish — consists of flat noodles cooked in a stew of tiny pieces of mutton, potatoes, carrots, onions and white radishes. The Dungan (Chinese) version is fairly spicy. Shorpo is a soupy dish, minus the noodles, with vegetables like potatoes, served with a mutton hunk. Ashlam-foo is a spicy dish made with cold noodles, jelly, vinegar and eggs. Jarkop is stewed meat cooked with onions, radish and noodles, placed on boiled pieces of dough. [Source: advantour]
Chuchpara – a form of meat dumplings – is made with minced meat, onion and spices in dough, boiled in a tasty broth, served hot in bowls and eaten with a spoon. Sour cream can be served as a dressing. Manti — steamed dumplings filled with shredded meat (or sometimes pumpkins) — usually eaten with the fingers. Watch out for the hot, liquid fat that can come squirting out from them. Sometimes the meat can be fatty, or gristly.
Korut — small balls of cheese made from sheep milk — are diluted with water to make a summer drink called Chalap (although it may be an acquired taste). Kuurdak can be prepared from either mutton or beef. The meat is fried with onion and spices and served on a plate garnished with herbs. Kerchoo is meat cooked in a fire like a barbarque.
Besh Barmak and Other Special Dishes
Besh barmak (five-fingers) is the national dish of Kyrgyzstan. To make it, the meat of a horse or a sheep in usually boiled in a big pot. This is presented as the meal's first course. Then the food is divided amongst the people. Every attending individual gets the piece according to their social position. The leftover broth is blended with onions and noodles, and is then is served in a large common bowl. It has traditionally been eaten with the hands (hence the name, five fingers), however many people these days eat it with a spoon or fork. [Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]
Beshbarmak is served when guests arrive and at almost any festive gathering. There is quite a ritual involved in preparing the meal. The simple version of the dish consists of noodles, which are mixed with boiled meat cut into tiny pieces and served with a medium spicy sauce. Bouillon is then poured over the mixture. [Source: advantour]
Generally, a sheep is slaughtered, butchered and boiled in a large “ kazan ” (a large round pot) for a couple of hours. The bones with the meat still on them are then distributed to the assembled gathering. The oldest people and honoured guests are presented with the choicest bones first. The guest of honour is presented with the head – and by tradition should have the sheep's eyes. To the “Alksakals” – old men – go the thigh bone (“jambash”) – to the older women goes the fat tail (“kuiruk”). The legs and shoulders are distributed to the young adults present – and the smaller bones are reserved for the daughter in law of the household. Some meat is diced and and mixed with boiled noodles. It is often followed by Ak serke – a broth made from milk mixed with kefir – and is thought to help settle the stomach.
Olovo is a dish which is cooked for especially honoured guests consisting of sheep's lungs marinaded in a mix of milk, spices, salt and oil. Oromo — a dish not usually found in restaurants but often served by Kyrgyz families to guests — can be prepared with meat, or as a vegetarian dish. Potatoes, onions and carrots are shredded and spread onto a mat of rolled out pastry, which is then rolled into a roulette and steamed in a special pan called a kazgan (In Kyrgyz “oromo” means “roulette”).
Shashlyk – or Kebabs – are meat cubes on skewers cooked over the embers of burning twigs. Mutton is the meat usually used, but it is possible to find beef, chicken, liver and even pork shashlyk. The meat may be freshly sliced or it may have been marinated overnight. Be warned, if the meat is mutton, many pieces will be pure fat, The dripping fat onto the burning embers is thought to enhance the taste. Shashlyk is usually served with a sprinkling of raw onion, vinegar and lepyoshki.
Central Asian Dishes
Central Asian dishes include “shashkyl” (kebabs, often made with mutton and served with ananas and bread), “plov “(pilaf-style rice mixed with meat, onions and carrots and other things), “manti” (steamed lamb dumplings, often served with minted sour cream), “laghman” (Chinese-style noodles), “moshkichiri” (meat soup), “dimlama” (braised meat, potatoes, onions), sheep fat, mutton and various parts of the sheep.
“Besbarmak” (large flat noodles topped by mutton, beef or horsemeat) is eaten in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyz often make a sweet plov with raisins, apricots or prunes or with pumpkin. Other dishes include “gretchka” (buckwheat groats, “kazy”, “chuckuk “and “”karta “(horsemeat sausage), “zhuta” (pasta with a carrot and pumpkin filling), “shurpa” (chickpea soup), “hunon” (noodle roll filled with meat), “samsa” (deep-fried pastries filled with meat and vegetables) and cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with tomatoes and pears and meat, onion soup, pickled tomatoes, cucumbers .
A typical meal in Kyrgyzstan consists of mutton, “nan” (local flat bread), “koreak” salad (shredded vegetables in a spicy dressing), “boursak”, salt, nuts, potatoes and milk. There are a wide variety of breads: leavened and unleavened, and sprinkled with things like sesame, nutmeg, poppy seeds or raisins. Kyrgyz are particularly fond of eating bread with grapes and plov. A wide variety of milk products from sheep, cows, goats, horses and camels are available. These include cheeses, yoghurt, cottage cheese, “aryan” (yoghurt drink), “kurd” (salty dried balls), and “kaimak” (sweet cream skimmed from fresh milk).
Russian and Turkish Dishes
Russian dishes include “blinis” (buckwheat crepes, filled with potatoes, mushrooms, herring, red and black caviar, or cabbage, and rolled up and dipped in melted butter or condensed milk); and “pelmeni” (ravioli-like, meat-filled Siberian dumplings, often smothered with sour cream), “golubtsy” (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), “kasha” (buckwheat porridge, sometimes mixed with mushrooms), “plov “(rice pilaf), and “pizozhki” (fried or baked turnovers stuffed with cabbage, minced meat, mushrooms or potatoes).
Among the common Russian meat dishes are chicken Kiev (fried boneless chicken stuffed with butter), “chakhabili” (stewed chicken in tomatoes and herbs), “beef stroganoff” (sauteed beef with mushrooms and onions in sour cream sauce, invented in St. Petersburg and named after a merchant family), and “satsivi” (chicken with a sauce made of pounded walnuts, garlic and red and black peppers).
You can also get chicken Tabaka (Caucasian-style grilled chicken), “tziply-onok tabaka” (grilled fried chicken with a sauce made from sour plums, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice), “porzarka” (a fried beef dish), “eskalop” (Russian -style pork chops), “bifsteak” (more like hamburger than steak), “kotlety” (deep-fried meat patties), and “bitki” (fried beef patties with caraway seeds and beets).
Russian-style “Zaduki” (cold salads, appetizers and side dishes) and “Zakuski” (hors d'oeuvres) are fixtures of hotel buffet lunches, restaurant smorgasbords and party meals at people's houses. These include things like rolls with mushrooms or cabbage; stuffed cabbage; green peppers covered in gravy; sausages; smoked fish and pickles; canned meat; “sklami” (cold meat); smoked fish; herring in mustard or sour cream; smoked salmon; and herring with potatoes.
Among the salad favorites are potato salad; pickled tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and cucumbers; marinated garlic; eggplant salad; mushroom salad; “salat staleechni” (chopped vegetables, potato, eggs with sour cream and mayonnaise); “salat olivier” (chicken potatoes, carrots and peas in dill sour cream sauce); Soups include “borscht” (cold beet soup, usually with cabbage in beef stock); “shchee” (bland cabbage soup, sometimes with sour cream); “pokhlyobska” (hearty peasant soup made with barely and wild mushrooms); or “solyanka” (spicy stew or soup made with pieces of fish or meat).
Turkish Dishes are becoming more and more common. They include Adana kebab (a spicy long piece of minced meat that is sometimes served inside wonderful flaky bread), Ishkender kebab (with a rich heavy red sauce), Doner kebab (sliced off a big hunk of revolving meat), şiş kebab (skewered chunks of meat), “dolma” (stuffed peppers), “patlican” (stuffed eggplant), “lahmacun” (thin-crusted Turkish pizza) and “mezes” (side dishes and appetizers like yoghurt with garlic and cucumber, salads, and spicy chopped tomatoes)
Dessert and Snacks in Kyrgyzstan
Common snacks found in Kyrgyzstan include kuirook-boor (pieces of sheep fat and liver, served together with spices); Shashlik (smoked kebabs of mutton, beef, chicken, liver, or various fishes, served with onions in vinegar); and samsa (dough including onion, meat and lamb-tail fat baked in an especial clay-oven known as a ‘tandyr’). Samsa is best eaten fresh out of tandyr and is consumed with hands. Be warned if you get a freshly cooked one, hot, fatty juices may squirt out when you bite into it.
Piroshki – flat dough filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage or sometimes nothing at all – is sold by street sellers. Kuiruk Boor is a snack consisting of cooked bacon (actually it's sheep's fat – not pig meat) and liver sprinkled with herbs. Blinis are Russian pancakes, rolled and filled with meat, tvorok (a sort of cottage cheese), or jam.
Russian-style desserts include “baursaki “(fried dough), “sirniki” (fried cakes made from sweetened farmer's cheese); “kompot” (stewed dried fruit); “kisel” (a thick or thin pudding made from fresh fruit); cakes with homemade blueberry, raspberry and plum jam; cream filled torts; pastries; cheeses; puddings; mouse; and custard.
Russian chocolate is dark, slightly bitter. Some American and European candies and cookies are available in shops and kiosks. Turkish-style desserts and pastries are rice pudding, chicken breast pudding, and flaky pastries—similar to Greek pastries—soaked with syrup and honey.
You can find kebab vendors, “Pullman” bars (serving Siberian meat-filled dumplings); “blini” bars (with blini with margarine, or jam. Kiosks sell vodka, cigarettes, candy, biscuits, Dutch cookies, American potato chips Latvian fruit juice and pirated movies. On the streets you can also get meat pastries, ice cream, stuffed baked potatoes, Turkish-style pizza, corn sticks (looks like a giant Cheetoh), samsas, halvahs, pastries, roasted chickpeas, puffed wheat and rice, tasteless pretzel-like rings, cakes, pastries, cookies, chocolate, and candied raisins. Central Asians are fond of eating apricot pits. They are cracked open like nuts and taste something like pistachios.
Restaurants in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz cafes, chaikanas, and ashkanas usually will have six or seven dishes, as well as two or three side dishes, on the menu. Many places also will serve shashlik, which is marinated mutton grilled on a skewer. It is common for only a few of the menu items to be available on any given day. Drink options are limited to tea, soda, and mineral water. Patrons are expected to order as a group and all eat the same entree. Ristoran (restaurants) usually have more varied European and Russian dishes. [Source: everyculture.com]
In the Soviet-era restaurants were considered to be grim places. The meals were terrible; the service was awful; and sometimes door attendants wouldn't give you a table unless you gave them a bribe. Sometimes they said they were closed or full when they weren't and the workers were often more interested in watching television than clearing the dishes from the tables. This kind of restaurants endure at some Soviet-era the hotels. In recent years lots of new restaurants have opened up. These sometimes offer a wide variety of food and have good service. Often the best food is home style dishes served at the bed-and-breakfasts.
Most modern-style Kyrgyz restaurants offer Kyrgyz, Russian and European dishes. Kyrgyz meals at restaurants usually begin with an appetizer or soup, followed by a the main dish (usually a meat dish). Sometimes the dish include by potatoes, vegetables, stewed fruits, and/or salad. Sometimes you have to pay for these things.
Types of Restaurants in Kyrgyzstan
Eating places in Kyrgyzstan include 1) canteens, Soviet-era communal lunch rooms, generally with cheap but awful food; 2) kafes and canteens, which vary from mini restaurants with several dishes to simple places with pastries, coffee, tea and milk; and 3) snack bars with soup and sandwiches. Grill-bars specializes in grilled chicken. 4) Cafeterias have simple inexpensive meals that are served cafeteria style. 5) Many hotels have some kind of restaurant, that still have a reputation of being overpriced and serving dreadful food. Often they have café offering snacks or meat and vegetable turnovers or a buffet with cold meats, salads and breads.
7) Home restaurants are homes that offer meals. The food is often very good. The owners often solicit tourist on the streets in tourist areas. 8) Tea houses are generally places where men hang out and socialize and play games. They offer green tea and brown tea and sometimes have snacks. 9) Bars generally serve drinks only. Many restaurants become bars after 9:00pm or 10:00pm.
Chinese, Western, Russian, Uyghur, Korean, Middle Eastern, German, and American cuisine is available. McDonald’s opened in first restaurant in Kazakhstan in 2015 but Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have oe yet. There are some inexpensive Middle Eastern and Turkish-style take-ways that serve doner kebabs (lamb with yogurt sauce and vegetables on pita bread).
Sheep in Kyrgyzstan: the Ex-Pat Perspective
The Selfless Nomad wrote in his blog: “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell. In Kyrgyzstan the sheep is a way of life. A culture whose favorite meat is mutton, almost any large gathering will have boiled sheep, handicrafts are made from wool along with their yurts, they also have children’s game played with the knees from sheep chuko. In the village wealth is measured in the amount of sheep or other livestock you own, at the animal bazar you choose a sheep by the amount of fat it has in it’s butt. People go to the lush mountain valleys in summer to graze their sheep and other livestock. Sheep play a huge role in Kyrgyz life and culture. [Source: /theselflessnomad ; May 11, 2014 \=/]
“I have come to despise sheep. The meat is gross, smelly, tough, and very fatty. There are sheep feces everywhere I go. I go on a hike 3 hours into the mountains and there is sheep poop, I go to a beautiful beach on the lake and there is sheep poop everywhere. You can not escape it. Every large gathering I go to there is boiled sheep, the jokes about me eating the slices of sheep fat have not stopped after a year, locals insist that I eat the fat and intestines so I become strong. \=/
“You would think after a year of me refusing to eat slices of pure sheep fat my Kyrgyz family would get bored of trying to get me to eat it, but no they have not. Sheep also create traffic problems crossing the road en masse and until very recently (this year) the jail time for stealing a sheep in Kyrgyzstan was more than stealing a woman to be your wife. I don’t now if I mentioned it but I hate sheep! “ \=/
Slaughtering a Sheep in Kyrgyzstan
On the process of taking a live animal and preparing it for the cooking pot, the Selfless Nomad wrote in his blog: “1) Get a sheep. Many people have and raise sheep. If you don’t own them you will buy one either from a friend or neighbor in the village or from an animal bazar in a larger town. From asking around the going price for a full grown sheep is about in the 3000-5000 som range (60-100 dollars) depending on how fat it is etc… [Source: /theselflessnomad ; May 11, 2014 \=/]
“2) Tie it up. Sheep are small but like any creature with a dull knife next to it’s neck it will fight back. Usually one rope around the hooves is plenty. To tie it up you simply flip the sheep on its back, grab the legs and tie them together. From this point you are ready for the slaughter. 3) Omean. Omeaning is the equivalent to saying a prayer. For this part the women, kids, and men will come together for a quick prayer followed by the words omean. They do this before any kind of animal slaughter. \=/
“4) Slaughter it. No girls allowed. It is not pretty, it is not clean, but it is relatively fast. Usually a quick slice to the neck and the sheep will bleed out relatively quickly. They bring over a container to catch the blood. Once the sheep is dead they will untie the legs and get it ready to be butchered. 5) Skin it. The first thing they do in butchering it is skin it. It consists of gingerly knife cuts along with jamming fists in between the skin and body cavity to detach the skin. They take care to not hurt the hide as they can sell it for a small amount, up to $10. \=/
“6) Remove the innards. Once the hide is detached they leave it under the body to act as a nice clean working surface. From here they will slice down the ventral side of the body cavity. Once completed they will remove the innards into a bowl. 7) Clean the innards. This is always a woman’s job. They will wash, rinse, and braid the intestines. They empty the green smelly stomach contents away from the work area but never far enough. It is a horrendous smell. This smell and taste never leaves the intestines in my opinion no matter how much cleaning they do. They often will use a small twig to help with the cleaning. I think of it like a pipe cleaner. The heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, and intestines will all be eaten. 8) Cut it up. As they butcher the sheep they will cut the sheep into manageable parts. There is no nice clean butcher cuts like you would get in America though. From here the parts will all go to the kazan (large metal pot). All of the pieces will go in except for the head and lower parts of the legs. \=/
Cooking Sheep in Kyrgyzstan
On actually cooking the sheep, the Selfless Nomad wrote in his blog: “9) Singe the head and legs. This can be done in numerous ways. The goal is to remove all of the hair from the parts and cook them at the same time. This is done through burning it, then scarping it with a knife until clean. It smells like burning hair and is not pleasant. I’ve seen this done using a blow torch and a fire. [Source: /theselflessnomad ; May 11, 2014 \=/]
“10) Boil it. All of the sheep parts, innards and meat are thrown in the kazan to boil for hours. During this time the women tend to be inside preparing other things for the meal and the men smoke, drink, and stir the sheep around. Sometimes people will separate the innards and the meat and cook them separate. These people are heroes. The meat isn’t good in the first place, but when you boil it with the innards it makes it even worse. \=/
“11) Serve it up. Now the sheep is cooked and the table is set. Time to eat. It usually begins with a young boy going around to wash everyone’s hands. While he is pouring water over your hands it is customary to say some wishes for the pourer. From here they split up the meat. The large chunk of pure fat from the butt almost always goes to the eldest lady in the room, or if it is an honored guest it will go to the woman if there is a male and female (possibly my mother when they visit). The eldest male, will sometimes get the head or the honored male guest (possibly my dad when they visit) . While these parts are served to them, they share. From here they pass out chunks of bone and meat in chronological order, the older you are the more food you get. The youngest females usually get the smallest amount and worse cuts of meat. Normally 2-4 middle aged men will begin shredding some of the meat, fat and intestines for the besh barmak. The ingredients for the besh barmak are simple, shredded sheep parts, plain noodles, and sheep broth. They mix the ingredients up in a large bowl and then every one grabs their helping. Traditionally this is eaten only with your hands, but many people use silverware now. I tend to use my hands, but the after affect is horrid, hands that smell like sheep for days. \=/
“12) Omean. At the end of the meal the hand washer will come back around, this time your hands are greasy and smelly, but soap is never used and everyone will use the same towel to dry their hands. Once your hands are sparkling clean you omean again. Thanking the guests, and wishing them fortunes. Depending on what the occasion is for the prayer will sometimes be directed at them. Once this is done everyone prepares their doggy bags. These consist of plastic bags full of chunks of fat, meat, and left over besh barmak. There is often times a separate bag with candy, bread, and borsok (fried bread). When ever I leave one of these I tend to wash my hands at least 2 more times with lots of soap and water.” \=/
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated April 2016