Kyrgyz cuisine has been influenced by centuries of nomadic life, and offers mostly simple dishes based on meat and dairy products. Russian colonization has also left its marks in the kitchen: you’ll find many Russian specialties to try in Kyrgyzstan…including of course the traditional drink, vodka.
Many dishes in Kyrgyzstan are strongly linked to rituals and celebrations. Recipes include mostly beef, mutton and horse meat. You’ll also find many fermented or boiled milk specialties, like in Mongolia.
Recently, the Kyrgyz, and the many other ethnic groups who live in the country, have started using many spices, hence offering a larger variety of tastes. You’ll also find a few dishes with fish, but, regardless of Kyrgyzstan’s many lakes and rivers, this is rare. In the isolated regions, food is mostly made of meat.
Samsa: these triangular fried breads, traditionally filled with meat and onions, are very popular in Kyrgyzstan. You can also find them filled with chicken or cheese. They are baked in clay ovens, thanks to which they are crispy and mellow at the same time. You’ll find them at the bazars, on the street and in restaurants: don’t miss out on this delicious snack.
Manty: these boiled raviolis are stuffed with mutton or beef meat (or a mix). You can find them in different forms throughout Central Asia.
Shashlik: this is a must-try for meat lovers. The beef, mutton, or chicken meat is marinated for several hours, usually during the night. It is then grilled on a barbecue. Shaslik are served with vinegar and onion, which make the meat even more tender and tasty.
Lagman: this spicy dish is made of homemade noodles, served with meat and vegetables, mostly onions and peppers. You can find it in different forms: in a soup, boiled, fried… This delicious specialty is very typical of Kyrgyzstan and can be found in restaurants, bazars and in the yurts.
Oromo: the oromo has some vegetarian versions. Its traditional recipe consists of potato, onions and carrots wrapped in dough and boiled. They can also be stuffed with meat, so make sure to ask before ordering.
Beshbarmak: this traditional dish is eaten with the hand, as its name, which translates as « five fingers », suggests. The beshbarmak is prepared from horse meat, onions and noodles. It’s always served for celebrations or for honored guests.
Plov: this is one of the most popular dishes in Central Asia. It’s made of fried rice, carrots, onions, meat and spices. It’s often served for weddings or at the end of the Ramadan. Plov is traditionally given on a large plate on the middle of the table, from which everyone eats.
Snacks for the bravest
Around the world you’ll find curious culinary specialties, more or less appetizing, and Kyrgyzstan is not an exception to this rule.
You might want to try kurut, small, hard and salted cheese balls made from goat milk. Be aware, kurut has a very strong taste that will stay in your mouth. Kyrgyz love this little snack, and even the youngest children eat it like candy or chocolate. Maybe it’s easier when you’re used to it since childhood…but be brave and give it a try during your holiday.
Yes, it’s true, Kyrgyz do eat sheep eyes. You’ll have to swallow it without chewing and let it melt in your stomach. Sometimes, it’s served in small pieces, but it might not be more appetizing. Don’t worry though, this is rarely served, and is kept for the most honorable guests.
Tea: In Kyrgyzstan, tea is served at every meal and upon arrival at someone’s house or yurt. Kyrgyz don’t drink pure water, so if you can’t get used to tea, you’ll have to bring along some water bottles. Tea is accompanied by many rituals. You’ll usually see one extra cup on the table, used to infuse the tea and pour out the last drops of tea in guests’ cups. Usually, the youngest woman at the table serves tea to everyone. Cups are not filled until the top (to make sure they don’t heat too much), and served with the right hand as a sign of respect.
Kumys: Prepared in the spring and summer, Kumys is a traditional nomad drink. It’s made from fermented mare milk. Kumys is known for healing stomach aches, and many chronic diseases. But your intestines might not be ready for it, so take it easy.
Bozo: Bozi is another traditional Kyrgyz drink, made from fermented millet grains. It almost tastes like beer, so won’t surprise you as much as Kumys.