The foods of Kyrgyzstan had me at meat and potatoes.
If you didn’t read my intro to my trip to Kyrgyzstan, check it out here. But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
The question that I was immediately asked as soon as I found out I was going to Kyrgyzstan was, I wonder what the food’s like!?
To be honest, that was what I was most looking forward to as well!
It’s not like you can wander the streets of a big city in the US and stumble upon a Kyrgyz restaurant, well, I’m sure there’s one somewhere, but anyways….
I was really excited to experience the foods of Kyrgyzstan, a country I knew next to nothing about.
The Foods of Kyrgyzstan: The Basics
Kyrgyz cuisine is filled with interesting meats, dairy products, and warm yumminess. It’s a culture full of nomads and herding families. This means that fruits and veggies aren’t always the shining stars of meals and dishes are usually really rich and hearty to warm you up on the mountains and keep you full for a full day of tough work.
It was kind of a funny country for someone to visit who is gluten free. Cough cough, me. Although it was really easy for me to avoid gluten, it is definitely a cuisine that is heavy on the bread. Bread is served with every single meal. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from flatbreads to puffy, harder Russian varieties.
There will usually be a few different varieties served up at each meal and it is accompanied by a selection of jams, jellies, butters, and cream. It isn’t necessarily sacred, but if you waste bread, you’ll probably be shunned pretty hard by locals so take only what you’re going to eat, and eat it all.
It is pretty customary when entering someone’s home or yurt to be offered bread and tea immediately even if you’re only staying for a few minutes!
I have never been offered horse meat as much as I was in Kyrgyzstan.
It’s not a country that I’d recommend traveling to as a vegetarian or let alone a vegan. In fact, I met a vegan during my trip and she basically said if she saw anymore watermelon or french fries she was going to scream. The larger cities like Bishkek of Cholpan-Ata will have a few vegetarian places or restaurants featuring more worldly cuisines that may offer up some options however, the traditional foods of Kyrgyzstan do not cater to vegetarians.
There are a few dishes like a fresh shredded carrot salad with chili and borscht a super yummy beet soup that will be without meat, but the majority of dishes are fairly meat heavy.
You’ve been warned.
Anyways, meat. Beef, lamb, and horse meat are the main meats, but finding pork or chicken isn’t impossible. When in the regions surrounding the lakes or big rivers, fish is a popular dish as well!
Paloo or Plov: This is a popular dish throughout Central Asia. It consists primarily of rice, garlic, onions, sometimes beans and shredded carrots and topped with slow-cooked mutton or beef. This hearty dish is often served with chillies or fried garlic on the side to give it a little more kick. It’s a good go-to dish if you’re hungry and need something you can rely on.
Shorpo: A clear broth soup with big chunks of meat, usually beef or mutton, potatoes, and carrots.
Beshbamark: A horsemeat stew served over homemade thick noodles.
Shashlik: One of my personal favorites, these are meat shish kebobs. I wish I knew exactly what went into the marinade for these so I could replicate them at home, but alas, I’ll just have to return. The kebobs are marinated for hours before getting grilled over open coals. This is one of those dishes that sometimes you can find with chicken, or even fish near the lakes or in bigger cities.
Lagman: Comes in two forms, fried or as a soup. Thick wheat noodles are tossed with vegetables and peppers and mixed in a spicy vinegar sauce and then either stir-fried or served up as a soup. This is a good dish to grab on the go, as even rest stop restaurants will serve up a delicious bowl!
Manti: These are steamed dumplings filled with meat and vegetables or you can try the fluffy pastry fried type called Samsas which are similar to the Indian Samosas.
Vegetables are pretty confined to cucumbers and tomatoes for some reason. It was rare to find lettuce outside of western hotels.
Seasonings and spices aren’t used overwhelmingly. The foods of Kyrgyzstan pretty much rely on their ingredients to pack their flavor punches. The focus is on hearty and filling rather than flavor packing.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved everything I did eat, but after almost two weeks, I was certainly ready for some new flavors.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into Kyrgyz cuisine, stay tuned for more about this country that I love so.
Curious about visiting Kyrgyzstan? Here is why you should visit!
My trip was organized in cooperation with Discover Kyrgyzstan and made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.