Traditions and Culture of Kyrgyzstan
Greetings and weddings
The Kyrgyz diet reflects the traditional nomadic life of the Kyrgyz people. Food emphasizes meat, mainly mutton, with comparatively little in vegetable and fruit- However, through centuries of contact, forced and otherwise, with other Asian cultures and through years of cohabitation with Russians, the Kyrgyz have substantially augmented their cuisine.
Most eating establishments offer lagman, plov, shorpo, shashlik, manti as core of its menu, with chai (tea) and lepyoshka. The selection can get monotonous but at least you know what to expect. Unless the menu states otherwise, the meat of choice is mutton.
Some food your stomach will commonly run into are:
Beshbarmak ('five fingers' in Kyrgyz) is mutton-on-the-bone stewed in broth.
When ready to be eaten, noodles that have been boiled in the same broth are brought to the table/ground cloth. The mutton is then finely cut and shredded onto the noodles by the diners, who are also encouraged to eat some of the mutton as is.
Broth is then ladled over the mixture. Beshbarmak is traditionally eaten with the right hand. Sometimes the cooked intestines of the sheep are laced around the beast's skull and brought to the table. The guest of honor is given the eye to eat. Beshbarmak is the choice food at a Kyrgyz feast. Restaurant versions of this dish pale in flavor and edibility to the yurt version.
Bliny are pancakes, maybe rolled and filled with meat, tvorak (Russian-styled cottage cheese) or jam.
Boorsok, a type of Kyrgyz bread, are small deep-fried triangular pieces of dough that are then scattered on the table- or ground cloth.
Chuchuk is sausage made from horse meat and is considered a delicacy at a Kyrgyz table.
Ganfan, a Dungan dish, is cooked cut meat and vegetables over rice.
Hashan is deep-fried puffy dough with meat filling. Not as common as piroshki, this Uighur-derived pastry is mostly sold on the streets.
Lagman is noodles, mutton and assorted vegetables in broth.
Lepyoshka is Russian for round flat bread baked in a tandoor, a clay oven. Straight from the
oven, lepyoshka has few rivals in simplicity and taste.
Manti is steamed dumplings filled with meat. Manti filled with squash is a tastier version usually served only in homes.
Naan is Kyrgyz for round flat bread baked in a tandoor.
Pelmeni is, depending on your culinary bent, either Russian ravioli or Russian wonton served in broth.
Piroshki, fried flat dough with meat or potato filling, or sometimes nothing at all, is commonly sold on the streets.
Plov is Uzbek rice pilaf. Due to the Uzbek influence, plovin the south of Kyrgyzstan is better than in the north.
Samsa is a baked meat dumpling that comes in two versions: the fatter kind baked in a clay oven or the flatter kind wrapped in puff pastry and baked in a regular oven. The former is more common. Be careful of the juice and heat that escape from the inside of the samsa when you bite into it
Shashlik is mutton kebab. Chicken and beef versions are available although technically they cannot be called shashlik.
Shorpo is lagman minus the noodles.
Local and international food in Kyrgyzstan
Most restaurants and cafes in Bishkek serve mediocre Kyrgyz and Russian fare. However, to the benefit of those diners who enjoy good food, more good eateries are popping up, some with international menus although you won't find just yet sushi or gado-gado. Even with the appearance of global gourmands and gourmets few foods can match, in either simplicity or in taste, shashlik just off the fire, garnished with sliced onion and vinegar, eaten with fresh lepyoshka, and washed down with beer - all for less than $ 1. Good places to get the above combination are the food stands and tandoor ovens around Alamedin Bazaar and Osh Bazaar.
Restaurant menus commonly list two columns of numbers, the price of the entry and the price per weight, usually a denomination of 50 grams . What is affordable per 100 grams , barely a mouthful, may be expensive at 300 grams , about what one portion weighs. You can specify how much you want to order.
Tipping is not usually the norm; however, at your discretion, leave a 10-15% tip for good service. At most places, this amount will still be paltry. Some establishments automatically levy a service charge (listed at the end of the menu as îáñëóæèâàíèå ), from $0.02-$0. 15.
National drinks in Kyrgyzstan
Airan (in Kyrgyz), also called kefir (in Russian), resembles yogurt.
Arak is Kyrgyz for vodka.
Bozo is a Kyrgyz wheat and millet-fermented drink with a slight alcoholic punch.
Beer comes in all kinds of quality, the lowest of which is dispensed directly from an outdoor metal vat on wheels. Some locally produced beers are Arpa, Bars ( Áàðñ ) and Steinbrau, the latter brewed at the eponymous brewery/pub started by a local German.
Cognac is a pale version of the real thing although it is a nice substitute for vanilla in your baking needs.
Kvas is Russian watered-down homemade beer.
Kymys is fermented mare's milk and is an acquired taste.
Maksym is a thick wheat-based drink that Kyrgyz like to drink in the summer.
Shoro is a brand name of maksym.
Samogon, Russian for moonshine, is sold clandestinely from many kiosks. Mush of the cheap vodka (and a dead giveaway are the trendy labels, e.g., Mike Tyson and Bill Clinton vodka) for sale is just water and samogon and poses serious health threats. The lower the price of any alcohol, the higher the probability that the isn't liquor.
Vodka comes in various degrees of quality and is the choice of those their liquor hard and fast.
Food and drinks in Kyrgyzstan
Many health problems in Kyrgyzstan stems from eating and drinking unhygienic food. To minimize food-related illnesses:
- Do not drink water unless it has been boiled for ten minutes. Mineral water, with and without gas (the latter is more common), is available everywhere.
- Do not drink un-pasteurized milk. Heat the milk until it boils. It take only ten minutes to boil them.
- Be careful when eating locally-made milk products such as cheese, ice cream and kimis (mare's milk). If you buy these products in a supermarket you will be fine.
If you by milk products in a bazaar, you will be taking chances with your health. Ice cream sold in kiosks are dubious. They may have defrosted and then re-frozen, harboring bacteria in the process.
- Choose fruit with unbroken skin and wash them, preferably with in one liter of water containing one to two drops of iodine.
- Buy only fresh meat, preferably in supermarket where packing and hygienic conditions are regularly checked. If you buy meat in the bazaar, do so early in the morning. Avoid buying ground meat.
- Eat shashlik (meat kebab usually of lamb) only if it is cooked well and just off the fire.
Street food in Kyrgyzstan
On almost any city block, food of some sort is sold. If you feel peckish, look out for Lepyoshka, manti, samsa, piroshki (deep- fried dough filled with potatoes or meat) and other dumpling-like offerings sold by vendors on the street.
Popping up all over the places are stands selling hamburger (which actually should be called spamburger or lambburger), whose meat is kept warm on a vertical revolving spit, and hot dogs (a bit spongy). Also recently available are franchise stands called American Potatoes selling tasty "baked" potatoes which are really pressure-cooked.
For late-night food, the kiosks on the east side of Osh Bazaar serves almost palatable cold plov and similar items that resemble leftovers from the day's trade.
A better choice is the Mossoviet Bazaar; there are a couple of hamburger stands open 24 hours a day and vendors selling street food.
Cafe and restaurant in Bishkek
Everyone coming to a new country is interested in sampling the local cuisine and on what and where he will be able to eat. Here in Bishkek you will not be disappointed. Bishkek for its own nature as a multi-ethnic society cater for any taste and although Russian and Asian cuisine (Kyrgyz, Chinese, Indian, Uighur, Dungan and Korean) is predominant you will also find Italian, Turkish, American and International cuisine in general.
There are more Restaurants, bars and small cafe opening each season than you can imagine. In summer Bishkek people like to eat in the open air, and sidewalks and bars create an explosion of entertainment with a relaxing and colorful atmosphere. Unless you visit established Restaurant, at the side cafe variety of food is not very large, the service is basic but what they serve is good and very often cheap.
Very few Restaurants in town can be compared to International standard in term of service or decor. But there are few that are above the average where you can have good meal and be entertained with live music and some time with a show.
Different patrons rate the same Restaurant differently, we are providing our own rating based on the general local opinion but we will leave you to make your own assessment. As a general guideline, be advised that meat is always good, you can eat beef, lamb, pork or chicken. Fish variety, being Kyrgyzstan a landlocked country, is limited. Also be advised that very few restaurant in town accept credit card.
Reservation is not generally required, but in some Restaurant is better to do, since they are small and may not have place.
If you pay in dollars please consider that Restaurant exchange rate is slight lower that that of the exchange office. Bills should be paid in Soms but Restaurant also accept dollars, other currency are difficult to exchange and often restaurant even do not know them. Also remember that smaller bills from $ 1 to 20 have a lower rate of exchange, and that notes of $ 50 and 100 must be dated after 2011 If you pay in dollars remember to have with you small change since the Restaurant may not have the dollars notes to give you back and you should accept Soms for change.
When going to a Restaurant by taxi, if you do not speak the language, it is preferable to have the full name of the Restaurant as well the address written in Cyrillic in a piece of paper to avoid misunderstanding with the driver.Below, in alphabetical order, are some eateries in various degrees of recommendation. Average main dish: $=under $1, $$=$1-2, $$$= $2-4 = outdoor seating available
Water in Kyrgyzstan
Drinking dubious water might lead to you contracting dysentery, hepatitis and other gastric illnesses. One big worry, especially if you plan on being in the countryside, is contracting giardia, usually gotten from drinking water contaminated by the feces of livestock, which in Kyrgyzstan means mostly from sheep.
In Bishkek, tap water is generally safe to drink but if you want to decrease your chances of getting ill, boil the water before you drink it. Be safe and don't drink the water even if locals say it is fine. Another option is to buy mineral water, which is available with or without carbonation.
Traditional Kyrgyz beshbarmak
Hot flat cakes
Preparation of baursaks
Preparation of plovs
For holidays of dastarkhan
Flat cakes in tandyre
Cooking in the street
Preparation of shashlyks