National cuisine

Food is a question of taste - as the saying goes: «One man's meat is another man's poison». Don't expect the food in Kyrgyzstan to be the highlight of your trip - but that does not mean that you have landed up in a culinary wasteland!
Kyrgyzstan stood on the crossroads of the Silk Road, and the caravan routes which crossed the territory carried not only goods for trade, but also brought examples of various cultures: Turkish, Persian, Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Russian, and European and these mingled with the culture and traditions of Central Asia. As a result Kyrgyz cuisine has absorbed elements from all of the cultures with which it came into contact, and although many dishes that you will find are common throughout Central Asia, it is still possible to find examples that have preserved their original, national identity. In many areas, such as Bishkek, Russian cuisine is common, but it is now possible to find examples from all over the world, including the all embracing «European», Indian, Korean, Turkish and Chinese. Outside the cities local dishes, (such as Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Dungan) are more common.

It is said that the food in Central Asia falls into three different types: the subsistence diet of the once nomadic peoples such as the Kyrgyz (mainly meat, milk products and bread); the diet of settled Turkish peoples (the Uzbeks and Uigurs) including pilafs, kebabs, noodles and pasta, stews and elaborate pastries and breads; and dishes which come from the South (Iran, India, Pakistan and China) with more seasoning and herbs.
In Kyrgyz culture many dishes used to have special, ritual importance, and be connected with particular calendar holidays. Although these dishes are of great interest, unfortunately, many of them are being forgotten, and have fallen into disuse whilst some, which formerly had ritual contents, have lost their initial meaning and are progressively turning into every-day dishes.
Meat is central to Kyrgyz cooking - the nomadic way of life did not allow for the growing of fruit and vegetables - which means that vegetarian visitors may find it difficult to find dishes that meet their needs.
Traditionally the Kyrgyz are a very hospitable people. If a Kyrgyz family invites you for a meal then you should take a small gift - nothing lavish, for example fruit or flowers.


Tea and Coffee

Fruit and Vegetables
Honey is very popular

Food and traditions which are connected with it

Beshbarmak. For Kyrgyz people beshbarmak is not only a dish - it is a whole ceremony with own traditions and customs. The sheep is usually killed, cut in to pieces and boiled in iron fleshpot till bullion is ready for drinking and ribs meat – for sharing between participants of table. This dish consists of home-made noodle with shortcut boiled meat which usually is eaten with hands (besh barmak means five fingers in kyrgyz). Top
Kuiruk-boor - slices of boiled lamb fat with pieces boiled lamb liver and spices. Top
Kuurdak - small pieces fried lamb or veal with onion and spices are served with greens on the big plate. Top
Lagman - is a rich spicy stew with chopped meat, vegetables and spices, poured over long hand-made noodles. The noodles can be eaten with a fork and the gravy with a spoon. Lagman is served in individual bowls. Top
Manty - steam done pies from pastry likely fist size with stuffing from lamb (or sometimes pumpkins), onion and spices, usually eaten with the fingers. A word of warning — watch out for the hot, liquid fat that can come squirting out from them. Also, sometimes the meat can be fatty, or gristle. Manty is usually served on individual plates (3-5 pieces) and could be dressed with sour cream. Top
Oromo - This is not usually found in restaurants, but a Kyrgyz family may serve you it. It 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 roulette and steamed in a special pan called a kazgun (In Kyrgyz «oromo» means «roulette»). Top
Pilau - rice mixed with boiled, or fried meat, onions and carrots (and sometimes other ingredients such as raisins), all cooked in a semi-hemispherical metal bowl called a kazan over a fire. Pilau is a favorite dish in the South and is served to honored guests - the meal is not considered over until it has been served. Top
Samsa - Samsy (in the plural) are baked meat dumplings often cooked in a tandyr (clay oven). Once again, be warned of the heat and fatty juice that squirts out when you bite into one. Top
Chuchvara - is meat dumplings of minced meat, onion and spices in dough. It is boiled in a broth with some meat. It is served hot in bowls and eaten with a spoon. Sour cream can be served as a dressing. Top
Shashlyk or Kebabs (barbeque) - 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 simply be freshly sliced or may have been marinated overnight. Be warned, if the meat is mutton, then almost certainly one of the pieces on the skewer 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 lepeshki. Top
Shorpo - is a hot oily broth with chunks of meat, potatoes and carrots. It is could be seasoned with greens and is served in individual bowls and eaten with a spoon. Large chunks of meat on the bones can be eaten with hands. Top

Boorsoks - pieces of dough, deep fried in boiling oil - is a traditional table "decoration". They are produced in large quantities and spread over the dastarhan or table at every major celebration. Top
Chuchuk – fat salami made of mutton. Top
Chak-chak – sweat meal of fried dough with honey. Top
Ashlan-foo - a spicy dish made with cold noodles, jelly, vinegar and eggs. Top
Bliny - (a Russian dish), pancakes, rolled and filled with meat, tvorak (a sort of cottage cheese), or jam. Top
Pirojki - flat dough filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage or sometimes nothing at all — sold by street sellers. Top
Pelmeni - a from of Russian ravioli which can be served in a bouillon (or broth) or without, and usually smetana (sour cream). Top

Tea and Coffee - tea (black or green) is common and comes in various forms and is usually made strong and mixed with hot water when served. It may well be served in a bowl rather than a cup. Coffee is more likely to be instant served, without milk. Top
Arak (Kyrgyz for Vodka) the most common and popular form of hard alcohol - watch out for Samogonka - home made vodka. When drinking vodka - watch your hosts - Russians tend to drain their glasses - «down in one» - and so do many Kyrgyz - but a lot of Kyrgyz only drink half the glass. Top
Cognac - Kyrgyz Cognac is the local form of brandy. It comes in various qualities some of which are quite good. Top
Champagne - dryish and crisp when well cooled. Top
Wine - Kyrgyzstan does grow grapes and does produce wine. Most of it fairly sweet and not to the visitors«taste. Top
Beer - many brands of imported beers are now available and a German-Kyrgyz joint venture produces Steinbrau, a German type beer brewed locally in Bishkek. Most local brands are cheaper but do not keep well and need to be drunken - «fresh» (i. e. within three days). Top
Kymyz - fermented mare’s milk, is an acquired taste. Kumys is sold from the roadside throughout the country in the summer but it is best from the herders themselves in more remote mountain regions such as around Son-Kul. Refusing a drink of kumys can cause offence. The milk is poured into a vessel made from a cleaned sheep»s skin, which has been smoked by burning pine branches to give the drink a special smell and taste and it is beaten periodically with a special stick called a «bishkek». The traditional way of making koumiss is for mare«s milk to be stored in animal skins (chinach), which has been cleaned and smoked over a fire of pine branches to give the drink a special smell and taste. One third of yesterday»s milk is mixed with new milk and allowed to ferment in the warmth of the yurt. It is then churned, beaten with a wooden stick (a bishkek) and becomes alcoholic before turning into lactic acid. In the 1840"s, Russian doctors discovered that kumys had curative properties and used it for treating tuberculosis, anaemia, chronic lung diseases and gynecological and skin diseases. Some 16 special sanatoria were established which treated patients with lots of fresh air, exercise and koumiss. They served a number of famous people including members of the imperial family, Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, and even a minor British Member of Parliament who made the journey to Central Asia especially to undergo the treatment. Unfortunately, traditional kumys can be stored for only up to three days, so production is limited to the milking period of mares. To solve this problem, a method of producing pasteurized kumys was developed allowing treatment all year round, and even export. A special facility has recently started for the production of pasteurized kumys in the Naryn region. Top
Bozo - an alcoholic drink made from boiled, fermented millet grains resembling beer. Top
Jarma - beverage is made from fermented barley and is used usually in summer time. Top
Maksym - (Shoro is a brand name which is sold from Barrels on Bishkek streets) — is a wheat based drink that Kyrgyz like to drink in the summer. Top
Airan (also known as Kefir) - is a milk drink that resembles drinking yogurt. Top
Water - In Bishkek the tap water is generally safe to drink, but if you have a delicate stomach, or are concerned then boil the water. Bottled mineral water is available throughout the country but tends to be carbonated and a little salty, and can be an acquired taste. Top

Bread - In Bishkek there is a wide range of breads available. Outside the cities, the flat, round lepeshka is found almost everywhere. Fresh, warm, straight from the tandyr (a clay oven) it is particularly pleasant. At meals it is usually broken, not cut with a knife and never placed on the table upside down. Top
Meat - The most common form of meat is used in Kyrgyz cuisine is mutton. Sheep have a high place in Kyrgyz culture and the Kyrgyz use every part of the animal for something. Sheep meat tends to be more fatty than that from other animals, and so it should be no surprise that fatty meat is often considered to be the best. (There is even a Kyrgyz saying - «Cheap mutton has little fat»). In some households and festivals the Sheep«s head, (the eyes in particular), may be offered to an honoured guest. Horsemeat is also highly revered and for special occasions and funerals it is common for a horse to be slaughtered and the cooked and presented to guests. Only young mares are used which have been fed on Alpine grasses, which are thought to give the meat a particularly good flavour. A great favourite in the countryside, (but also available in Bishkek) is chuchuk - a sort of sausage made from horsemeat. Beef is also found, but less often. The Kyrgyz rarely uses chicken - chickens being found among settled peoples rather than nomads. Pork is not used by the Kyrgyz, but can be found in Chinese and Russian restaurants. Top

Fish - Fresh fish are caught in the lakes such as Son-Kul and Issyk Kul. Popular are the dried and smoked fish that are sold by the roadside near Issyk-Kul. Top

Fruit and Vegetables - most of the produce is grown locally and seasonal and there is a wide variety — although recently more exotic fruits and vegetables are imported and available in the markets. You can encounter fresh produce, cooked, dried and preserved (jams/pickles etc.) Nuts are also very popular. Top
Honey is very popular - and in the mountains the traveller can come across a solitary trailer, or a cluster of five or six gathered together, packed with and surrounded by beehives. The owner will happily sell a litre of fresh mountain honey (but you should have your own container if possible). Top

Food and traditions which are connected with it. Kyrgyz food is important ethic and cultural event. Butchery had certain role in establishing of composition of their food. Food of Kyrgyz people had season character. Meat and dairy dominated in food ration. Cereal products as part of ration began to appear in the process of settling down of nomads and transition to agriculture. Food went through some changes as a result of influence from cuisine of Uzbek, Taji, Dungan, Uigur, Russian, Ukrainian and other nationalities at the end of 19 and first half of 20 centuries. It is necessary to say about the influence Russian and Ukrainian food on formation Kyrgyz cuisine in Chyi and Issyk-kyl zones. Tradition Kyrgyz food, customs, ceremonies connected with preparing of food and its application, had specific characteristics. The main ingredient of Kyrgyz nourishment is dairy food: unskimmed sour milk - juurat; sour milk - airan; cottage cheese from boiled milk bysh tak; balls from pressed and dry cottage cheese - kurut, its varieties - kainatkan kurut and tuzdatkan kurut; cheese - ish; cottage cheese from goats or sheep milk - ejigey, cream - kaimak; butter - mai, melted butter - sary mai and etc. Kymys is done from mare milk by way of effervescence. Dishes from camel and yak milk were also used wide. There were a lot of dishes in Kyrgyz cuisine where the main ingredients were dairy products - katyktait. During winter time kurut was used as thickener and it flavoured to this food. Broth is usually was mixed with sour milk as airan and kymys and called as ak serke, chygyr and etc. Top

There is widespread kind of cereal alcohol drink - bozo, which is prepared from millet, barley and corn. It is drunk only by adults in the winter. The custom of drinking tea had been established in Kyrgyz tradition cuisine substantially. There were a unique way of making tee with adding oil fried flour, salt, milk – kuurma tea and its variety - ak tea.
Kyrgyz people like eating sheep, horse, camel, goat, yak meat. The most appreciated sorts of meat are lamb and horseflesh. It is preferable on big crowded feasts. Dishes from mutton are separated into 2 kinds: dishes from inner parts as lungs and stomach - jorgom; from shortcut liver and fat with added blood - byjy; dish is made of boiled in milk lungs – olobo or kuigan opko. Kyrgyz people ate meat when it was boiled in the main - byshkan et; fried meat kuurdak usually had less popularity and was not given to guests. Boiled meat is usually given with broth – shorpo, the dish is prepared from shortcut pieces of meat - naryn, tuuralgan et. Top

Mutton pieces are shared according to status of guests. The most respected guests are given a head - bash, then iliac bone - jambash, then thigh-bone - joto or chukolu jilik, femur - kashka jilik, radius - kar jilik, scapula - daly, ribs - kabyrga (exepting ribs from the front part of the carcass kara kabyrga). Coccyx - (kuimulchak) and brisket - (tosh) were given to only women. Young daughters – in law were given bone from knee to ankle - (kun jilik).
Sacrum - (ucha), ribs - (kaburga), sausage from meat and fat (chuchuk), mane - (jal) , which are made from horseflesh were given to very respected guests.
Vegetal food consisted of wheat, corn, rice, millet, oat. Some dishes were prepared from entire seeds of groats and flour. They are different porridges - (kojo, botko, atala), pottages - (umach, maksum, jarma) and etc. Pastry dishes (kumur ta mak) – late event in Kyrgyz culture and can be met in next dishes as kesme kojo, gulcho, jaoma ash, kesme atala.
Bread products tokoch or nan are consisted from next sorts: bread which called lepeshka from sour pastry - (komoch); short pastry lepeshka - kattama, lepeshka from sour unleavened pastry - cha batu; fried in fat circular lepeshkas with sections in the center - mie tokoch, chelpek, chozmo. In the south of Kyrgyzstan baked bread in tandyr (glay stove for making baked bread and pies) got wide spread. Boorsoky - fried in fat or butter pieces of sour (or short) pastry, deserved exclusive regard.
Kyrgyz people always practiced the provision of products lay in store. They provided dried dairy products, butter, meat. Meat, destined for the provision, they called as sogum or kushka sogum and kept it in dry, smoked or jerked condition. Kulazyk - shortcut dried or fired in fat with oatmeal meat - was prepared as the provision for far way or war trip in ancient time.
There is entire range of customs and traditions in Kyrgyzstan, rising with their roots to the ancient time and connects with cooking and eating food. While boiling meat in fleshpot - radius (karjilik) should be put in pot firstly and then the others parts of carcase.
While eating meat, guests usually make themselves cose in groups of 2-3-4 people and eat meat strictly from their plates. Every guest is given pieces of matton (jilikter), which is required and satisfied to social or parental status. The head of sheep is never given to a woman. There is a custom to leave piece of meat to servants or host`s children - ustukan, and also small quantity of meat (tuuragan et - tabak typ, keshik should be left for women - servants. If someone did not obey to these rules he was judged by society and could loose his respect. People clean their hands before eating without going out of Kyrgyz house – yurta. For this purpose young teenager is usually used .He has to start pore the water from laft to righ around the circle and after the meal - in backward direction or from center to door. Partakers of feast could use knives of every guest if they did not take their own ones. The knife in this case was given by grip ahead. If knife was given back to owner, that a piece of meat was stuck on the pike of knife and given back in upright position, this custom was called as bychak obolgosu.
There were some ritual dishes. For instance, in honour of New Year - Noorus people usually prepared porridge from sprouted wheat - chon keje or sumelek and it was eaten by all village community. All Kyrgyz tables included bread product boorsok, because it was ritual.
In happy denouement of life collisions and hardships people organized tuloo, baked oily lepeshkas and gave them away toguz tokoch, baabedin.
There were group treat in kyrgyz culture and called as sherne, ulush, joro, dengene, bash tanmie. Customs and rites and hylic Kyrgyz culture identified his national and ethic feature. In condition of traditional society they had conclusive meaning.
In contemporary conditions ethic - cultural traditions were transformed strongly. Leading tendency of cultural development is urbanization and Europeanization. According to data of populace census, in 1999 city Kyrgyz populace composed 40% from number of all Kyrgyz populace. Literacy amongst kyrgyz people constitutes 100%. These facts become to be very important on plan of accelerated development of society and globalization. However, ethic traditions continue to exist even in transformed shape. Top

Kyrgyzstan travel