Food in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz cuisine is dominated by meat and is the result of a long history of pastoral nomadism. And when we say overwhelmingly, we really mean overwhelmingly. Those who are vegetarians may choose to reconsider their habits and buy their own fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread from one of the numerous tiny stands or food bazaars that can be found in every city, dine at Chinese restaurants, or stick to only bread and tea. While people in the West are conditioned to think of big veggies as attractive, here the norm is tiny and flavorful. Pistachios and almonds may be prepared in the same way. It is suggested that you wash your veggies before eating them.
The national soupy meal of Kyrgyzstan is Besh barmak (literally: five fingers, since the dish is eaten with one’s hands) (Kazakhs would probably disagree). A sheep or horse is killed and cooked in a big kettle for preparation. As a first course, the resultant broth is served. The meat is subsequently distributed to those seated at the meal. Everyone in the room gets a piece of meat that corresponds to their social standing. The head and eyes are kept for distinguished visitors. The leftover meat is combined with noodles and, sometimes, onions, and originally eaten with the hands from a big communal dish, but today it is more often eaten with a fork or spoon. If you get invited to a wedding, you’ll almost certainly get to try besh barmak, but it’s also available at conventional restaurants. The Kyrgyz enjoy soupy cuisine in general, especially dishes that are served as a kind of pasta in Russia, such as pelmene.
The majority of the other foods eaten in Kyrgyzstan are also found in other Central Asian nations. Plov or osh is a pilaf dish with julienne carrots, onion, beef or mutton, lots of oil, and sometimes raisins. Manti are steamed dumplings that are usually made with mutton or beef, but may also be made with pumpkin. Samsas are meat (and sometimes vegetable or cheese) pies that are available in two types: flaky and tandoori. Flaky somsas are prepared using phyllo dough, while tandoori somsas have a harder crust that is chopped off and discarded rather than eaten. Lagman is a noodle dish popular in Uyghur cuisine, although it can be found all over the world, from Crimea to the Ujgurs. It’s usually served as a soup, but it may also be eaten as pasta. Lagman’s fundamental components (simple noodles and spicy veggies combined with mutton or beef) may be cooked together, stacked on top of each other, or eaten separately. Shashlik (shish kebabs) are often prepared of beef, mutton, or pig and served with raw onions, vinegar, and bread.
Tea (either green or black) and a round loaf of bread known as a lepeshka are served with almost all Kyrgyz meals. One person at the meal typically tears the bread for everyone. This job is designated for males in the south of Kyrgyzstan, although it is more often done by women in the north. Similarly, in the north, tea is often poured by women, while in the south, tea is typically poured by males.
In certain circumstances, Kyrgyz will say a prayer at the conclusion of a meal. Sometimes words are said, but more often than not, the prayer is just a cursory sweep of the hands over the face. To prevent cultural blunders, follow the example of your host or hostess.
Drinks in Kyrgyzstan
One of the major Kyrgyz social customs is drinking. If you’ve been welcomed to a Kyrgyz person’s table to drink, you’ve been given warm and pleasant hospitality, regardless of whether you’ve been served tea, kymys, or vodka. Plan to sit and drink for a long while you and your host try to get to know one other.
You may be asked how strong you want your tea when you’re given it. Kyrgyz tea is traditionally made strong in a small pot and then blended with boiling hot water to taste. Say ‘jengil chai’ if you want a light tea. ‘Kyzyl chai’ is the tea to have if you like it robust and crimson. You’ll see that they don’t completely fill the tea cup. This is so they can be accommodating and offer you plenty of tea. ‘Daga chai, beringizchi’ is a phrase used to request more tea (Please give tea again). Your host will be delighted to offer you tea till you pass out. So, after you’ve had your fill and don’t want to drink any more, cover your tea cup and say, “Ichtym.” Your host will offer a couple more times (and may pout if you decline) to ensure that you are completely pleased. When everyone at the table has finished their tea, say ‘Omen’ and raise your hands palms up, then brush your open palms along your face.
You may be surprised by the quantity of vodka on display when you go into a neighborhood shop. Vodka, which was introduced by the Russians, has given the Kyrgyz people both pleasure and sadness throughout the years. The majority of the vodka sold in Kyrgyzstan is produced in Kyrgyzstan and may give travelers one of the worst hangovers ever, especially if they purchase one of the cheaper varieties. However, excellent Kyrgyz vodka, such as Ak-sai, may be had for about €2. Some expert vodka drinkers claim that this is due to foreigners’ lack of understanding on how to drink vodka correctly. You must have zakuskas in order to sip vodka properly (Russian for the meal you eat with vodka). This may range from simple loaves of bread to elaborate presentations of delectable appetizers. Sour or fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and, of course, meat are all quite frequent.
Find someone to drink with first. Only alcoholics use alcohol alone. Second, choose your vodka wisely: the more you spend, the better your hangover will be. Third, choose your zakuska, which should be salty, dry, or fatty. This is done to ensure that the vodka is either absorbed or rejected by the fat. Fourth, pop the cork on your bottle… but be cautious, since once it’s open, you have to drink it all (a decent vodka bottle doesn’t have a replaceable cap). Pour your shots now. You will toast in the fifth place! You have to toast! Toast your friends, their futures, their sheep, and their automobiles. Drink, sixth! Take it all in! Repeat until you can’t see the bottle or it’s empty, then chase it with a zakuska.
If you’re drinking with natives, skipping a round isn’t an issue. They would just pour you a symbolic drop, and when they clink glasses, you must use your right hand to gently smack sparring partners’ glasses instead of your own.
For centuries, the Kyrgyz have brewed their own drinks. These beverages may seem odd at first, but after a few attempts, they become very delicious. The majority are slightly alcoholic, although this is just a by-product of the fermentation process.
Kyrgyz women make bozo, a millet-based drink, in the winter. This drink tastes like a cross between yogurt and beer and is best served at room temperature. Five or six cups provides you a warm fuzzy sensation on a chilly winter day when you’re snowed in.
It’s time to create either jarma or maxim in the spring. Jarma is a wheat-based beverage with a yeasty, beer-like flavor and a gritty aftertaste (it is made from whole grains after all). Maxim, which is made up of maize and wheat, has a strong and spicy flavor. It’s finest served ice cold and makes for a refreshing drink on hot days.
During the summer, yurts line the main street, offering fermented mares milk known as kumys (умc). This traditional drink, served from barrels carried down from the highlands, is one of the most hardest to adjust to. It has a smokey finish and a very powerful and pungent foretaste. Kumys begins with fresh horse milk (samal), which is then combined with a starter produced from the previous year’s kumys and cooked in a pot. The mixture is heated to just below boiling, then put into the stomach of a horse to ferment for a length of time. The indigenous grass ‘chi’ is then roasted and chopped into tiny pieces over an open fire. The roasted chi and milk are combined in a barrel after the milk has completed fermenting and will keep for the summer if kept cold.
Tang is another drink that is believed to be beneficial to one’s health and may help with hangovers. It’s prepared with souzmu, a salty creamy yogurt that’s produced from blasted spring water.
Kyrgyzstan has its own cognac distillery, which makes excellent, though sweet, cognac, with the favored brand being “Kyrgyzstan Cognac,” which the locals often refer to as “our cognac.”
You can also get a good variety of not-so-good local and foreign beers, since many Kyrgyz prefer to drink beer rather than harsher spirits. Arpa, Nashe Pivo, and Karabalta are some of the local beers. Arpa is a beer that beer experts highly recommend. While it is considered a popular beer, it has a style that is comparable to an American Pale Ale (less hoppy than its Indian counterpart). Because Kyrgizes prefer vodka over beer (a half litre of each costs the same…), beer stays in tubes for longer. It is uncommon to have a cleaning service on a regular basis. Bottled beers are preferable, except for their peculiar tendency of pouring the whole bottle into the glass at once.
There are also a variety of carbonated and still bottled waters from different parts of the nation. The somewhat salty “Jalalabad Water” is very popular among southerners.