The issue of
food is a matter of taste and, as the saying goes, “One
man’s meat is another man’s
poison”. In fact, most people will be able to find
something to their tastes, however, as meat is central to Kyrgyz
cooking. The nomadic way of life did not allow for the
growing of fruit and vegetables and this means that vegetarian visitors
may find it difficult to find dishes that, meet their needs.
has a very varied cuisine, as might be expected for a country which
stood on the crossroads of the Silk Road, remembering that 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. These all
mingled with the existing 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.
Although most Kyrgyz are Muslim, there are some traditional dishes
which are not strictly halil – such as Olovo or Kuiruk Boor.
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 Uighurs) including pilaffs, 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.
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.
Men are often considered to be the best cooks – many think
that women spoil food cooked for others – although in the
yurt the kitchen implements etc. are all stored on the
women’s side of the yurt and hunting and implements to do
with shepherding and livestock on the men’s side. In many
ashkana’s (tea houses or cafes) and restaurants the chefs are
men. Women cooks are more commonly encountered in those establishments
serving Russian or European cuisines. Russian dishes such as Shchi or
Borsh can be found in many places but staple items are Central Asian
dishes such as manti, samsa, ploff, shashlik and laghman.
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. Take your shoes off when entering
the house. Picnics, especially, are served on a dostorkon, (a large
cloth laid out on the ground around which the gathering sits - with
your feet either to your side or away from the dostorkon), but
don’t be surprised if this happens indoors as well. Handle
the food only with your right hand. At the end of the meal bring your
two hands up to the face and drag them down as if washing the face and
recite the word “omin” – the Muslim
equivalent of “amen”. In many homes, (unless strict
Muslim ones) eating will also involve drinking. Alcohol will
be served and you will be expected to drink. Don’t think that
you can drink just a little – once started it can be
difficult to decline further rounds – especially as drinks
are often associated with toasts. It may be better to decide on
complete abstinence (on religious or health grounds, for instance) than
suffer the consequences of excessive hospitality later on.
of the most essential features of Kyrgyz cuisine is that dishes should
preserve their taste and appearance. For example, there are almost no
dishes comprising puree, minced, or chopped meat, (although there are a
few exceptions.) Also, Kyrgyz dishes tend to have a plain taste; sauces
and spices are used in only small batches, although spices are used
more often in the South. Sauces are intended only to bring out the
taste of the dish – not to change it.