I will start with this : you don’t go through all the troubles that come with planning a trip to Kyrghyzstan so you can go look for a pizza or a burger shop once there . Why ? Because you want to experience something different . Having said that , I understand that sometimes it is difficult to eat and feel full from something you are not used to eating , and if you are traveling with children or a person with allergies , it might be difficult to make a decision on what to order .
To help you , here is a list of some traditional foods and dishes that are popular with locals :
1 . Round bread , my favorite of all types of bread sold in Kyrghyzstan . It is crispy when hot and gets soft when cools down . The price for one ( summer of 2016 ) is usually 20 som , depends on location . It is usually eaten with butter , jam , honey , tea , milk , soup , salad , or just about anything . People that make the dough for this type of bread follow the same recipe , so you can be sure it will taste about the same at any location .( That last photo below is from my family’s album and of my grandfather and myself . I was in my teens . My granddad just came back home with bread and my aunt took the picture . )
The bread is baked in traditional round ovens made of clay . It is a very difficult job , standing all day next to a hot oven , especially during hot summers , so the bakers here are usually men and most take pride in what they do .
I say , trying fresh baked round bread while visiting Kyrgyzstan is a must .
2 . Plov , a dish made with rice , meat , onions , carrots and is usually fatty . If you are watching your weight , try making a healthier version of this popular in Central Asia dish yourself . It is easy to make , and you can find the recipe in one of my earlier posts titled Vegan Pilaf .
3. Make your own trail mix because Kyrghyzstan is a trail mix heaven . Many vendors at open air markets offer a large variety of dry fruit , nuts , and sweets .
The white balls on a photo above are called kooroot and made from fermented cow’s milk . They are sour -salty and very dry . Kooroot can be stored without refrigeration for up to 8 years . It is a very thirst quenching snack and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes . Spherical shape is the most common one .
Nuts there are usually of a good quality and last crop only . Most nuts sold in the States will taste stale in comparison to the ones sold in Kyrghyzstan .
4. Dumplings .
This is another very popular dish , and because Central Asia is a melting pot of different cultures , you will see many different versions of the same dish .
The photo above was taken at a restaurant Okolitza in a village of Sosnovka , near the town where I stayed . They have both , traditional Russian and Kyrghyz dishes on a menu . The dumpling soup seen on a photo is a Russian dish . Kyrghyz ones are steamed and much larger in size . Both are usually filled with a mix of ground beef , chopped onions , salt , and pepper . Other popular fillings are : potatoes , cheese , or cherries . Yes , cherries 🙂
5 . Fresh produce is available all year around , and farmer’s markets are open every day of the week .( Safety tip : wash everything before eating because you will notice Kyrghyzstan has a lot of flies . The last thing you want is to get sick while traveling . )
Left to right : red currant , green radishes , green apples , red mulberry .
6 . What do locals drink ?
- Tap water in Kyrghyzstan is very cold and clean and OK to drink .
- Local breweries sell beer and kvas( a dark sweet non-alchoholic drink ) . Free plastic containers ( usually 1 liter bottles ) with every purchase, or bring your own jug to the shop and they will fill it up .
- Outside , during summers , you will see set up drink stands like the one on the photo below .Inside the green container is compote , a traditional Russian drink made by boiling dry fruit , usually apples , in a large amount of water . A little bit of sugar is added at the end of cooking . The blue container has chalap , a sour-salty fermented milk diluted with water . It tastes the same as kooroot because that is what they use to make milk go sour . The red container has maxim , another fermented drink made from ground grains , shell and all . It is also sour but has a milder flavor than chalap .The mix of the two , chalap and maxim , is called aralash . I prefer aralash , but before buying a large cup , ask for a small one first because sometimes , on extremely hot days , they make the drinks very salty to slow down the fermentation . And it’s better to buy the drink that have just been delivered , or you might find yourself a little bit drunk . Unless that’s what you wanted 🙂 Cheers !
There is a lot to see and try in Kyrghyzstan , and my next post will be about what to do once there .