Archive for July, 2016

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 .

Fast , easy , healthy

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 .

trip to kyrgyzstan , 2016 676

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 .trip to kyrgyzstan , 2016 1209Inside 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 .

 

Kyrghyzstan currency is called som .

When I first arrived there on June 3rd of 2016 , one US dollar was about 73 som , and by the time of my leaving the country on July 15th of 2016 , it was about 68 som .

While the  Kyrghyz government tries to devalue the US dollar , privately owned banks prefer to give loans to their customers in the US currency  . Also , when I read  ads in the local newspaper , I noticed that most ppl wanted a price for their house , apartment , land , or a car written in US dollars . Some do that because they plan to move to a different country and don’t want to deal with an exchange of a large sum of som later on . Some take a chance and wait for the value of a dollar to go up and make money by selling it later . All this keeps the value of a dollar somewhat steady and Foreign Currency Exchange businesses in business .

Speaking of foreign currency exchange , there are many banks and small businesses in Kyrghyzstan that will do it for you , but you have to know a few things about how those banks and currency exchange shops operate .

Your dollar has to meet their criteria . If your bill does not meet the criteria , a business has the right to refuse to exchange it . And I’m not talking about fake bills .

1 . Your bills can not have stamps from other banks or any handwriting on them .

2. A hundred dollar bill is preferred . A fifty dollar bill is occasionally exchanged but not readily accepted by most exchange businesses .

3 . Twenty , ten , five , and one dollar bills are not accepted . At least in those shops I went to .

4 . Older hundred dollar bills without the blue stripe may be exchanged for lesser amount of som than the newer bills .

5 . Very old hundred dollar bills are not accepted at all even if they are in a good condition . ( I will follow up with an exact date in a few weeks ) .

As you can see on the photo above , my fifty dollar bill had a handwriting on it and a bank stamp in the back . Other bills were not just not accepted . I was insulted by a bank teller just for showing the bills to her . ( LOL , followed by a sigh  ). Yes , be ready to meat rude bank tellers .

In conclusion , if you want to be ready for your vacation in Kyrghyzstan , bring only new crispy hundred dollar bills with a blue stripe .

Fortunately for travelers , most people in Kyrghyzstan are very friendly . I think it makes up for a few encounters with rude ppl .