As you look at the mountain pastures in Kyrgyzstan, you’ll notice lots of sheep, goats, cows, horses, and even some yaks. Since much of the country is engaged in breeding livestock, meat is a substantive part of traditional and modern Kyrgyz cuisine. Mutton, horse meat, and beef are the meats you’ll see most often in Kyrgyz dishes today. It’s served in dumplings, on top of noodles or rice, or alongside potatoes. And of course it wouldn’t be Kyrgyzstan without a nice steaming pot of fresh black tea to go with your meal. Here are some traditional Kyrgyz dishes that have been polished and perfected over the years.
Oromo is my all-time favourite dish. Once finished, it comes out as layers of dough that have been filled with finely cut chunks of meat, fat, and whatever else the cook feels like adding carrots, onion, potato, or pumpkin. It’s steamed in a special multi-layered pot and is excellent when eaten with a side of ketchup. Although I’ve seen this in a few restaurants around Kyrgyzstan, it’s not the most common restaurant dish. You’re more likely to see it served in Kyrgyz homes.\
Besh Barmak is the most traditional Kyrgyz dish eaten by nomads. You take shaved lamb and dump it on top of a pile of steaming noodles and onions served with a broth/sauce. Borsok is dough that is cut into little squares and then fried so that they’re airy inside. Borsok is a staple food served during holidays. Try them dipped in some fresh cream – they’re delicious!
Gulchitai and Kazy Karta are both horse meat dishes. In Gulchitai, the meat is shaved (like in besh barmak) and in Kazy Karta, you’ll see it in medallions.
Monty is meat, onion, and fat filled dumplings that are usually steamed, but you can also get them fried. They’re usually served in clusters of 5 and you should be able to get them at almost any restaurant- unless they’ve sold out!
Lagman is meat, vegetables and noodles served in a broth. It’s a little messy to eat as thenoodles are long and tend to fling broth if you’re not careful, but tasty. Boso Lagman is the same ingredients fried, but without the broth. Boso lagman is my go-to wintertime meal because it’s really filling and satisfying when it’s cold outside.
Plov is originally Uzbek and can be served in different variations in Kyrgyzstan. Basically, it’s fried onions and carrots mixed into spiced rice served with chunks of tender, boiled meat on top.
Samsy is what I consider Kyrgyz fast food. I’m not talking McDonald’s fast food; they’re literally just quick and easy little pockets of meat, onions, and fat you can pick up on the side of the road. They’re cooked in a tandoor and make a filling snack or meal depending on how many you get.
Ashlyam Fu is a cold, spicy soup made up of meat, vegetables (some of which I don’t even know what they are), and noodles. From my experience, you either love it or you hate it. For the best ashlyam fu, stop in Karakol.
You’ll see other dishes listed on Kyrgyz menus, but these are some of the staples. If you want to learn how to make Kyrgyz food, there are also classes available in Bishkek so you can make them at home. Whatever you do though, treat yourself to as many as you can so you can taste the full range of Kyrgyz cuisine!
Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in January 2019.