Hearty, healthy, wholesome and meaty.
“The only creatures that eat more meat than Kazakhs, are wolves.”
The bottom of the Kazakh food pyramid would be meat. When I recently asked a Kazakh person if there is a traditional Kazakh salad, like chichuk- the lovely tomato, onion and chili Uzbek salad, he paused and answered: “meat”.
The restaurant I went to last night had ‘Horsemeat Salad’ on the menu. And yes, I have eaten horse.
I ate it at a wedding, in the national dish Beshbarmak. Unlike other dishes, which are more regional, Beshbarmak is strictly Kazakh.
Beshbarmak can be made different ways and is not really served at restaurants. It’s more like each family has a recipe that varies. It consists mainly of noodles and horsemeat. The kind I ate had thick buttery noodles, horsemeat and a sparse bit of carrot, pepper, squash and parsley. Traditionally a meat broth is served separately.
Kazakhstan is also influenced by Russia, Uyghur people from China, and Uzbekistan. It shares characteristics with its other neighbors and can be called ‘Central Asian’ cuisine. ‘Manty’ is reminiscent of Chinese dumplings and can be served as a pasta dish, or in soup. ‘Plov’ reminds me of Iranian pilaf, or Pakistani biryani, while ‘shashlik’ is any meat grilled on a stick, like Arabic kebabs. Rice and meat, potatoes and meat, noodles and meat, these types of dishes, with a sprinkling of vegetables, dominate lunch and dinner.
A tasty Russian breakfast influence is in the thin, crepe like pancakes made with buckwheat and served with a dollop of sour cream, as well as ‘kasha’, which can be different kinds of porridge. Borscht soup, caviar and cabbage rolls are popular too.
My favorite regional food to order at restaurants has been ‘lagman’(pictured above). It is a Uyghur food, with noodles, bell peppers and beef, in a nice, spicy, peppery broth. Also, everywhere I have had it, has had homemade noodles, which makes it extra delicious.
There is a lot of good just-baked bread and savory pastries, called samsa. The traditional bread is like a thick wheel. Their Fried bread is irresistible.
Despite being very heavy on the meat, the grocery stores and open-air bazaars have an excellent variety of fruits and vegetables. I have been told by locals that the produce is so tasty, because it is without chemicals. It really is super fresh and delicious.
You can get some Western food at more expensive restaurants. It will never taste exactly like what you want, but it can provide some satisfaction. Sometimes I miss the ease of Dubai and variety of food, being able to easily order anything to my door.
One thing I love: There is no McDonald’s in the entire country. In Shymkent, there is no KFC. No Burger King, Popeye’s, Hardee’s, Arby’s, Wendy’s etc. This won’t last. They are building a McDonald’s in the country’s capital, Astana.
Currently, I’m experimenting with the variety of pickles. Spicy, pickled garlic and wild cucumbers. Yes please.