Kyrgyzstan Traditional Cuisine
Foods in Kyrgyzstan are diverse, owing to the diversity of people that live in the country. In the mountains, shepherds followed their herds through mountains and valleys, and so their diet consisted of rich meat and bread, with fewer spices. In southern Kyrgyzstan (where there are lots of Uzbeks) and around Issyk-Kul (where there are Dungans and Uyghurs) the cuisine tends to feature more spices and other ingredients, like rice and noodles. All in all, Kyrgyz cuisine is hearty and filling, with rich flavors designed to fill you up and keep you warm for a long day in the mountains. Many of these dishes can be found around Central Asia and in neighboring countries, but Kyrgyz cooks always find a way to put a special spin on their favorite dishes.
For centuries, many people in the Tian-Shan Mountains were nomads, moving seasonally with their herds. For this reason, lots of Kyrgyz foods feature dough and meat, in various combinations. Beshbarmak, manty, samsy, oromo, and chuchpara all involve meat and dough, either fried, boiled, or baked. Many of these Kyrgyz dishes don’t use many spices, and instead feature the high quality of the meats and dough (with some of the best meat found in the mountains in Naryn). Also popular are dairy products, like kumiss, a popular drink made of fermented mare’s milk. The most common meat is mutton, but dishes with beef, horse and organs can also be found (pork is rare, since Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country).
Other dishes in Kyrgyz cuisine feature influences from other Turkic peoples, including Uyghurs and Uzbeks. The best plov in Kyrgyzstan is said to be cooked in Osh, a city with a large Uzbek population, while the Dungans and Uyghurs have opened many restaurants around Lake Issyk-Kul featuring spicy noodle dishes like lagman and ashlam-foo. Historically, settled people were more likely to be traders, so their dishes feature more spices, which they could have bought from merchants on the Silk Road.
Bread and tea are common with just about every meal, as are homemade jams from all sorts of fruits. Kyrgyz people pride themselves on their hospitality, and will never leave a guest hungry. This hospitality often extends to drinks. Despite being a Muslim country, alcohol can easily be found, and sometimes meals will finish in toasts with vodka shots.
But no matter the city or town, Kyrgyzstan’s cuisine often leaves visitors impressed with its rich flavors and wide variety of unique tastes!