Kyrgyzstan - what to eat and drink

Traditional food in Kyrgyzstan

Water – In Bishkek the tap water is generally safe to drink, but if you have a delicate stomach, or are concerned then boil the water. In rural regions – especially in the south – there are concerns about drinking water and it might be better to consider drinking mineral water. Bottled mineral water is available throughout the country but tends to be carbonated and a little salty, and can be an acquired taste.

Bread – In Bishkek there is a wide range of breads available. Outside the cities, the flat, round lepyoshka is found almost everywhere. Fresh, warm, straight from the tandoor (a clay oven) it is particularly pleasant.  At meals it is usually broken, not cut with a knife and never placed on the table upside down.

Boorsok – pieces of dough, deep fried in boiling oil – is a traditional table “decoration”. They are produced in large quantities and spread over the dastorkan or table at every major celebration. An abundance of Boorsok is seen as a sign of generosity.

Kalama – a flat, unleavened bread – there is no yeast used in the mixture – baked quickly on the top of an iron stove. This is the most common sort of bread eaten in the yurts in the mountain pastures – the jailoo.

Kattama – another form of unleavened bread that is baked especially when there are guests. The dough is rolled into a thin layer and greased with butter and rolled to a spiral creating layers and baked on a hot iron stove.

Kuimak – liquid dough is fried in warm oil – and is eaten with sour cream.

Meat - The most common form of meat is used in Kyrgyz cuisine is mutton. Sheep have a high place in Kyrgyz culture and the Kyrgyz use every part of the animal for something. Sheep meat tends to have more fat than that from other animals, and so it should be no surprise that fatty meat is often considered to be the best. (There is even a Kyrgyz saying – “Cheap mutton has little fat”).  In some households and festivals the Sheep's head, (the eyes in particular), may be offered to an honoured guest. Horsemeat is also highly revered and for special occasions and funerals it is common for a horse to be slaughtered and the cooked and presented to guests. Only young mares are used which have been fed on Alpine grasses, which are thought to give the meat a particularly good flavour. A great favourite in the countryside, (but also available in Bishkek) is chuchuk - a sort of sausage made from horsemeat. Beef is also found, but less often.  Chicken is rarely used by the Kyrgyz – chickens being found among settled peoples rather than nomads.  Pork is not used by the Kyrgyz, but can be found in Chinese and Russian restaurants.

Fish – Fresh fish are caught in the lakes such as Son-Kul and Issyk Kul. Popular are the dried and smoked fish that are sold by the roadside near Issyk-Kul .

Fruit and Vegetables – most of the produce is grown locally and seasonal and there is a wide variety – although recently more exotic fruits and vegetables are imported and available in the markets. You can encounter fresh produce, cooked, dried and preserved (jams/pickles etc.)  Nuts are also very popular. In the South – look out for Walnut Jam, made from the fruit of the tree while it is still green – before the husk has formed – actually the “walnut fruit” is whole and in a sweet syrup rather than a thick jam.

Honey is very popular – and in the mountains the traveller can come across a solitary trailer, or a cluster of five or six gathered together, packed with and surrounded by beehives. The owner will happily sell a litre of fresh mountain honey (but you should have your own container if possible).