The three best words to describe Kyrgyz cuisine are nutritious, simple-to-cook and organic. The ingredients added to traditional Kyrgyz dishes are natural and available in abundance, such as organic meat, vegetables, dairy, and noodles.
During holidays or celebrations, a dastorkhon is prepared, which is a tablecloth that is covered with various traditional dishes. Kyrgyz cuisine was influenced by the cuisine of neighboring countries, so expect to find dishes that are also popular in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Russia.
It seems that Kyrgyz ancestors were aware of what healthy food should look like, and knew that meat and vegetables are the richest in nutrients while foods such as carbohydrates can lead to health issues when consumed in high amounts.
The name of the small, rectangular dumpling bread called boorsok literally means ‘liver punching food’ in the Kyrgyz language. That tells you all about Kyrgyz cuisine.
Let’s take a look at the most popular dishes of Kyrgyzstan.
1. Besh Barmak (Main Course)
Besh Barmak was the main dish of Kyrgyz nomadic tribes. Its preparation is not complicated at all, although it can take some time. 70% of the dish is composed of meat cooked in boiling water (lamb or beef), while the rest of it is made up of handmade noodles and some minced onions.
The meat is cooked for 1–2 hours, then taken out of the water and minced into very small pieces. The meat water is then used to cook the noodles. The noodles are taken out of the water and served with the chopped meat pieces on top with added minced onions.
The name of the dish literally means “Five Fingers,” referring to the fact that it was eaten with the hands without any spoons or chopsticks because nomadic tribes didn’t carry such paraphernalia with them, as it would be too heavy during long journeys.
2. Shorpo (Main Course)
Shorpo literally means ‘a soup’, which is served in a bowl with green onions. It is a beef or lamb broth seasoned with salt, while some people also add 2–3 potatoes.
It is a perfect dish for cold winters if you want to get all the minerals and nutrients you need while enjoying a hot, steamy, nutritious, and delicious soup.
3. Chiuchiuk (Qazy)
Chiuchiuk or Qazy is a sausage prepared with horse meat and intestines. The horse intestines are first washed and cleaned, and then horse rib meat is stuffed into the intestines, tied, and cooked in boiled water. Once or twice during cooking, the intestine is picked with a toothpick in order to get the air out.
This very nutrient-dense side dish is beloved by Kyrgyz families and is usually cooked for special occasions and celebrations.
4. Oromo (Main Course)
Oromo is a traditional steamed pie. Its ingredients are minced meat, onions, and dough. The pie us very delicious, and is prepared by many families as an everyday dish, but it is also served in various restaurants and cafes.
Oromo is a very satiating meal that you can enjoy together with some ketchup or spices! The smell that comes from it while it is cooking in the steamer will drive you insane (in a positive way)!
If you are a vegetarian, you can prepare Oromo with minced potatoes, pumpkins, or even Allium tuberosum (a leafy green plant grown originally in China and now grown in all parts of Central Asia).
5. Gulchatay (Main Course)
The meat, usually lamb, is boiled and removed from the water. The dough kneaded for gulchatay is the same as for Besh Barmak but with a medium thickness. The rolled dough is cut into strips 1–4 cm wide or into small rectangles and boiled in the broth with vegetables.
The wide noodles are then taken from the broth using a colander; after that, the meat and vegetables are cut into pieces and added on top of the noodles. The broth is served separately. In a simplified version, the dish can be served as a thick lamb soup with homemade egg noodles.
6. Byzhy (Side Dish)
One of the most delicious sausages is considered to be “byzhy,” which is made from the intestines of a hand-slaughtered ram and stuffed with minced lamb meat, rice onions, spices, garlic, and blood. It is somewhat similar to Haggis.
Usually, when cooking byzhy, other insides are stuffed along with the intestines: the duodenum, abomasum, toguz kat—a “book” (one of the parts of the stomach), and cheychek karyn—sleeve (part of the stomach).
7. Kuurdak (Main Course, Side Dish)
Kuurdak is one of the most revered dishes of the Kyrgyz people. It is made from either sheep, beef and sometimes horse meat, with added onions, salt and spices. Kuurdak is a very tasty and easy-to-prepare dish, so it’s popular choice to serve guests that are unexpected and somewhat in a hurry.
8. Tash Kordo (Main Course)
Tash Kordo is a unique dish of Kyrgyz nomads. Its uniqueness is due to the fact that for its preparation no bowl or pan is needed. The semantic translation of the name of the meal is “stone food.” Originally, it was Kyrgyz hunters who prepared this wonderful meal.
For the preparation of Tash Kordo you will need one small lamb, weighing about 20–25 kg or two front lamb leg, salt, pepper, and garlic.
The meat is rubbed with spices and left to marinade for two to three hours while the stones are warmed in a hole. Then the meat is hung over the pit and covered with arched branches or dense fabric.
You can order Tash Kordo in certain restaurants for a price of 9000 KGS (120$).
9. Plov (Main Course)
Plov is a rice dish that originated in Uzbekistan and has become very famous throughout Central Asia. Its preparation differs from region to region; some people cook it with white rice, while others use brown Uzbek rice. Besides rice, its main ingredients are lamb, onions, and carrots.
The way to recognize if plov was prepared authentically is by seeing the rice’s final state—if it doesn’t contain any water and the grains are not glued to one another, it is considered to be well prepared. Also, don’t forget that almost 35–40% of it should be meat, usually lamb.
10. Lagman (Main Course)
This dish was introduced to the Kyrgyz people from Dungan cuisine and rightfully won the hearts of many people. It is now one of the main foods offered in restaurants as well as prepared in homes by thousands of families.
The main ingredients are turnips, noodles, meat, other vegetables, and some spices that people add according to their own tastes. There are a lot of variations of Lagman available in restaurants, such as a fried version or a soup version.
11. Chuchpara / Pelmeni (Main Course)
Pelmeni is very popular among the Kyrgyz people, although it originated in Russia. Chuchpara are very small dumplings that are cooked in broth. The dumplings are filled with juicy mutton and onions.
Half-prepared chuchpara are sold in packages in the market that you can buy and cook at home in boiling water and then eat as a soup or just a side dish if you choose to leave its broth untouched.
12. Shashlyk (Main Course, Side Dish)
Shashlyk are barbeque kebabs of mutton, beef, or chicken served with onions and vinegar; sometimes, liver can be used. This dish is served together with metal skewers with pierced meat chunks. Sometimes, the meat comes with fat, which makes it even more delicious, but when there is too much fat, it can become impossible to eat.
Be sure to order some side dishes such as salads and appetizers, although you will be perfectly full after eating two skewers of shashlyk.
13. Boorsok (Small dumpling bread)
Boorsoks are small, square pieces of bread, which are prepared in a way similar to doughnuts. Boorsoks are prepared in large quantities and are compulsory food for any celebration or guest being received at home.
The taste of boorsoks is similar to sugar-free doughnuts, but even lighter, as the outer layer is usually very thin.
Boorsoks can be eaten together with shorpo or by dipping them into kaymak (Kyrgyz sour cream).
14. Kaymak (Appetizer)
‘Kaymak’ means sour cream and is very popular in Kyrgyz cuisine, especially the organic version of it. By battering kaymak further, people also prepare ‘sary mai,’ which literally means ‘yellow fat.’ Instead of buying regular butter at stores, people tend to eat this traditional version of butter.
Kaymak is also used in the preparation of various pastries and desserts.
15. Qurut (Salty Snack)
Qurut is made from drained yogurt or drained sour milk by shaping it and letting it dry. Quruts can be in all shapes and sizes. People started commercial production of this snack in packages, and people love it!
If you love snacks in general, you may not find a more organic, healthier version than qurut, which has no artificial sweeteners and contains the perfect amount of salt and sour milk.
16. Chalap (Refreshing drink)
Chalap is a light, refreshing drink made from mixing suzmo (tangy yogurt), water, and salt. If you are not a fan of sugary drinks, this might be the best alternative for you. The modern version of this traditional drink is available with carbonated water, which is available at stores.
Chalap is a beverage drunk on very hot days and goes with almost any food, whether you are on the beach or eating ‘shashlyks,’ you might not find a more perfect beverage to go with your meal.
17. Jarma (Refreshing drink)
Jarma is a cold beverage made from ground grains found in the cuisine of Kyrgyzstan. Jarma is not fermented and is often mixed with ayran to result in a similar fizzy sensation. A commercially produced version of jarma is available from the companies Shoro and Enesay.
18. Mai Tokoch (Kyrgyz bread)
Central Asian people bake a specific type of bread in a tandoor (predominantly a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking), which in Kyrgyzstan is called Mai Tokoch. It is a round and crispy bread, and, unlike regular bread, it’s soft in texture.
19. Suzmo (Appetizer)
Suzmo, also known as Suzma in other parts of Central Asia, is essentially cheese-like food of battered sour milk. It looks like tangy yogurt and is added to various soups and salads or eaten with bread.
20. Gulazyk (Nutrient Powder)
Gulazyk is ancient powder food, which was given to children to prevent iron deficiency and stimulate cognitive development in early ages. It is prepared from boiled dried meat, which is then crushed to obtain the powder; that’s why it is so rich in iron. The powder is also mixed with other grains, some salt, and oils.
Normally it doesn’t taste so delicious; that’s why adults rarely choose to eat it deliberately. In nomadic times, people ate it during long journeys, when food preparation was impossible.
21. Samsa (Pasty)
Samsa is a pasty filled with meat and onions baked in the oven. It is prepared from layered dough and shaped like a triangle. It is sold in various fast food restaurants and is considered a very nutritious meal that can be eaten “on the go”.
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