What cuisines to try in Kazakhstan?
Kazakh cuisine is a unique and rich culinary tradition that reflects the nomadic lifestyle and harsh climate of the region. The cuisine has a diverse range of dishes that incorporate meat, dairy products, and grains. Kazakh cuisine is known for its hearty and nourishing dishes that are perfect for the cold and harsh winters of Central Asia.
It is unfortunate that the historical cuisine of the nomads was not very diverse. However, this was not because they did not enjoy delicious food, but because the range of available products in their nomadic lifestyle was very limited. Primarily relying on meat, as they were pastoralists who roamed the steppe, they supplemented their diet with various grains, onions, and aromatic herbs that were available in the region. While they did not have the ability to grow vegetables, they could exchange goods with neighboring settled nations. The mainstays of Kazakh cuisine have long been meat, dough, and onion, but the cuisine has evolved over time.
The Spartan preconditions of the past played a positive role in Kazakh culture, as they created a need to seek out new culinary traditions from nearby cultures. As Kazakhs began to settle down, they eagerly adopted various culinary traditions. Today, in Kazakhstan you can try the cuisines of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Korea, Uzbekistan, Uighur, Dungan, and even China. In modern Kazakhstan, visitors can have breakfast in a refined Italian coffee shop, snack on Turkish doner, and enjoy a magnificent dinner in a national restaurant, all without leaving the city center or even a small block.
The roads have crossed in Kazakhstan, making it a fascinating destination for those interested in culinary diversity. Visitors will not be disappointed with the food, as there is a variety of dishes to suit any discerning taste. However, let's explore the cuisines in more detail.
Some must-try cuisines in Kazakhstan
When visiting Kazakhstan for the first time, one of the first things to explore is Kazakh national cuisine. Although it is best to taste it at home, there are many cafes and restaurants that serve authentic Kazakh dishes. Kazakh cuisine is based on the three main ingredients already mentioned, with a particular emphasis on meat, its different varieties, cuts, and parts of the carcass.
It is worth noting that Kazakhs consider horsemeat a delicacy and love to cook it in different ways. If you are offered horsemeat, it is a sign of great respect and hospitality. It is also very delicious.
If you come to a Kazakh home, you'll be invited to a dastarkhan, a covered table filled with many dishes that Kazakhs prepare for their guests. The richer the dastarkhan, the more hospitable the owner is believed to be.
One of the most famous dishes in Kazakh cuisine is called beshbarmak or «five fingers» because it used to be eaten by hand. It is a festive dish consisting of boiled beef, lamb, horsemeat, homemade horse sausage, boiled thin-rolled dough, and onion dressing. Sometimes potatoes are added, and in Western Kazakhstan, a type of fish beshbarmak known as fishbarmak is also prepared. Hot meat broth is served in tea bowls alongside this dish.
In Kazakhstan, you can experience the real taste of meat, which Kazakhs know a lot about. Trying beshbarmak is a cultural milestone and a key part of the national culture. Without tasting beshbarmak, one cannot claim to know much about Kazakhstan's cuisine.
Kazakh cuisine also includes unique dishes like kuyrdak, a savory roast made from lamb liver, lungs, and kidneys served with potatoes. This thick and rich meal is prepared immediately after skinning the carcass using only fresh offal. For a taste of traditional Kazakh delicacies, try homemade sausages made from horsemeat such as kazy, shuzhyk, and karta, which are considered a great source of vitality. Also, don't forget to savor the dried horsemeat known as sur yet.
For a change of pace, Kazakh cooks offer baursaks, sweet and crispy balls of yeast dough fried in oil, which are perfect as a snack on the go or as a staple at traditional tea parties. For a savory snack, try kurt, salted balls of dried cottage cheese. Kurt is not only a great way to preserve dairy products during long journeys but also makes a great souvenir and snack for beer.
For a drink that has always been respected by nomads, try fermented milk beverages like kumys, a sour-milk low-alcohol drink made from mares' milk, which aids digestion. Or try shubat, a life-giving drink made from camel's milk, believed to be helpful in treating various ailments like asthma, tuberculosis, inflammation of the liver, diabetes, and psoriasis. Note that it's better to drink shubat separately from food due to its high-fat content.
After a fulfilling meal, Kazakh hospitality dictates a long tea party. Enjoy a strong tea with milk poured into the tea bowl. Kazakhs will serve you half filled cups of tea, as adding too much tea in a cup is a sign of inhospitality. Drinking tea is a favorite pastime in Kazakhstan and can take hours of conversation and enjoyment.
While Kazakh cuisine is undoubtedly the most famous, there are other cuisines that contribute to the rich tapestry of flavors and aromas found in Kazakhstan. One such cuisine is that of the Uighur people, who make up a significant portion of the population, with around 250,000 Uighur diaspora residents calling Kazakhstan their home.
The Uighur people are Central Asian people of Turkic origin, who have a rich culinary tradition that they generously share with the people of Kazakhstan. One of the most popular Uighur dishes in Kazakhstan is lagman, a dish of hand-pulled noodles served with a meat and vegetable gravy. Although many nations, such as Uzbeks and Dungans, claim to be the authors of lagman, the Uighur version is distinct due to its numerous varieties, characteristic spices, and bright flavors. The Uzbek version of lagman, which is also widely available in border areas with Uzbekistan, has a different aroma and consistency than the Uighur lagman. In Almaty, Taldykorgan, or other southern regions, be sure to visit a Lagman cafe to taste this wonderful dish and experience the unique flavors of the Uighur cuisine.
Manty is another Uighur dish that is a favorite in Kazakhstan. These steamed dough bags filled with meat and vegetables are juicy, fat, and fragrant, and are often served with pumpkin and jusai (wild onion) in the Almaty Region. Manty are widely loved in Kazakhstan and have been considered a part of Kazakh cuisine for a long time.
The Dungans, Chinese-speaking Muslims who were not always honored in China, also found refuge in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Dungan cuisine is similar to Uighur cuisine in many ways, but it has a greater inclination towards Chinese culinary traditions. While there are many Uighur dishes that are widely popular in Kazakhstan, Dungan cuisine is not as well known. However, one of the most famous Dungan dishes in Kazakhstan is Ashlyam-fu, a cold vegetable soup with starch noodles or pieces of starch. This unusual dish has a characteristic acidity and unique texture that is difficult to describe.
In the 1930s, a significant number of Koreans living in the Far East were forcibly deported to Central Asia, specifically to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. These resilient people had to start their lives from scratch, adapting their unique cuisine to local ingredients, and that's how Soviet Korean cuisine or kore-saram came into existence. Although it closely resembles authentic South Korean cuisine, it has many differences. For example, the famous carrot salad morkovcha, which is a hallmark of Korean cuisine in Central Asia, is not prepared in Korea.
The popularity of Soviet Korean cuisine in Kazakhstan is so widespread that one cannot find a market where Korean women do not sell their salads made of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, meat, noodles, and more. Twenty years ago, when authentic Korean restaurants began to appear in Kazakhstan, people would ask whether they served genuine Korean cuisine or kore-saram before visiting. However, the culinary traditions have now been mixed up again, and it is not uncommon to find both Central Asian morkovcha and authentic bulgogi on the same menu.
When it comes to favorite Korean dishes that should be tried in Kazakhstan, the cold soup kuksi tops the list. Vegetables and meat are cut into thin strips and then served in a delicious salty broth. It's a refreshing and satisfying dish, especially on a hot summer day. Steamed pies with cabbage and meat filling, known as pegodya, are another popular item in the Soviet Korean cuisine. They can be made with either thick yeast dough or transparent starch dough, and both have their fans. Starch kamdya-pegodya are quite similar to manty, which is another beloved dish in Kazakhstan.
In the southern regions of Kazakhstan, such as Turkistan and Zhambyl regions, which border Uzbekistan, Uzbek cuisine is prevalent. This cuisine is characterized by golden, crumbly pilaf, manty with tail fat, boiled dimlama, and rich Uzbek lagman, among many other delicious dishes. With a significant Uzbek diaspora residing in Kazakhstan, the traditions of this cooking are well-preserved and celebrated. If you come across a café with the characteristic name «Uzbechka,» you can be sure to find authentic Uzbek cuisine. Rather than describing all the well-known Uzbek recipes, it is best to visit and try them for yourself.
Indeed, Kazakhstan has not been immune to the influence of global food trends. The restaurant scene in major cities here reflects this diversity, with cuisines from around the world represented. Italian cuisine, with its famous pizzas, pastas, and cheeses, is very popular, as is Georgian cuisine with its hearty khinkali dumplings and cheesy khachapuri bread. Japanese sushi and rolls, Chinese noodles and exotic sauces, Russian borsch and okroshka, Turkish kebabs, and American burgers. All these dishes are widely represented in Kazakhstani cities, and everyone can choose their meal. You can also find Thai, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Spanish, Mexican, Czech, and many other restaurants.
Kazakhstan's street food is a reflection of its multicultural and multinational society. The country's culinary traditions have been shaped by diverse influences, since the nomads did not have cities and streets. Today, there is plenty to try if you're hungry.
One of the most popular national street foods is samsa, hot puff pastries with various fillings. Samsa outlets of different kinds are common in cities, and they're a great way to satisfy hunger. In the markets and on the outskirts of cities, you can find tandoor samsa baked in a large round stone oven called a tandoor. Be sure to try it; it's worth it.
In recent years, the Turkish doner has gained great popularity on the streets of Kazakhstan cities. It's similar to the well-known shawarma, but with a local set of products and sauces. Doner cafes in Kazakhstan work not only during the day, but also at night, and attract crowds of food lovers. The Turkish diaspora in Kazakhstan is quite large.
Shish kebab is also a significant part of street food culture in Kazakhstan. Shish kebabs are beloved and well-prepared, which is evident in the fact that representatives of almost all Caucasian nationalities live in Kazakhstan. Many of them own catering facilities, which are traditionally in demand. Shish kebabs are made of various meats and vegetables, excluding pork. They're cooked on coals made of saxaul (Haloxylon) steppe wood, which imparts a unique flavor. However, saxaul trees are becoming scarce due to commercial cutting, so try it while you can.
Fast food franchises are also ubiquitous in Kazakhstan, offering burgers, hot dogs, pizza, crispy wings, and more. Global chains like KFC, Burger King, Hardee's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and local brands are found in malls and other locations.
In short, Kazakhstan's food scene is diverse, delicious, and satisfying. It's difficult to leave hungry or dissatisfied. Kazakhs have been famous for their hospitality since ancient times, and everyone is welcome to enjoy a good meal. Just be sure not to overeat or mix incompatible foods.
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