What is Kazakh Cuisine?
In the opinion of many people who have never been to Kazakhstan, our country is one endlessly sunburned steppe littered with dots of temporary homes of nomads — yurts. Horses, rams, dogs — that is the whole Kazakh life. Once the picture was similar to the one described, but since then it has been a long time.
It is a pity to admit that the historical cuisine of the nomads was not very diverse. Not because they did not like the delicious food, actually they did like it very much. It is just that the range of available products in such a life is very limited. First of all, meat — because nomads have always been pastoralists, and therefore roamed. The rest — what you can find in the vast steppe. Various grains, from which you can make flour, onions, aromatic herbs. There was no possibility to grow vegetables, but it was possible to exchange some things with neighboring settled nations. Nevertheless, the main trio of Kazakh cuisine still sounds like “meat-dough-onion”.
However, such Spartan preconditions have also played a positive role in the culture. When something is missing somewhere, it will replenish from the outside. When Kazakhs began to lead a settled way of life, they began to greedily adopt various culinary traditions and enrich their cuisine with the influence of kitchens of those who lived nearby — Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Koreans, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Dungans, and even Chinese. The result is a unique blend of cultures, which we appreciate and cherish today. In modern Kazakhstan, you can have breakfast in the morning in a refined Italian coffee shop, have a snack in the Turkish doner's shop in the afternoon, and in the evening, you can have a magnificent dinner in a national restaurant. All this without leaving the center of one city, and sometimes — without leaving even one small block. Many roads have crossed in Kazakhstan, and the more interesting it is to visit this country. You will not be disappointed in the food here. You will find a variety of dishes for any discerning taste. However, first things first.
What to taste in Kazakhstan?
Of course, the first thing to be acquainted with when visiting Kazakhstan for the first time is Kazakh national cuisine. It is best to do it at home, of course, but numerous cafes and restaurants of national cuisine will help with this. Kazakh cuisine bases on the already mentioned three whales and a lot of attention is paid to meat, its varieties, sorts, and parts of carcasses.
Here it is important to remember one distinctive detail: horsemeat is eaten in Kazakhstan, it is very much loved and cooked in different ways. Horsemeat is the most valuable kind of meat for us, and if you are offered to taste it, it is a sign of great respect and hospitality. It is also very tasty.
Kazakhs call a covered table with many dishes a dastarkhan. It is believed that the richer the dastarkhan is in the house, the more hospitable the owner is and the more favorable the fate is to him. Before doing any business with the guest, feed him – says the proverb.
The king of Kazakh dastarkhan is called beshbarmak, or, as Kazakhs themselves say, yet (meat). This festive dish consists of several types of boiled meat (beef, lamb, and horsemeat, including homemade horse sausage), boiled thin-rolled dough, and onion dressing. Less often boiled they add potatoes to beshbarmak, and in Western Kazakhstan, a kind of fish beshbarmak — fishbarmak — is prepared. Hot meat broth in tea bowls is served together with this dish.
The name “beshbarmak” in translation means “five fingers”, and it appeared because in ancient times the dish was eaten by hands. Today there is no such need, and people behind the dastarkhan are quite normal with cutlery. In Kazakhstan, you can enjoy the real taste of meat, which Kazakhs know a lot about. Believe it — if you have not tried beshbarmak, you know nothing about Kazakhstan. This is a key cultural milestone for the national culture.
However, we cannot stay long on one dish, and let us see what else Kazakh cuisine offers us. For example, kuyrdak is a roast from internal organs, most often lamb liver, lungs, and kidneys, with potatoes. A thick, rich dish, which is cooked immediately after skinning the carcasses, only from fresh offal. This is a very nourishing and warm meal.
Very important food for Kazakhs, which should also be tasted - homemade sausages made of horsemeat: kazy, shuzhyk, karta, etc. These dishes are considered a great delicacy that contains vitality. These sausages differ in the way they are cooked and in the parts of the carcass used, but the reader is unlikely to be interested in these details. Better try it and enjoy it. Also, do not forget about the sur yet — the dried horsemeat.
For those who are tired of meat abundance, Kazakh cooks are ready to cook baursaks: balls of yeast dough fried in oil. Sweet and crispy baursaks are a great snack on the road and a constant participant of traditional long tea parties.
Kurt — salted balls of dried cottage cheese. This is not only a favorite delicacy of Kazakhstani kids but also a great way to preserve dairy products in the long journey, which was very important for nomads. Today, kurt often acts as a great snack for beer and a souvenir, which tourists buy for their friends and relatives.
Speaking of souvenirs, be sure to try the famous “Kazakhstan” chocolate from the confectionery factory "Rakhat", which is distinguished by its very deep and strong taste, made exclusively of natural African cocoa, as well as Kazakhstani cognac, which enjoys well-deserved authority among connoisseurs of such drinks.
Another important part of traditional Kazakh cuisine is fermented milk drinks, which nomads have always respected. There are quite a lot of such drinks, but the key ones are koumiss and shubbat. Koumiss is a sour-milk low-alcohol beverage made of mares' milk, tart, acidic, and very positive for digestion. Shubbat is a beverage of life, which is made of camel's milk. It is said that shubbat is useful if you have asthma, tuberculosis, inflammation of the liver, diabetes, and psoriasis. Shubbat may seem too strange to taste from the first time on, but once it is tasted, few people can refuse to enjoy it. Remember that shubbat is better to drink separately from food, as mixing can have an unpredictable effect: the drink has a high-fat content.
After a plentiful feast, Kazakh meals require a long tea party. You will be offered a strong sweet tea with milk, which will be poured into the tea bowl. It is not customary to fill the tea bowl — this is the law of hospitality. You drink, you are added more. This process can take several hours. Drinking tea is a favorite pastime in our country.
However, multinational Kazakhstan is famous not only with Kazakh cuisine. Today the country is home to about 250,000 Uighur diaspora residents. They are Central Asian people of Turkic origin, who once lost their territories during the Chinese expansion. Many residents of the newly formed Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China moved to Kazakhstan, fearing Chinese pressure. Today, the Uighurs live compactly in Almaty and other regions of the country, and, of course, generously share their rich culinary traditions with us.
The main and favorite Uighur dish in Kazakhstan, which is served everywhere, can be called lagman — hand-pulled noodles with meat and vegetable gravy. Of course, many nations, Uzbeks, and Dungans claim to be the authors of the Lagman, but a large number of varieties, bright tastes, and characteristic spices distinguish the Uighur lagman. For example, the Uzbek Lagman, which is also widespread in the border areas with this country, smells quite differently than the Uighur lagman. Uzbek lagman always looks like soup, while Uighur one can be liquid, dry, boiled, and fried, and can even turn into “ganfan” if you replace noodles with boiled rice. When in Almaty, Taldykorgan, or somewhere in the Almaty region, be sure to plan a trip to the Lagman cafe to taste this wonderful dish — you will not regret it.
Manty is another dish that can be classified as one of the most diverse cuisines. However, if to speak about the Almaty region, here Uyghur manty is loved — with pumpkin and jusai (wild onion). These steamed dough bags with meat and vegetable stuffing, juicy, fat, fragrant, cannot leave any eater indifferent. Moreover, Kazakhs have long considered manty as their original dish, to be honest.
The Dungans are other people who once entered Central Asia in search of a better life from China. According to one version, the Dungans are descendants of Arab marriages with Chinese women. They are Chinese-speaking Muslims, who were not always honored in the Celestial Empire, and many of them found refuge in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Dungan cuisine is similar to Uighur cuisine in many ways, but it has a much greater inclination to Chinese culinary traditions. There is lagman, manty, and many more amazing things here, but there are more spices, names are not so clear, and spread in Kazakhstan is not so wide.
However, the most famous and favorite dish of Dungan cuisine in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is Ashlyam-fu — cold vegetable soup with starch noodles or pieces of starch served in the summer heat. Very unusual dish with a characteristic acidity and very unusual structure. You should just try it because it is rather difficult to describe. In Kazakhstan, in the markets called “ashlyam-fu” one can meet Korean salad with wide starchy noodles, but it is quite another story.
Everyone must know about Soviet Koreans. In the 30s of the last century, these people, who lived compactly in the Far East, were deported to Central Asia — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, where they found their new home. Here these hard-working people had to start their lives anew and adapt their exotic cuisine to local products. That is how the kore-saram (Soviet Korean cuisine) appeared. It looks a lot like real South Korean cuisine, but at the same time, it has many differences. For example, no one cooks the famous carrot salad morkovcha in Korea. While here, this is the calling card of Korean cuisine. In general, there is no market in Kazakhstan, where Korean aunts would not sell their salads made of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, meat, noodles, and much more.
The cuisine of the Soviet Koreans is so popular in our country, that twenty years ago when restaurants with authentic Korean cuisine began to appear in Kazakhstan, people asked before going to a Korean restaurant — do they serve authentic Korean food or kore-saram? Now both of these culinary traditions have already been mixed up again, and in one restaurant, they can serve both Central Asian morkovcha and authentic pulcogi. Choose for yourself.
If we talk about favorite dishes of Korean cuisine, which should be tasted in Kazakhstan, first, it is cold soup kuksi, vegetables, and meat for which are cut into thin straws and then filled with delicious salty broth. There is no better salvation in the summer heat than a plate of icy snacks. Steam pies with cabbage and meat stuffing, which are known in Russia as dim-sam, are also very popular, and here we call them pegodya. Pegodya is made of both thick yeast and transparent starch dough. Both of them have admirers. The starch kamdya-pegodya are very similar to manty, for which they are loved even more in Kazakhstan.
In the southern regions of Kazakhstan (Turkistan and Zhambyl regions) bordering Uzbekistan, Uzbek cuisine rules the ball. Golden crumbly pilaf, manty with tail fat, boiled dimlama, rich Uzbek lagman. There is no sense to describe in detail all known Uzbek recipes, you just need to come and try. There are quite a lot of Uzbeks living in Kazakhstan, and the traditions of this cooking are very strong. If you see a cafe with the characteristic name “Uzbechka”, it means you go there.
Of course, global world processes did not miss Kazakhstan. We have restaurant fashion, the influence of global trends, and well-known cuisines, which you will find in any major city in the world. Italian cuisine with its pizzas, pasta and cheeses, Georgian khinkali and khachapuri, Japanese sushi and rolls, Chinese noodles and exotic sauces, Russian borsch, and okroshka, Turkish kebabs, American fast food. All this is widely represented in the streets of Kazakhstan cities, and everyone can choose their meal. You can find Thai, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Spanish, Mexican, Czech, and many other restaurants.
Street food, like everything in Kazakhstan, is multicultural and multinational. Here, too, there is a very different influence of different culinary traditions, because the nomads did not have cities and streets. Now they are, and there is a lot to try if you are hungry.
The most popular national street food in the country is samosa (samsa) — hot puff pastries with various fillings. You can find samsa outlets of different kinds quite often; it's a great way to satisfy hunger and the city's residents like it. On the outskirts of the cities and in the markets, you can find tandoor samsa baked in a large round stone oven — tandoor. Be sure to try it, it is worth it.
In recent years, the Turkish doner has gained great popularity on the streets of Kazakhstan cities. It is something of a variety of well-known shawarma, but with a local set of products and sauces. Many of Kazakhstan's doner cafes work not only during the day, but also at night, and gather entire queues of food lovers around them. And the Turkish diaspora in Kazakhstan is quite large.
Speaking of street food, one cannot avoid such a significant thing as shish kebab. Shish-kebabs in Kazakhstan are loved and known how to cook; it is proved at least 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 meat and vegetables, except for pork. They fry it on coals made of saxaul (Haloxylon) steppe wood, which gives a very correct heat and flavor. You will not try saxaul shish-kebab anywhere else, believe us. Soon it may disappear in Kazakhstan as well, as the tree is included in the Red Book and commercial cutting out of it is reducing. Hurry up to try it.
Moreover, fast food, where would you go without it. In Kazakhstan, most of the world's franchises are present and working, making burgers, hot dogs, pizza, crispy wings, etc. KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks coffee houses, and many local brands. If you like this kind of food, you will get a huge choice at any mall. No problem.
In short, the food in Kazakhstan is good. Various, delicious, nourishing, and even exotic in some places. It is difficult to leave here hungry or dissatisfied. Come and try what your heart desires. Kazakhs have been famous for their hospitality since ancient times, and no one will be denied a good meal. You only need to protect your stomachs from over-eating and not to combine the incompatible.
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