As a Kyrgyz living abroad, I often miss our yummy cuisine. According to my observations, people in Europe don’t seem to invest many hours in cooking as we do in Kyrgyzstan. Coming from a nomadic background, we have a short history with non-animal food. So, in the traditional Kyrgyz food, there are very few, often almost the same ingredients. That's why people came up with elaborate ways to cook the same ingredients in the different ways. For example, both oromo and samsy are made of dough, potatoes, onions, meat and oil, but they taste completely different. Besides, Bishkek is a very multicultural city, where you can try not only Kyrgyz but also authentic Russian, Korean, Turkish, Uygur and Dungan food. Therefore, if you have one day to explore the culinary side of Bishkek, as a hedonist, I would recommend to let the mouthwatering food guide you.
People abroad often ask me what Kyrgyz people eat for breakfast. My answer is - whatever is left from the last night’s dinner. So, if you are a guest in someone’s house, expect that your breakfast might consist of tea and the leftovers of the dinner. If you stay in a residential area, early in the morning, you can hear women shouting: “ayran, kaymak” in the courtyard. It is a homemade yogurt and fresh butter for a very cheap price. Don’t miss the chance to try delicious, organic milk products, and you can generously tip the sellers as they earn very little for their great work. You can just shout from your window that you want to buy some ayran or kaymak, and they will bring it to your house. If you stay in a hotel, you can order blinchiki (Russian crepes) or syrniki (fried dough with quark). They are light but nourishing pastries usually eaten with smetana (thick Russian yogurt). Also, be aware that Kyrgyzstan is not a coffee-drinking country, tea is the king here. It is drunk all the time and everywhere. But of course, you can find good coffee in cafes. So, don’t worry.
The cuisine in Kyrgyzstan is rich with dough-made food: dumplings, bakeries, pastries, noodles. One of the most iconic noodle food is Uygur (ethnical group) dish - lagman. It is handmade noodles with fried meat and vegetables. Lagman is so popular in Bishkek that there are over ten different ways of cooking it. Either way, it is incredibly delicious. Trust me, when you leave Central Asia, you are going to miss it. You can find this dish in any café or restaurant in Bishkek. However, local people know where to find the best lagman: the fabric market “Madina”. What an odd place to eat? Many Uygurs work in Madina market, and even if the café might not look so “luxurious” from outside, trust me it is the best lagman place in the city.
One of the iconic cafes in Bishkek is Faiza. It is a chain of cafes with the affordable, delicious national food and traditional interior design. It is better to avoid coming here during the lunch-time, as it is super crowded. Everyone wants to eat here because all the food from the menu is incredibly tasty, prepared with fresh ingredients, the service is fast, and the prices are quite cheap. You can go ahead and order anything from the menu. Manty is a traditional food made of steam-cooked stuffed dough. It is one of the very few foods in Kyrgyzstan that comes with the vegetarian option. The classic manty is made of beef or mutton meat with chopped onions. But manty with potatoes, pumpkins and spinach are also awesome. Caution if you order manty with meat, it might contain lots of fat. But you can order manty without fat as well. Because it is steam-cooked, manty is digested easily, which makes it a good dinner choice.
Dear food travelers, the "intro to the Kyrgyz cuisine" has ended, and I hope that you enjoyed the trip and gathered many delicious impressions. This was just a small glimpse of what culinary Bishkek has to offer. In Kyrgyzstan, people consider fresh, homemade, traditional food cooked for at least a couple of hours not only for a special occasion but an everyday must. So, don't miss your chance to try the most iconic dishes, even if you have just one day at your disposal in Bishkek.
Cover picture © Credits to iStock/Novoselov
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