Top 15 Kazakh Foods To Try (At Least Once)
Kazakh food is based on the traditional nomad cuisine which had to be simple to prepare. It is mostly meat (lamb and horse) based with some dairy and bread/dough components. Because the weather is particularly challenging the food was, traditionally, very nutritious and contained a lot of fat to provide energy. This means that food can sometimes seem too oily or greasy to people who are not used to it.
Some of the food is extremely tasty some less so, at least to my taste, but everything is worth trying at least once.
1. Beshbarmak: The national dish of Kazakhstan means ‘five fingers’ referring to the fact that it is eaten by hand. It consists of boiled meat (traditionally horse but nowadays often lamb) and large noodles that look like sheets of lasagne in an onion gravy/broth. There is a lot of tradition surrounding the serving and eating of beshbarmak.
It is a great honour to be invited to someone’s home for beshbarmak. Sometimes a sheep’s head is served with the meal. If it is included it will be served to the most honoured guest, often the eldest male without a father, who then cuts and serves the meat to others at the table. Young men get the ears so that they will be careful, young girls the palate to encourage diligence. A bride gets brisket and married women get neck bones. Children get kidneys and heart but not brain as it will make them weak minded. If a young girl is served knuckle it is believe that she will be an old maid.
2. Kazy: a traditional sausage made of fattened horsemeat, the fat is very rich and nourishing. The thick coils of black meat look rather unappetising in the meat chiller cabinets in the supermarket. Kazy is a popular part of any celebratory meal.
3. Shashlik: kebabs cooked over a charcoal fire shashlik is traditionally made from lamb or beef but can also be made from chicken or fish (sturgeon is particularly delicious) and served with flatbread. The meat for a good shashlik is marinated overnight and quite distinctively spiced (the spices work well with roast chicken). Shashlik is a common, indeed necessary, part of any picnic barbeque.
4. Herring in a fur coat: This traditional Russian salad is also popular in Kazakhstan. It is made of herring covered with potatoes, onion, beetroot, apple and mayonnaise.
5. Manti and Pelmeni: Manti are large steamed dumplings filled with ground meat (usually lamb) served with sour cream. Pelmeni are similar but smaller and sometimes filled with vegetables. Both are very popular with children. They are relatively easy, if time-consuming, to make but are also available ready-made. Manti are sold in the delicatessen section of most supermarkets and pelmeni come in large bags from the freezer section. They are available in most Kazakh restaurants and are a good bet for a quick, nourishing snack.
6. Laghman: a tasty traditional Uyghur dish of thick noodles served with beef broth, beef and tomatoes, this is popular in local cafes and fast food restaurants.
7. Plov: the Kazakh version of Pilaf rice this dish is popular at large gatherings. It consists of rice served with lamb (sometimes beef), onions and carrots. Plov varies in quality and can be very good indeed but it can be a little oily for western tastes.
8. Kumiss and Shubat: Kumiss, fermented mares’ milk, is a popular drink with many Kazakhstanis. The fermentation process removes the lactose from the milk making it a good alternative to cows’ milk for the lactose intolerant. Kumiss is readily available from supermarkets. Shubat is the camel’s milk equivalent to kumiss and is made in the same way. Both Kumiss and Shubat are reputed to have wonderful health properties. They are slightly fizzy and sour and are a somewhat acquired taste.
9. Sour Cream and Tvorog: Extremely popular and available in a bewildering array of fat percentages (up to 40% fat), sour cream is served with just about everything. A tasty addition to Borsch and with manti, it does not go so well with chocolate biscuits! Tvorog cottage cheese is a common filling for pastries and pancakes. Little bars of chocolate covered tvorog are a common treat for children.
10. Kurt: a cheese made from dehydrated sour cream. It has to be softened before eating. There is a very touching story about kurt. During the Stalin era there was a Gulag camp for women just outside Astana. One day out at work on the steppe the women and their guards thought that local villagers were pelting them with stones. When the women investigated further they discovered that it was kurt, this extra food helped them survive the terrible conditions and freezing temperatures.
11. Buarsak: these little balls of fried dough are endlessly popular with children. They are similar to a savoury oliebol or doughnut. For optimum flavour they can be cooked in animal fat but most of the offerings found in supermarkets are cooked in vegetable oil. Buarsak are usually round but my nanny will sometimes bring some in that she has made at home and hers look a little like fried won-tons. This is apparently similar to the way they are made in Mongolia.
12. Borsch: another Russian import this deep purple beet soup is extremely popular. It is usually made with beef stock, onion, beetroot, carrots and potatoes.
13. Caviar: Kazakhstan borders the Caspian so caviar, both the cheap red and the more exclusive black is easy to come by in the supermarket.
14. Linebrew: beer brewed here in Kazakhstan, I am not a lover of beer in any form but I am told that this is very good indeed.
15. Champansky: sparkling wine from either Russia or Kazakhstan this stuff is very sweet and very cheap, for £2 you get the bubbles and a white plastic cork. Tastier than the worst French Champagne it is a common and affordable substitute for pricier imports.
By: Ersatz Expat