When eating and drinking in Kazakhstan, this leading Central Asian country has a ton of exotic dishes to offer. Kazakhstan food has qualities coming from Europe and Asia, consisting mostly of rice, potato, pasta and meat, since the country stretches to both continents. It is the ninth biggest country in the world that extends from Russia, China to three other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Below are some of the recommended local dishes that foreign tourists should try.
The national dish is called “beshbarmak”, a special dish served for special occasions. Its ingredients are pasta, potato, onion and horse meat. Horse meat is what makes it rare and special, but sometimes beef or lamb is also used. Pork is not preferred by most Kazakhs.
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Major restaurants are sure to serve beshbarmak, with a portion for two or three people. Another dish that uses horse meat is “kazy”, handmade horse-meat sausage to be exact. This is often served with beshbarmak or as a cold meat appetizer in most restaurants. Other cold meat appetizers that go with it are “zhaya”, “basturma” and “shyzhyk”.
Meanwhile, the Asian-like dishes are “laghman”, “manty” and “pelemeni”. Laghman is a thick noodle dish that is usually served as soup with meat, spices and vegetables. Manty is steamed dumplings made of meat, vegetables and onions. A variety is the traditional Uighur dish that includes pumpkins. Pelemeni dish is also made up of dumplings; boiled dumplings with potato and different kinds of meat.
Other popular Kazakh dishes are “plov”, a traditional Uzbek dish that uses rice, meat, carrots, and raisins or tomatoes, “shish kebab” or skewered meat with flatbread and onions usually cooked on open fire, and “baursaky”, which is similar to an unsweetened doughnut but usually served piping hot. Generally, Kazakh dishes are meat-based, which makes vegetarian diet next to impossible when eating at restaurants, unless one specifically asks for vegetables. There is only one vegetarian restaurant in Almaty, Govinda’s Restaurant. It is a small restaurant that serves excellent Indian veggie dish called “Hari Krishna”, which is completely vegetarian. Govinda’s also sells Indian spices, incense, spiritual items and souvenirs.
The best way to stay vegetarian is to personally cook at home some of Kazakhstan’s fresh organic vegetables that are sold at very low prices in any local supermarket. There are several shops and food markets that sell authentic Korean dishes and salads that are often spicy and garlicky. There are also Chinese and Japanese dishes but are very expensive.
To down these dishes, the best drinks in the country are traditional beverages such as “kumiss” (fermented mare’s milk with 6% alcohol content), “kumyran” or “shubat” (fermented camel’s milk), and “kvas” (local root beer sold on the streets from giant yellowish tanks). Alcohol is cheap and may be bought at several “astanovkas” (little corner shops) anytime of the day even when the shop owner is already asleep. The most popular alcohol is cognac and vodka. There are also locally produced brands of beer.
When eating and drinking in Kazakhstan, foreign tourists will be surprised at how cheap Kazakhstan food and restaurants can be. Caviar, which is extremely expensive in Europe and America, is sold at only about $3-4 and available in glass jars or tins. The only challenge when dining out is that people don’t speak good English and menus are in Russian.