About the food of Kyrgyzstan

Musicians playing a selection of traditional Kyrgyz instruments, including komuz (stringed instrument in center foreground) and sybyzgy (transverse flute). Photo by Simon Garbutt.

You’ll have to excuse me. I have a belly ache. You see, I’m writing this Halloween night between handing out candy and eating it. And, since most wee ones have long since gone home to sugary dreams, I’m mostly just eating candy. The good news is Kyrgyzastan has a cure.

Boil up a pot of honey water, throw in some spices – perhaps a cinnamon stick and lemon peel – and (for non muslims) serve with a heaping splash of vodka [Recipe]. This sort of drink is popular all over Eastern Europe and Central Asia with slight variations in spices and liquors. When it’s served cold, the drink is called sherbet. Tonight, however I might have to take mine with a little less honey…

Over 80% of Kyrgyzstan is covered in mountains with hot, subtropical summers to the south and very cold winters throughout. You’ll notice the name is quite similar to her northern neightbor Kazakhstan, a country that we did a few weeks ago. Truth be told, the similarities don’t end with the names.

Lake Ala Kol. Photo by Ondřej Žváček.

Both countries have large nomadic communities that adore lamb and who use it for all sorts of celebrations. They eat it in dumplings called manti, or rolled up in pasta (called Oromo)  [Recipe], or in a plain-jane brothy noodle stew called kesme or beshbarmak. Unlike our western tendencies, Kyrgyz do not trim fatty lamb enjoy it as is – in all it’s variations and oddities. And, speaking of oddities, the Kyrgyz also adore drinking fermented, alcoholic mare’s milk – a stout concoction that is said to put hair on anyone’s chest.

I believe it.

Nomadic communities don’t have access to a whole lot of vegetables as they move along the mountains and valleys, but simple salads – slaws of sorts – can be found, including radishes and carrots.

Most families eat their meals on the floor on a large covering. Food is bountiful during celebrations- there can be dozens of small breads, dips and little bowls of various tidbits like yogurt dip  [recipe]. It’s truly incredible – take a look at these absolutely amazing spreads a traveler in Kyrgyzstan shared on his travel blog.

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook. Children playing the "Komuz" by Nichelle Anderson.

So those are a few tidbits about the food of Kyrgyzstan. What are your favorite foods from the area? 


  1. Jessica Bennett says

    That picture of the mountains is gorgeous! I’m curious though, about how they reach the food in the middle of the cloth. Do you have any idea? Maybe they just reach over everything and get it? It seems like it might be awkward, but maybe that’s just my perspective.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Great question. In looking at some of the pictures it seems like the center is about an arm’s width away… so my vote goes to a quick reach across. Personally, it would keep me from overindulging in the bread out of politeness, which is a good thing. 😉

  2. So nice to see the men wearing the ‘ak kalpak’ (white hat)! A highlight of visiting KG was spending a night camping by lake Song Kul with a family of herders. We slept in a yurt (that symbol in the middle of the KG flag is the ‘tunduk,’ the meeting point of the poles at the top of a yurt) under a pile of blankets. After an early morning breakfast of bowls of hot buckwheat cereal (kasha), yogurt, nan bread, kaymak (clotted cream), saru mai (a granular butter), and varini (sour cherries in syrup), along with tea, I assisted with the butchering of a sheep. In less than an hour, there was meat hanging in the cookhouse. For midday lunch, we were served kattama, a flaky bread. Then we each got a large bowl of ‘kurdaq,’ a potato and mutton dish that contained the liver, heart, lung, rib tips and meat of the sheep(!)
    Our one food regret – passing up the fresh-sqeezed raspberry juice at the farmers’ maket in Andijon (tummy trouble is no fun).
    Love these Global Table Adventures!

    • Sasha Martin says

      What beautiful insight – thank you for sharing your travel story. The breakfast sounds heavenly and you’re right – I bet that raspberry juice was top notch! Incidentally, one of my favorite drinks is a raspberry lime rickey – a drink made with fresh raspberry juice, lime juice and soda water. YUM. Back to Kyrgyzstan, though … I’ve notice the nan bread is differently shaped than other countries – more like a disc with indentation in the center. It looks really substantial and satisfying. Thanks again!

  3. Brian S. says

    First of all, I’ll repeat this comment I left on your Kazakhstan page and go on from there. “Central Asia is a backwater today but in ancient times it was a cultural crossroads. Trade in both goods and ideas between China, India and Europe passed through this area, which includes not only Kazakhstan but all the central Asian countries you’ll visit on this culinary odyssey. Cosmopolitan cities grew as a result of this commerce and cultural ferment. In Kazakhstan, trade passed through the city of Taraz. The old Silk Road cities were inhabited by Caucasians related to Persians. By about 1300, they were displaced (and I believe assimilated) by Turkic people. The Kazakhs were a union of several Turkic peoples. They formed a big empire about 1450, the Kazakh Khanate, which is the basis for modern Kazakhstan, which is the largest landlocked country in the world.”

    What happened in Kyrgyzstan is slightly different. The Kyrgyz aren’t Turkic, I think, but came from Siberia and moved slowly south. The Turkic peoples converted them to Islam. 700 years ago most Kyrgyz had red hair and green eyes, but they intermarried with their neighbors. Or so I read in sources like Wikipedia. It’s a region I know little about and I think Kyrgyzstan is a bit to the side of the ancient Silk Road.

      • Sasha Martin says

        I love listening to music from these countries. Her voice is haunting. Fantastic. Now if I could only figure out what she’s saying..

  4. elisa waller says

    another beautiful flag…and I love the pictures of I suppose friends and family sitting on the floor with all that food..OMG…that is the most wonderfult hin ever…..

  5. I’m so happy to have found your blog! The first country I looked up was Kyrgyzstan because I lived there for three years, it’s awesome to read about your family trying foods from such diverse locations!

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