In more recent times the foods in Kazakhstan have gained
a more international flavor as the major cities, but only the major cities, have
adopted some "ethnic" restaurants. Today in Astana or Almaty it is easy
to find pizza and hamburgers along with a few Korean, Chinese,
and German restaurants.
Bread: the local bread is generally flatbread called nan
and is served with nearly every meal
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Beshkarmak/Besbarmak: the national dish, which
means "five fingers" is boiled horse meat or sausage with noodles and
broth traditionally eaten by hand
Kazy: one type of horse meat sausage, although there are
various types of horse meat sausage that go by numerous names
Mypalau: sheep brain mixed with broth and garlic
Plov/Pilaf: rice fried with meat, carrots, and
Shashlyk/Zhauburek: grilled mutton, pork, or
chicken sometimes served with raw onions, parsley, and/or a vinegar sauce
Ulpershek: dish of horse heart, fat, and aorta, traditionally
eaten by women
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to eat in the home of a
Kazakh, be sure to bring a gift of sweets or, if you know your host drinks
alcohol, a bottle of vodka. Being invited to a local's home, especially in rural
areas, is more common in Kazakhstan than it is in many countries. Once you arrive
for dinner at a local's house, remove your shoes and leave them at the door,
then your host will show you a seat at a short table, called a dastarkhan.
Before the food is served you may be offered a glass of vodka and appetizers; if
your host drinks, your presence is considered an event of hospitality and before
eating you will likely be offered a glass of vodka and a toast, an offer you should
After you're seated the foods offered and the dining etiquette are fairly relaxed.
Some meals begin with appetizers, while others go straight into the main course.
Once the main course comes out, generally this consists of meat when a guest is
present; the host will serve everyone based on their importance. Be warned, as the
guest of honor you may find a sheep head on your plate. You'll probably also
be served kumys, which is mare's milk, especially if you visit in the
summer months. One thing to remember if dining out with Kazakhs
is that most Kazakhs don't eat pork since they are Muslim. If eating out be
sure to avoid ordering any pork products; if dining at a local's home they won't
serve pork if they don't eat it and few Kazakhs do, although it is available.
Once you have food in front of you, you may be expected to dine with either utensils
(cutlery) or only with your hands; be sure to only use your right hand to eat. You'll
also be served bread with your meal, which must be eaten in its entirety and placed
directly on the table when not eating it; again use your right hand to eat your
When the food is finished, you will most likely be served either kumys
and/or tea. Be sure to join in on these drinks and socialize to close the meal.
If dining out at a restaurant, check your bill to see if a "service charge"
has been added. If not be sure to leave the server a tip of about 10%.
Celebrations & Events
When it comes to celebrations in Kazakhstan, the largest
festival is most certainly nauryz, which is a New Year festival that is
celebrated each year on the spring equinox. This event celebrates new life as the
historically nomadic people have survived the long winter. During this event the
people generally join together to celebrate by eating a number of traditional dishes
including lamb or horse and bread among other foods.
When it comes to drinks in Kazakhstan it begins and ends
with dairy products, including milk from camels, cattle, and sheep, although it
is the mare's milk that is the most traditional and generally only available
during the summer; this is called kumys, but be careful as sometimes this
is fermented and alcoholic. Tea is a common non-alcoholic beverage and has taken
over as more popular, but less cultural than milk. Other commonly available beverages
include juices, soft drinks, and coffee although none are as popular as tea.
Alcohol is popular in Kazakhstan, despite the fact that
the people are primarily Muslim, a religion that outlaws alcohol, however due to
the people's long history under Soviet rule there is little taboo with drinking
alcohol today. Even for locals who don't drink they rarely take offense when
others drink. Although all alcoholic drinks are available in Kazakhstan, only beer
is truly popular with vodka a distant second. Kumys can also be fermented
and hence be a more traditional alcoholic beverage, but like the non-alcoholic version,
kumys is less popular than beer is today. If seeking out other drinks like
wine or other hard liquors you will be able to find them, although you may be the
only person ordering them.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Kazakhstan,
but in some of the larger cities it might be safe. The most cautious course of action
is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the
water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap
water first check with your local hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of
the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have
trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different
from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.