Bread: the local bread is generally flatbread called nan
and is served with nearly every meal
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Besbarmak/Beshbarmak: the national dish, which
means "five fingers" is boiled mutton (or another meat) with noodles and
broth traditionally eaten by hand
Lagman/Laghman: noodles with vegetables in a
Manti/Samsa: dumplings filled with meat and/or
Plov/Paloo: rice fried with meat, carrots, garlic,
and hot peppers
Shashlyk: grilled mutton, pork, or chicken sometimes served
with raw onions, parsley, and/or a vinegar sauce
The Kyrgyzs are very inviting people so it is not uncommon
to be invited to a local's house, especially in the countryside. If you do get
an invitation, be sure to bring a gift; local sweets or, if you know your host drinks
alcohol, a bottle of vodka is a great gift. Once you arrive for dinner remove your
shoes and leave them at the door. Let you host show you a seat and lead the ceremonies;
as a guest there may be some ceremonies. The first of these is often a toast with
a glass of vodka (for the locals that do drink alcohol); if invited to give a toast
in return, be sure to mention the hospitality of your host and remember, turning
down vodka is rude so good luck.
After you're seated, dining etiquette is fairly relaxed and rarely will a Kyrgyz be offended at your mistaken dining habits that
don't translate. Once the food is served, and there may be multiple courses
so don't overeat, you will likely find that the host will serve everyone. Unfortunately,
this means you must eat what you are served, and as a guest of honor, that could
be a sheep head. You'll probably also be served kymyz, which is mare's
milk, especially if you visit in the summer months. If dining at a restaurant with
locals, remember to avoid ordering pork products as most Kyrgyz Muslims don't
eat pork, although it is sometimes available.
You may find that there are utensils (cutlery) present and if so use them in any
manner you prefer, but ideally in the continental style (knife in the right hand,
fork in the left). On other occasions though you will be expected to eat with your
hand; be sure to only use your right hand to eat. You'll also be served flat
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 bread. When
the food is finished, you will likely be served tea. Be sure to join in on this
local favorite and socialize to close the meal.
If dining out at a restaurant, check your bill to see if a "service charge"
has been added; it usually is in nicer restaurants. If not be sure to leave the
server a tip of about 15%.
Celebrations & Events
When it comes to celebrations in Kyrgyzstan, 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 sheep, mare's milk, and other traditional foods.
For more personal celebrations like a birthday or anniversary sheep is the traditional
dish; in the past a whole sheep was killed, while today this is less common. From
the sheep, soups, meats, and sausage are made and served. These foods are also usually
served with plov, a traditional rice dish. For funerals and weddings, a
horse is usually eaten instead of sheep. Nearly all celebrations are also accompanied
by vodka and kymyz, fermented mare's milk. Beshbarmak is also
a common dish served for some personal events, including the birth of a new child,
a death, or to celebrate an important birthday.
For a traditional drink in Kyrgyzstan, ask for kymyz,
which is mare's milk, but if you want to join the locals in the present, ask
for tea, which is the favored beverage in the country today. Kymyz is generally
only available in the summer and it can be served as is or fermented so is alcoholic;
be sure to find out what version you are getting if you prefer one over the other.
Another traditional drink is maksym, a carbonated drink made from grains.
Juices, soft drinks, and coffee are also available, although none are as popular
Alcohol is popular in Kyrgyzstan, 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. Kymyz is the most cultural alcoholic drink in Kyrgyzstan,
although today this beverage is not as popular. Beer and vodka have taken over as
the alcoholic drinks of choice in the country today and if dining out these are
the most readily available. If seeking out other drinks like wine or other hard
liquors you will be able to find them, although they may have been sitting on the
shelf for some time.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Kyrgyzstan,
but in Bishkek and in some mountainous areas 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.