Bread: the local bread is generally round bread called naan
or corek/chorek and is served with nearly every meal
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Manti/Samsa: dumplings filled with meat, usually
lamb, and/or vegetables
Plov/Pilaf: the national dish is rice fried with
meat, usually lamb, carrots, and onions
Shashlyk: grilled mutton, pork, or chicken sometimes served
with raw onions, parsley, and/or a vinegar sauce
Shurpa/Chorba: soup made from mutton and vegetables
The Turkmen consider it their responsibility to invite
guests to their homes and turning away a person in need is considered neglect. For
this reason it is not uncommon to be invited to a local's house. 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, then be prepared
as the people and their dining habits differ somewhat. You may begin the meal is
a prayer, with soup, with tea, or with a glass of vodka accompanied by a toast.
If there's a prayer, no matter your religion all that is expected of you is
to be respectful. However, if they begin with vodka, it is your duty to drink, as
turning down vodka can be interpreted as an insult.
Once you get past the initial drink or course, relax. The Turkmen
are very forgiving of etiquette mistakes; if they correct you in your inappropriate
habits they do so to educate you, not to condemn, so welcome their advice with a
smile and change your behavior. Once the food is served, and there may be multiple
courses so don't overeat on the first course, you will likely find that the
host will serve everyone personally as certain cuts of meat are reserved for certain
people. Unfortunately, this means you must eat what you're served and as a guest
of honor that could be a sheep head. If dining at a restaurant with locals, remember
to avoid ordering pork products as most Turkmen Muslims don't eat pork, although
it is available and some Muslims do consume pork.
You may find that there are utensils (cutlery) present; if so use them in any manner
you prefer, but ideally in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork
in the left), especially if in a formal setting. On other occasions you will be
expected to eat with your hand; if this is the case be sure to only use your right
hand to eat. You'll likely 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 bread. When the food is finished, you may be served
tea or another beverage, which you are expected to accept.
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 10-15%.
Celebrations & Events
When it comes to celebrations in Turkmenistan, 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.
The Turkmen drink quite a bit of tea and if you want
to join the locals sit down for a glass of tea, which is available just about anywhere.
For a more historic drink though try the gatyk, a yogurt drink, or the
unofficial national drink, chal, which is fizzy camel's milk. This
is fermented though so it is sometimes slightly alcoholic; be careful before you
consume it. Juices, soft drinks, and coffee are also widely available in Turkmenistan,
but none are nearly as popular as tea.
Alcohol is not widely consumed in Turkmenistan. 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. Also due to Soviet influence, beer and vodka are the most popular
alcoholic drinks. For other alcoholic drinks, including wine and other hard liquors,
you may have troubles finding what you want, but if you look hard enough they are
available, although rarely in restaurants.
The tap water in Turkmenistan should not be consumed.
Be sure to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water.
Salads and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with
those foods as well.