International Cooking: Food from Kyrgyzstan

After this week, I can confidently say that I know how to spell Kyrgyzstan, though I still have to think about it! I think it’s a particularly hard one for English speakers. Luckily, the food from Kyrgyzstan isn’t quite so difficult to spell, and it tastes pretty good too!

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, south of Kazakhstan. The majority of the population are ethnic Kyrgyz people, and there are significant Uzbek and Russian minorities.

Kyrgyzstan has historically been inhabited by a succession of tribes and clans, and was a part of the Silk Road as well as other commercial routes. The region was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century. After gaining independence, Kyrgyzstan fell under the control of various khanates (like chiefdoms or feudal monarchies) before becoming part of the Russian Empire in 1936. Kyrgyzstan declared independence in 1991 and established a democratic government.

Today, Kyrgyzstan continues to endure ethnic and political conflicts and economic troubles, which have plagued the country throughout its history. It is considered a developing country and is the second poorest country in Central Asia after Tajikistan. The economy is dependent on gold, coal, and uranium deposits.

What Do People Eat in Kyrgyzstan?

The staple foods in Kyrgyzstan are mutton, beef, and horse meat, as well as dairy products. Many cooking techniques were developed with a focus on preserving food long-term, such as drying and fermentation.

Noodles and rice are common components of meals. Bread made from wheat is also important; bread is considered sacred in Kyrgyz culture and will always be offered to guests. Bread may be served alongside a main meal or with tea and condiments such as jam.

Although meat is arguably the most important part of Kyrgyz cuisine, most meals also include vegetables, with potatoes and onions being particularly common.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kyrgyz dishes I didn’t make!

Lagman (Hand-Pulled Noodles)

Lagman (Hand-Pulled Noodles)

This dish is popular throughout the whole region and there are many variations. This is a more basic version of lagman, which is typically a soup made from hand-pulled noodles, meat, and veggies.

I started with the noodles, since the dough needed to rest for a while. I made the dough from warm water, eggs, salt, and flour, and kneaded for a while. After a 20-minute rest, I rolled out the dough and cut it into long noodles. Then I stretched out each noodle to make them longer and thinner. They only took a few minutes to cook, and then they went into a soup bowl, ready for the soup to be added.

While the noodle dough was resting, I made the soup. I cooked some thinly sliced beef in oil, then added onions, pepper, cumin, and salt. After a few minutes, I added sliced tomatoes, tomato paste, and minced garlic. Next, I added sliced bell peppers, julienned carrots, and chopped potatoes. A few minutes later, I added water and let everything simmer for a while, adding more minced garlic after about 20 minutes.

I poured the finished soup over the noodles and served with sliced green onion. I thought this was pretty good and I was pleased with how well my first ever hand-pulled noodles came out!

The recipe I used is from Tasty Arbuz.

Samsa (Meat Pastries)

Samsa (Meat Pastries)

Samsa are pastries filled with meat and onion; they’re generally baked rather than fried and the meat goes in raw.

I made the dough from flour, water, and salt, then kneaded it for a bit and let it rest.

While the dough was resting, I made the filling by combining ground beef with chopped onion, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Next, I rolled out the dough and brushed it with ghee, then rolled it up tightly to form a log. I sliced this up and rolled each piece of dough out into a circle. I added some of the meat mixture to each circle and wrapped up the dough to form a triangle.

I brushed my samsa with an egg wash, then topped with sesame seeds and nigella seeds (the recipe called for black sesame seeds but I used what I had). I baked until they were golden and the meat was cooked through.

I was a little skeptical about these because the flavors were so simple, but they were delicious. I ate some on their own, but I read somewhere that they were good with sour cream so I tried that too—I really enjoyed that combination.

The recipe I followed is from Prof Mele on YouTube, though I used beef instead of pork (pork isn’t common at all in Kyrgyzstan and seemed an odd choice but I chose this recipe since it otherwise seemed fairly accurate and was easy to follow).

Kuurdak (Lamb and Potatoes)

Kuurdak (Lamb and Potatoes)

Kuurdak is a popular dish throughout the region. In its simplest, most traditional form, it consists of meat, offal, and onions. However, more modern versions, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, include potatoes. This is because when potatoes were introduced in the 19th century, they were found to grow very well and so they were incorporated into many meals. Someone on the Kyrgyzstan subreddit assured me that I did not have to include offal and that it was fine to just use meat, so that’s what I did.

To make this dish, I cooked some lamb in oil, then added sliced onion and garlic. A few minutes later, I added water and some potatoes which I’d chopped into large pieces. I covered the pot and let everything cook until the lamb was tender and the potatoes were cooked through.

I was meant to serve this with some raw onion slices on top, but I opted for just green onion instead, which the recipe included as an additional topping.

I think this dish is meant to be about the meat, but I found that the broth was really, really good too. Kuurdak isn’t meant to be served as a soup (some recipes actually refer to it as a fried meat dish which makes me think there’s often little to no broth at all) but after taking this photo I did actually transfer the food to a bowl with some of the broth. It was really delicious this way, even though it’s likely not very traditional.

The recipe I used for this is from Folkways.

  • Borsook – Kyrgyzstan’s fried dough dish! The yeasted dough is cut into squares and then fried, which causes them to puff up. They are often served with tea, as well as condiments such as butter, honey, jam, or a local version of cream cheese.
  • Beshbarmak – I made this for Kazakhstan but it is also Kyrgyzstan’s national dish. It’s made of large, flat noodles (a bit like cut-up lasagna sheets which some recipes I found used instead of making the noodles from scratch) topped with meat and onions. The meat is traditionally horse meat but lamb or beef are also common in modern versions.
  • Dinlama – a stew made from meat, potatoes, onions, other veggies, and sometimes fruit. There are many variations of this dish, which is common throughout the region.

Final Thoughts

This was a short week but I really enjoyed everything I made. My favorite food from Kyrgyzstan was the samsa.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Laos.

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