Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia, presents the richest heritage of traditions. Kazakh national cuisine is an integral part of the culture. As a reflection of more than 100 ethnic groups with their unique culture and tradition, Kazakh cuisine is a priceless treasure of the whole nation.
Kazakhstan National Cuisine: History
The history and traditions of Kazakh cuisine go back for centuries when the whole population of Kazakhs was herders. The animals (sheep, cattle, camels, and horses) were used for food, clothing, and transportation. Kazakh nomads started to settle down in the 1800s after the Russian Empire conquered the region. Today among them there are still nomads living in yurts and moving with herds to summer pastures. The next stage of life of the Kazakh nation was the Soviet era and the traditions that they were forced to adopt. That fact as well affected the cuisine and blending of traditions. Another factor that had a great influence on the culture and traditions of Kazakhstan was the Silk Road. The communication of different nations and cultures brought to a mixture of traditions as well as cuisines. For example, spicy pepper and noodle dishes were borrowed from Chinese cuisine.
Kazakh cuisine is not only about the dishes served it is about how they are served. One of the distinctive features of the Kazakh nation is hospitality and the way they treat guests is a complex ritual. Treatment and tasting of dishes have a special order. The first guest is offered kumys (traditional horse milk), shubat (camel milk) or ayran (a drink made of cow milk).
The main ingredients used in Kazakh cuisine are horse meat, mutton, horse or sheep milk, sour cream or yogurt. Spices used in dishes are black cumin, black pepper, parsley, dill, celery, sesame seeds, and coriander.
There are extreme traditions in Kazakh cuisine that may even shock you. For example, Kazakhs use all the parts of sheep, like brains, eyeballs, tail, and head. By the way, koi bas (sheep head) is a delicacy served to a very special guest. Traditionally, a guest cuts out a piece of meat from the cheek and left ear and passes the head to the host. Before and after meal tea or kumys is served.
Kazakhstan National Dishes: Most popular dishes
One of the most common Kazakh dishes is boiled meat be it horse meat or mutton. Large uncut pieces are cooked, then served on the table. Traditionally the host cuts the pieces and treats guests.
The most popular national dish that is served now in all national restaurants is besbarmak. The name of the dish means “five fingers” and it literally describes the way it should be eaten. Besbarmak is made of horse meat or beef. Thin slices of paste are added to boiling broth, it is served on lyagan (large dish) with onions and herbs.
Another popular meat dish is kazy. It is made of intestines stuffed with small pieces of horse meat. When the sausages are ready, they are hung to dry. Such sausage can be kept for months, jerked, smoked or boiled. Shuzhyk is a similar dish made with horseflesh and intestines. The only difference is that fat is mixed with meat.
Lagman, partly borrowed from Chinese cuisine is made of noodles, eggs, sauce with meat and veggies and spices.
Baursaki is medium or small doughnuts that are dressed with honey and served with tea. Kurt looks like white doughnuts but it is made of yoghurt cheese. It is salty and sour - perfect to store for months.
A popular sweet treat that is a must-try is chak chak. Rice krispie is made of fresh noodles fried and dressed with honey. It may be decorated with nuts.
For true emotions and unforgettable memories, you can take part in cooking tours with cooking classes and degustation of Kazakh dishes. The tours take place in the mountains, in the yurts of nomads.
Most meat dishes look not as much delicious as they really are. This is why today traditional restaurants of Kazakhstan are working on presenting national cuisine in a new more attractive way. Check out top popular national restaurants in Astana and Almaty where all traditional dishes are served.
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