Central Asian food is one of the most interesting (and tasty!) things about travelling there. While many of the world’s dishes can now be found in chain restaurants, the cuisine of this region is yet to discover international fame. We put together our top 5 dishes to try when you’re travelling in the ‘Stans!
It would be madness to travel in Central Asia and not try beshbarmak, it’s delicious and you’re likely to see variants of it being eaten in all of the nations. If you’re picking one nation to try it in then it has to be Kazakhstan – it’s considered to be the national dish and something the Kazakh people take great pride in serving.
Beshbarmak is comprised of finely chopped boiled meat and is normally served with either noodles or flat dumplings, along with an oniony sauce. The name translates to “five fingers” as it was originally eaten by hand. You’re welcome to still try that now but you’re likely to get a bit messy!
While the Kazakh’s love their beshbarmak, the Uzbek’s love their plov. Plov is so important to the Uzbek people that it is officially listed by UNESCO as part of their cultural heritage.
Think of this as a Central Asian risotto. You’ll find different variants of it across different regions but the basis of the dish is rice topped with meat (normally beef or mutton) then covered with a layer of onions and raisins. Different restaurants (and different family homes) will have their own takes on the dish with other variants containing ingredients such as quail’s eggs, sausages, and different fruit. Getting some plov at a street food market is great way to see the impressive scale it is cooked on (often in huge cauldrons) plus you’ll have more choice on how you like your plov!
Central Asia is a bread loving region and the best bread you can get is tandyr nan. Tandyr refers to the fire oven used to cook the bread and adds the extra special Central Asian touch. Bread will be served in markets and restaurants alike.
Laghman is a great go-to food if you’re looking for something slightly less alien to what you’re used to. It’s pretty common across the ‘Stans and is made of thick noodles, often in a broth, with many variants in terms of ingredients. For example, peppers and radish would be a vegetarian option while mutton and onions is there for the meat lovers!
Manti is a broad term used to describe a type of dumpling that is eaten from Turkey to Russia. Central Asian manti are most broadly characterised by the dumplings’ larger size. With this dish, it’s easiest to stick to tradition and eat them with your hands. (Just think of it as a dumpling burger!) If you are in Uzbekistan and are dismayed that restaurants don’t seem to be serving them, they might be referred to as kaskoni.
The dumplings are normally stuffed with mincemeat and onions and served along with vinegar and sour cream. For all the veggies out there, you’ll be pleased to hear you can also find variants of the dumplings stuffed with pumpkin or potato. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan you’ll often see them being served as street food where you’ll be likely to get a nice sprinkling of chili powder on them!