I have recently taken on a new job. Maybe you have noticed – the blog, and my Instagram account, has an increasing number of references to countries in Central Asia. It’s quite exciting actually. My new job is taking me places: to the shores of Lake Caucasus, ancient cities along the silk road and far away business hubs, that I before did not know existed. I have been truly amazed and blown away by these cultures, and what treasures lie behind previously closed borders. As my trips are for business only, I haven’t had much time to explore. But my lovely colleagues have every time made sure, that I get at least a small taste of local culture. This week, I was visiting Almaty – business hub and former capital city of Kazakhstan.
Before talking about the actual cuisine in Kazakhstan, it’s good to mention something about the history. Kazakhs are descendants of the Turkic and medieval Mongol tribes, Nomads, who who live in different locations, moving from one place to another in search of, fruit, vegetables, game and grasslands for their animals. Horses were an important part of this way of living, and remains a national animal in many of these countries.
Kazakh cuisine is traditionally focused on mutton and horse meat, as well as various milk products. Camel meat is also a kind of festive meat, but not the main as camels in Kazakhstan are not as common as horses. The preparation of foods is focused on long preservation (to withstand long journeys). Traditional drinks are horses milk and camels milk, that are said to be good for the heart, as well as tea.
For an introduction to local cuisine, my colleagues took me to Kok Tobe, which translates to Blue Hill. It is a small amusement park on top of a hill, which can be accessed by cable car. There are some rides for kids, Ferris wheel and a panoramic restaurant with view over Almaty. The weather was sunny and warm, so we decided to eat on the terrace.
The traditional meal started with a kind of fruit tea that tastes like oranges, accompanied with dried horses meat, fresh vegetables and Tokash, a kind of tandoor bread. The starters were followed by Manti, fried dumplings with a kind of spiced meatmixture inside. For the main, we had Beshbarmak, boiled horse meat with fresh onion and fried potatoes. Instead of potatoes, it can also be served with noodles or a kind of boiled potato pancake. Beshbarmak means “five fingers”, because nomads used to eat this dish with their hands. After the meal, there was absolutely no space for dessert, however, I read up that the most common dessert in Kazakhstan is Baursak, which are types of fried dough that can to some extent be compared with doughnuts.
The local cuisine is very heavy and hearty (and fatty), which I can understand. It is perfect for surviving long distances as well as a cold winter, just like Swedish and Finnish cuisines. And I can confirm that this actually works, as after this lunch, I did not need any more food for the rest of the day.