Many Americans might find its name strange to look at or hard to pronounce, but Kyrgyzstan is filled with picturesque canyons, glaciers, lakes, and mountains, as well as unique cuisine. The country is located on the historic Silk Road in Central Asia, and it gained its independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union’s collapse. For the next 20 years, Kyrgyzstan explored its identity as an independent country by way of political, social, and economic confusion, but after 2010, it became the first parliamentary Republic in Central Asia, according to the United Nations. It’s a low-income country with many problems akin to developing countries, but the country is relatively on track in terms of extreme poverty reduction, basic secondary education access, and access to better water sources.
Kyrgyzstan was influenced cuisine-wise by the Silk Road and travelers bringing rice and spices, as well as by the Russians while it was under Soviet rule. Pelmani (meat dumplings), peroshki (vegetables, rice, and meat cooked in dough), and borsch (beet soup) are all still popular in the country. International influences in recent years include new global cuisine restaurants, including Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Turkish. Mutton is one of the most popular meats in Kyrgyzstan, and the Kyrgyz usually use every part of the sheep. Horsemeat is sometimes eaten for special occasions. Fresh fish from the country’s expansive lakes are also popular.
Favorite dishes include beshbarmak, or noodles topped with boiled mutton and slightly spicy sauce; samsi, or baked meat dumplings; and plov, or a rice dish cooked in a large open pot called a kazan and mixed with boiled or fried meat, carrots, onions, raisins, and other ingredients. Cuisine in Kyrgyzstan is unique, and some of the most popular recipes are worth trying, even if you’ve never heard of them before.
If you’re invited to dine at someone’s house in Kyrgyzstan, make sure to bring the host a gift, such as local sweets or vodka. Don’t forget to take off your shoes at the door.