Traditional Kyrgyz Food Guide: What to Eat and Drink In Kyrgyzstan

Often when I travel to a new country I have the opportunity to sample the local cuisine in some way, shape or form prior to arrival. Before heading to South Korea for the first time I had bibimbap, samgyeopsal and tteokbokki numerous times in Canada. Prior to visiting Vietnam I already had slurped countless bowls of pho in Vietnamese restaurants all over the world. But how about Kyrgyz food?

However, on our recent trip to Kyrgyzstan to cover the World Nomad Games, I arrived not knowing anything about Kyrgyz cuisine. Hence, In many ways this was refreshing.

Traditional Kyrgyz Food

Traditional Kyrgyz food is meat intensive with beef, mutton and horse meat being staples. Along with numerous types of dairy products. Cooking techniques can be traced back to the nation’s nomadic way of life.

Geographically located in the heart of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan historically featured three major routes of the Silk Road. Furthermore, gaining influence from cuisine from nearby neighbors such as China and present day Kazakhstan.

Here is an overhead shot of the various kinds of breads and jams you have at a typical Kyrgyz meal
Here is an overhead shot of the various kinds of breads and jams you have at a typical Kyrgyz meal

We were fortunate enough to spend a considerable amount of time gallivanting across the country visiting remote yurts in the countryside. And sampling some of the most popular dishes in restaurants in Bishkek.

The following is an introduction to traditional Kyrgyz cuisine featuring some must-try dishes.

Krygyz traditional food prepared in a yurt prior to the main dishes arriving
Krygyz traditional food prepared in a yurt prior to the main dishes arriving

Paloo or Plov – Staple Rice Dish

Paloo (палоо) is a rice dish typically featuring garlic, chives, shredded carrots, hot peppers and various other vegetables. Along with pieces of meat (chicken, mutton, beef) fried together in a massive qazan (cast-iron cauldron).

Here is plov being prepared in a massive cauldron during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Here is plov being prepared in a massive cauldron during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Plov, is a staple dish in Central Asian cuisine and every country in the region has its own unique way of preparing it. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to sample it numerous times. My favourite experience was having paloo. It was prepared right before my eyes during the World Nomad Games.

It was one dish I instantly fell in love with and if you’re generally a fan of Chinese-style fried rice you’ll likely find this to be amicable to your taste-buds.

Lagman – Kyrgyz Noodles

My favorite meal in Kyrgystan was Lagman (лағмон). This very popular noodle dishes can served fried or in a soup. I ate it more than any other dish during our three week stay in the country. This dish features thick noodles covered in chopped peppers and various other kinds of vegetables, all coated in a spicy vinegar-base sauce.

Considered an Uyghur dish with Chinese roots lagman is a staple dish you’ll find in most Kyrgyz restaurants. Try it in a soup and fried and let me know which one you prefer. I like both but when push comes to shove I prefer it fried.

Manti – Steamed Dumplings

The first Kyrgyz food I tried upon arrival in Bishkek was Manti (манты). These steamed dumplings can be stuffed with pumpkin, lamb, beef or potatoes, and they reminded me of Korean mandu and Tibetan momo.

They’re typically served as a side dish as opposed to being a main dish, but whenever they were in front of me I kept popping them in one after the other. If I had to recommend one kind, I’d say try the pumpkin ones.

Samsa – Kyrgyz Dumplings

Have you ever tried samosas before? If so, you’ll find Samsa, a Central Asian staple, to be quite similar. These baked pockets consist of layered pastry dough and are often stuffed with lamb, cheese, chicken, beef, potato or pumpkin.

They’re typical Kyrgyz hot street snacks at bazaars and I found myself devouring them at road-stop eateries.  They were the perfect snack anytime I felt peckish in between meals.

Shashlik – Skewered Meat

If you’re a fan of grilled skewered chunks of meat Shashlik is must-try dish when visiting Kyrgyzstan. Although it can be made from chicken, beef or fish the most common kind (and one I’d recommend the most) is skewered chunks of mutton.

Sold on the street or served in restaurants it is very similar to shish kebab. One particular memory I have of eating Shashlik was with a group of friends. It tasted so good that almost all of us ended up ordering a second portion of it. Hurray for Kyrgyz food!

Kymyz – Milky Traditional Drink

You know a drink is of utmost importance to a culture when the capital city (Bishkek) of your country is named after the paddle used to churn it! Kymyz (кымыз), a slightly alcoholic drink made from fermented mare’s milk might be an acquired taste for most foreigners sampling it for the first time.

Audrey and I never quite warmed up to it but some other people traveling in our circle liked it instantly. As a fun fact, prior to fermentation mare’s milk has a whopping 40% more lactose than what you’d find in cow’s milk.

Tea plays a very important role in any kind of meal you'll have in Krygyzstan
Tea plays a very important role in any kind of meal you’ll have in Krygyzstan

Tea with Boorsoq

One of the highlights of my trip to Kyrgyzstan was having the opportunity to eat many meals inside of a yurt, especially tea time. Boorsoq, a popular fried dough bread, is typically dipped in jams, honey or butter and served with black tea.

Kyrgyz hospitality is beyond generous and you’ll find your cup of tea being refilled constantly by an ever attentive host.

Now it is your turn. Have you tried Kyrgyz food before and/or do any of these dishes leave you intrigued to try them for the first time? Let me know in the comments section below.

Food is being prepared at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Food is being prepared at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

History of Kyrgyz Cuisine

Kyrgyz cuisine is steeped in history and tradition, representing the country’s rich cultural heritage. With influences from China, Russia, and Central Asia, Kyrgyz cuisine is a unique fusion of flavors and techniques that has been perfected over centuries.

At its core, Kyrgyz cuisine is based on the principles of nomadic life. Traditional Kyrgyz dishes use ingredients that were readily available on the grasslands and mountains where the nomads lived. Meat, particularly lamb, is a staple of the Kyrgyz diet and is often prepared in a variety of ways, including grilled, boiled, and stewed.

Another important aspect of Kyrgyz cuisine is dairy products. The Kyrgyz people have a long history of raising animals for their milk, cheese, and butter. Kumis, a fermented mare’s milk, is a traditional Kyrgyz beverage that is still popular today.

Bread is also a key component of Kyrgyz cuisine. Flatbreads and sourdough breads are commonly made in Kyrgyz households and are often served with meat and dairy dishes.

In recent years, Kyrgyz cuisine has gained international attention for its unique and flavorful dishes. Popular dishes include beshbarmak, a hearty stew made with lamb, noodles, and onions, and lagman, a noodle soup with vegetables and meat.

Overall, the history of Kyrgyz cuisine is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Kyrgyz people. It is a cuisine that has evolved over time, but has always remained true to its nomadic roots.

Kyrgyzstan Traditional Noodles Worth Trying For Visitors Wanting To Experience Kyrgyz Cuisine

Complete List of Kyrgyz Foods To Try!

  1. Beshbarmak – a traditional Kyrgyz dish made with boiled meat (lamb or beef) and thin noodles.
  2. Lagman – a spicy noodle soup with meat and vegetables.
  3. Manti – steamed dumplings stuffed with meat and onions.
  4. Kuurdak – a dish of fried meat (lamb or beef) with potatoes and onions.
  5. Shashlik – marinated and grilled meat (lamb or beef) on skewers.
  6. Samsa – a savory pastry filled with meat, onions, and potatoes.
  7. Oromo – a stuffed flatbread filled with meat, onions, and potatoes.
  8. Chuchuk – a dried sausage made from horse meat and fat.
  9. Kazy – a smoked sausage made from horse meat.
  10. Shubat – a fermented camel milk drink.
  11. Ayran – a salty yogurt drink.
  12. Kumis – a fermented mare’s milk drink.
  13. Jarma – a thick soup made from fermented wheat.
  14. Ashlyanfu – a cold noodle dish with vinegar, chili, and vegetables.
  15. Shorpo – a meat and vegetable soup.
  16. Pilaf – a dish of rice, meat, and vegetables cooked in a broth.
  17. Sary Gaty – a sweet bread with raisins and walnuts.
  18. Gyuvech – a baked dish with meat, vegetables, and spices.
  19. Kurut – dried balls of sour yogurt.
  20. Osh – a soup made with rice, meat, and vegetables.
  21. Achik-Chuchuk – a salad of tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
  22. Pirozhki – small baked or fried pastries with meat, potato, or cheese filling.
  23. Baursak – fried dough balls served as a snack or dessert.
  24. Boorsok – deep-fried bread dough.
  25. Jent – a pastry filled with meat, onions, and potatoes.
  26. Kattama – a flatbread stuffed with meat and onions.
  27. Kymyz – fermented mare’s milk.
  28. Kompot – a sweet fruit drink.
  29. Chak-Chak – a sweet pastry made with honey and nuts.
  30. Kuzh Tava – a fried liver dish.
  31. Kharsho – a dish of boiled sheep’s head and feet.
  32. Tash-Ma-Tash – a dish of fried meat, onions, and potatoes.
  33. Somsa – a fried pastry filled with meat and onions.
  34. Shubat – a fermented camel milk drink.
  35. Airan – a salty yogurt drink.
  36. Borsok – deep-fried dough served as a snack or dessert.
  37. Chuchuk – a dried sausage made from horse meat and fat.
  38. Jarma – a thick soup made from fermented wheat.
  39. Kazy – a smoked sausage made from horse meat.
  40. Kyrgyz bread – a traditional flatbread made with wheat flour.
  41. Kurutob – a dish of bread soaked in a yogurt sauce with onions and tomatoes.
  42. Kitchi – a sweet rice pudding with raisins and walnuts.
  43. Kyrgyz honey – a sweet, natural product made by local beekeepers.
  44. Tuzuk-Tu – a boiled sheep’s head and feet dish.
  45. Balik – cured fish, typically from the Issyk-Kul Lake.
  46. Suu Chai – traditional Kyrgyz tea made with milk and salt.
  47. Samarkand tea – a traditional green tea.
  48. Arpa Chai – a traditional barley tea.
  49. Maksym – a refreshing drink made from fermented grains and honey

Learning How To Make Kyrgyz Noodles Handmade At A Cooking Class in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Food Tours And Cooking Classes

If you’re a foodie and love to explore the culinary delights of different cultures, Kyrgyzstan is the perfect destination for you. With its unique blend of Central Asian and nomadic influences, Kyrgyz cuisine is a treasure trove of exotic flavors and delicious dishes.

To fully immerse yourself in the Kyrgyz food scene, you can join one of the many food tours or cooking classes available throughout the country. These tours offer an opportunity to explore local markets, taste traditional dishes, and learn how to prepare them.

One popular food tour is the Bishkek Bites Food Tour in the capital city of Bishkek. This tour takes you on a journey through the city’s vibrant food scene, sampling dishes like lagman (a noodle soup), plov (a rice dish with meat and vegetables), and samsa (a savory pastry). You’ll also get to visit local markets and try out traditional Kyrgyz snacks like boorsok (fried bread) and kurut (dried yogurt balls).

For a more hands-on experience, you can take a cooking class at a yurt camp in the countryside. Here, you’ll learn to cook traditional Kyrgyz dishes like manty (dumplings filled with meat and vegetables), shashlyk (grilled meat skewers), and beshbarmak (a noodle dish with meat and onion sauce). You’ll get to use fresh, locally sourced ingredients and learn the secrets of Kyrgyz cooking from experienced chefs.

Another option is to join a nomadic food tour, where you’ll travel through the stunning Kyrgyz landscape and learn about the food and culture of the country’s nomadic tribes. These tours offer a unique opportunity to see how traditional Kyrgyz dishes are prepared using local ingredients and techniques.

No matter which food tour or cooking class you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable culinary experience in Kyrgyzstan. From the hearty meat dishes to the delicate pastries and refreshing beverages, the flavors of Kyrgyz cuisine will leave you wanting more.

Kyrgyz Plov mixed rice dish is must try cuisine in Kyrgyzstan as we experienced it at a luxury yurt camp

Tips for Experiencing Kyrgyz Food Firsthand

Local Markets:

Stepping into Kyrgyzstan’s local markets provides an authentic immersion into the nation’s culinary heart. These ‘bazars’ are a mélange of sights, sounds, and scents, presenting a vibrant tapestry of the nation’s food culture.

  • Osh Bazaar in Bishkek: Located in the capital city, Osh Bazaar is an expansive marketplace that acts as a culinary compass for visitors. You can witness a plethora of fresh produce ranging from juicy melons in summer to hearty root vegetables in winter. National delicacies, such as ‘kurut’, are available in abundance. Stallholders might even offer a taste. The market also has a vast array of spices, essential for Kyrgyz cooking. The fresh bread section is a treat to the senses, with the aroma of ‘tandoor nan’ being baked filling the air.
  • Navigating the Markets: While exciting, the sprawling nature of these bazars can be daunting. To ensure a holistic experience, consider visiting in the early morning when the produce is freshest and crowds are thinner. If possible, accompanying a local will provide a richer understanding, guiding you through the intricate lanes and introducing you to hidden gems.

Traditional Dining:

To truly understand Kyrgyz cuisine, one must delve deep into its communal dining culture. Meals are not merely sustenance; they are cherished moments of shared joy.

  • Dastarkhan: Central to Kyrgyz dining is the concept of ‘Dastarkhan’. A large cloth or mat spread either on a table or directly on the ground acts as the serving space. The arrangement signifies unity, hospitality, and the shared joy of a meal. Dishes are placed centrally, allowing everyone to partake.
  • Beshbarmak Ceremony: This dish, whose name translates to ‘five fingers’, due to its traditional consumption using hands, is a testament to Kyrgyz hospitality. As a guest, being invited to such a feast is an honor. Special attention is given to elders, reflecting the society’s respect for age and wisdom.

Festivals and Celebrations:

Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant festival scene offers a delightful culinary journey, presenting traditional dishes crafted for celebration.

  • Nowruz: Marking the advent of spring, Nowruz is a time of renewal. Culinary delights like ‘sumolok’, a sweet porridge made from germinated wheat grains, dominate the tables. Communities often come together, sharing meals and rejoicing in the season’s freshness.
  • Horse Festivals: Given the intrinsic link between the Kyrgyz people and their equestrian heritage, horse festivals are prominent. Here, amidst the excitement of horse races and games, one can sample ‘kumys’, a drink that showcases the deep-rooted bond between the Kyrgyz and their horses.


When delving into Kyrgyz culinary experiences, understanding and respecting local etiquette is crucial.

  • Greetings: A warm handshake often accompanies greetings. When invited into a home, it’s traditional and courteous to bring along a small gift, like fruits or sweets, as a token of appreciation.
  • Sitting Posture: If the setting is traditional, you might find yourself seated on the floor. Ensure your feet aren’t directed towards the food or individuals. It’s best to sit cross-legged.
  • Eating: Kyrgyz dining places immense respect on elders. It’s customary to wait for the eldest member to initiate the meal. If presented with a dish, even if unfamiliar, it’s polite to at least sample it, showcasing your appreciation for the host’s effort.
  • Tipping: In cities, as global customs seep in, tipping is becoming more prevalent. While not obligatory in more traditional eateries or homes, in urban restaurants, a tip of 10-15% signals appreciation for the service.

Immersing oneself in Kyrgyzstan’s culinary world is not merely about tasting food; it’s about understanding a culture, a history, and a way of life that celebrates community, hospitality, and the sheer joy of sharing.

Kyrgyz fried noodles with meat as a spicy dish worth trying in Kyrgyzstan

Where To Eat Traditional Food in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a country with a rich culinary tradition, featuring a wide array of dishes that blend Central Asian, Russian, and Chinese influences. From hearty meat dishes to delicious flatbreads and refreshing dairy-based drinks, there is something to satisfy every palate. If you’re traveling to Kyrgyzstan and want to experience the country’s traditional food scene, here are some places to consider:

  1. Supara Ethno-Complex: Located in the heart of Bishkek, Supara Ethno-Complex offers a stunning view of the Ala-Too mountains and serves traditional Kyrgyz dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant also offers cooking classes for those interested in learning more about Kyrgyz cuisine.
  2. Navat: Navat is a restaurant in Bishkek that specializes in Central Asian cuisine, including Kyrgyz dishes like laghman (hand-pulled noodles with meat and vegetables) and manti (steamed dumplings).
  3. Faiza: Faiza is a popular restaurant chain with locations in Bishkek and other cities across Kyrgyzstan. The menu features a mix of Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek dishes, and the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
  4. Arzu: Arzu is a restaurant in Karakol that offers a wide range of Kyrgyz and Russian dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
  5. Jibek Jolu: Jibek Jolu is a cozy restaurant in Bishkek that serves traditional Kyrgyz food like beshbarmak (noodles with meat and onion sauce) and plov (rice pilaf with meat and vegetables).
  6. Kebab House: Kebab House is a popular fast food chain in Kyrgyzstan that specializes in shashlik (grilled meat skewers) and other grilled dishes.
  7. Ashlyan-fu: Ashlyan-fu is a refreshing cold noodle soup that is a popular street food in Kyrgyzstan. You can find it in markets and street stalls throughout the country.
  8. Boorsok: Boorsok is a fried bread that is a staple of Kyrgyz cuisine. It is often served as a snack or side dish with tea.
  9. Kumis: Kumis is a fermented drink made from mare’s milk that is a traditional beverage in Kyrgyzstan. It has a slightly sour taste and is often served chilled.
  10. Chak-chak: Chak-chak is a sweet dessert made from fried dough balls that are coated in honey syrup. It is often served during celebrations and special occasions.

Overall, Kyrgyzstan offers a rich and diverse culinary scene that is worth exploring. From hearty meat dishes to refreshing dairy-based drinks, there is something to satisfy every taste bud. Don’t hesitate to indulge in the delicious and traditional food of Kyrgyzstan during your visit!

This trip was made possible with the support of Discover Kyrgyzstan and USAID. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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  1. says: Natalie

    I absolutely love hot black tea and I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it than while enjoying an adventure! How was it served? Special cups – like Turkey has a certain shape of glass without handles for tea… Was it flavored (like the mint tea from Morocco) or served with a sweetener? If I get the chance….tea is my all time favorite souvenir to bring back. A hot cup of tea from vacation brings wonderful memories. 😉

    I read posts like this with wonderful food and wonder about my kids…one will try unusual things but the other has a really hard time with it. I wonder if we could find enough plain bread to keep them from starving on a trip like this? We might need to wait until they are a little older and receptive to the unusual like horse meat…. In the meantime, I’ll daydream with posts like this one!

  2. says: Prithvi Vashisht

    Interesting post, visiting destinations and looking for delicious food is my favorite thing to do. I do want to try Kymyz and Tea with boorsoq. Thanks for sharing

  3. Nice post! Quick question. How much do you weigh, Samuel? Haha…no need to answer! Wow…it is truly amazing to see you around so much delicious food and still not put on too much weight. The dish Paloo looks quite similar to an Indian (Mughal) dish called “Biryani”. Biryani, however, has large portions of chicken or meat.