Historically, Kazakhstan has got a lot of cultural ties that are remarkably influencing over people’s gastronomic preferences.
Since Kazakhstan is a multinational state (Kazakhs, Russians, Greeks, Tatars, Uyghurs, Koreans, Germans, and many other nationalities live together so peacefully and harmoniously), various cuisines of the world are presented here extensively. Contrary to popular belief, gastronomic predilections are not limited to traditional Kazakh food or Oriental food. That’s why in any city of this huge country there are many cafes, restaurants, and other dining places where you can try dishes popular in various and remote parts of the world. Russian, European, Oriental, Asian, Pan-Asian, and even American cuisine – however, strictly well-defined or gourmet taste preferences you have, there you will definitely find something suitable for you. Clearly, a “cherry on top” of this gastronomic variety is traditional Kazakh food that conveys national flavour of the steppe to the full.
It is worth to start with Russian national cuisine, as due to several centuries of tight cultural interaction between two states, it had taken deep root in every day’s local life. Because of its simplicity and nutritiousness, Russian food is a big part of daily meal of every Kazakhstani citizen. Moreover, Russian dishes are widely served in many restaurants where these are prepared in accordance with age-old traditions and old recipes with the addition of original ingredients.
What are these dishes and what is possible to try in Kazakhstan?
The way of life and geographical location played an important role in shaping daily meal in ancient Russia: mushrooms, fish, various grains, vegetables and meat were stewed, baked, simmered in jugs placed in huge stove right in the middle of izba (national Russian wooden house):
- Like in any national cuisine, a meal is served in several courses. The first course is a traditional Russian soup – borsch (beetroot-cabbage soup), ukha (fish soup), shchi (vegetable soup), rassolnik (meat/fish soup with pickled cucumbers) – rich and fragrant, based on triple broth, served with a sour cream and a piece of fresh bread. The second course are, usually, pelmeni (meat dumplings), cow-heel, flesh of pike, stewed sturgeon, famous Russian meat pies and mushrooms pies.
- Of course, we can’t do without desserts and delicacies. Hardly anybody could resist soft lacy bliny (pancakes with honey, jam, red or black caviar), sweet kalach (sweet soft white bread), pryaniki (cookies in crispy syrup), pastila (colourful fruit and berries paste), and baked berries and fruits.
- Traditional Russian drinks are equally tasty: refreshing kwas (mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented rye bread), spicy and hot sbeeten (mulled honey drink), fragrant mors (fruit or berry drink) with light sour taste, and spirit-lifting medovukha (or honey wine).
After such meal you can’t be bothered doing anything, but just sitting and having a slow talk, enjoying your feeling of fullness and satisfaction from tasty dishes.
Considering European Cuisine in Kazakhstan, we can definitely say, that it has become quite popular and demanded by local people long time ago. Almost every third dining place concentrates on cuisines of such European countries as Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, England, Italy, and France. Of course, a menu is usually consists of dishes that are in comply with firmly established taste preferences of Kazakh people so they could accept and appreciate offered gastronomic specialties.
Which European dishes is it possible to try in the centre of Eurasia?
Dishes that come to our mind in the first instance have become quite banal like, for example, French-style meat, Italian pizza and pasta, Greek salad, and many other dishes that are served in any restaurant of the world. But the restaurant industry in Kazakhstan is rapidly developing so, in order to stir up interest of demanding folks, chefs are always entering new dishes in menus, broadening the range of dishes and improving menus in aspiration to comply with European standard. And, we must admit, they have succeeded in this!
- In cozy Italian restaurants you will be offered bruschetta (grilled bread rubbed with garlic and usually topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper) with various fillings, delicious types of cheese and antipasto (cold and hot appetizers), great variety of pasta (from Carbonara to Fettuccine), risotto (rice dish with the addition of broth), ravioli (dumplings usually served with a pasta sauce), pizza on thin dough, beef ossobuco (cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth), and many other traditional dishes.
- In order to learn French cuisine in Kazakh interpretation, you should try such dishes, like quiche (incredibly tasty open-faced tart with bacon eggs and cheese), onion soup, ratatouille (a vegetable stew), tartiflette (gratin with potatoes, cheese, cream and pork), salad Nicoise (various ingredients, but always with black olives and tuna), Savoy fondue (made with cheese and white wine into which cubes of bread are dipped), delicious desserts: blancmange (made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin, corn starch, flavoured with almonds), eclaire (oblong pastry filled with cream and topped with chocolate icing), crepes Suzette (pancakes with Suzette sauce: caramelized sugar and butter, orange juice, zest, liqueur).
- Popular dishes of British cuisine: Beef Wellington (beef cooked in a pastry crust), English Shepherd’s pie (a meat pie with a crust or topping of mashed potato), pork rump steak, beef steak, Lancashire mutton, and also many delicious desserts – crumble (stewed fruit topped with a crumbly mixture of butter, flour, and sugar), cheesecake, Yorkshire pudding (soufflé batter baked in very hot oven), trifle (cold dessert with varied ingredients) and lemon curd.
- German cuisine is also quite popular among Kazakhstani people – a roll from duck meat, schnitzel (meat thinned by pounding with meat tenderizer and fried in oil), various types of meat sausages (bratwurst, bockwurst, weisswurst, currywurst), Eisbein (ham hock with vegetables), salmon or carp in various sauces, Alsatian apple pie, strudel (layered pastry with, usually, sweet filling), and many other dishes.
- Uzbek cuisine – one of the most popular and favourite food on the territory of Kazakhstan. Bright variety of rich and delicious dishes is the best explanation of this fact. In local restaurants you may try: all sorts of fried/baked pastry with meat – belyash, cheburek, samsa; dolma (chopped mutton with spices rolled in vine leaves); chuchvara (Uzbek dumplings); mampar (soup with doughboys); bedana kabob (barbecued quails), and many more. The favourite dish in Kazakhstan is traditional Uzbek plov (fried meat with rice, carrots and Uzbek spices).
- Georgian cuisine is also at high demand, especially among those who love baked food and delicious cheeses. You should definitely try khachapuri (suluguni cheese-filled bread, sometimes with eggs and other ingredients), pkhali (paste made of vegetables and pureed walnut sauce), lobio (mashed red beans with spices), satsivi (meat in walnut sauce), chakhokhbili (tomato based soup with poultry meat), rich and fragrant beef soup kharcho (beef, tomatoes, herbs and walnuts), delicious khinkali (dumplings filled with meat, potatoes or cottage cheese), meat with satsebeli hot sauce (made of tomato paste, cilantro, garlic, vinegar, pepper, khmeli suneli set of spices) and tsitsila tapaka (fried chicken).
- Uyghur cuisine brings joy with its huge portions and pure rich taste of various dishes: sai (a stir-fried topping made from mutton and vegetables with spices), sambusa (small lamb pies baked in a special brick oven), ganfan (rice with sai topping), kawap (grilled meat), chushurya (Uyghur dumplings), dapandji (type of chicken stew), lagman or leghmen (noodles with sai topping).
- On top all of these dishes Kazakhstani people like tasty tea accompanied with sweet dessert very much, that’s why Turkish cuisine has also ideally fitted into local gastronomic mentality. Almost everywhere you can try delicious Turkish desserts like sherbet, pakhlava, or rakhat-lukum; all of these have distinctive and memorable taste due to a lot of nuts, honey, dried apricots and fruit juice in their composition.
On top all of these, there are quite exotic dishes of Dutch, Austrian, Irish, and Czech cuisines in the menus of many restaurants; not a great choice but still there is something to choose from. Historically, European cuisine has become popular since Russian Empire epoch, when European scientists and merchants were travelling to Kazakh steppes as part of expeditions. Globalization has also played its role; owing to globalization daily meal of average Kazakhstani citizen contains dishes originated from Europe.
Oriental Cuisine: Pan-Asian and Turkic dishes
Long before that, dining places serving Oriental cuisine won popularity in Kazakhstan due to similarity of taste preferences; especially taking into account incredible variety of meat dishes and delicious desserts presented in Oriental cuisine. It can be divided into two large groups – Pan-Asian and Turkic. The first group includes very popular Chinese, Korean and Japanese dining places.
Rolls, sushi, sweet meat and hot spices
Exactly these dishes Kazakhstani people associate with Pan-Asian cuisine. Korean and Chinese food is in great request among those who like spicy, unusual, and at the same time light for stomach dishes. Rice, meat, noodles, vegetables, seafood are basic ingredients of many traditional dishes but in certain proportions, so as the meal in the end does not cause feeling of weight in stomach. Spicy taste and rich flavour of spices, that Pan-Asian cuisine is so much loved for, are created by combinations of sesame seed oil, olive or rape seed oil with various fragrant spices, garlic, ginger powder and soya sauce.
In Korean restaurants in Kazakhstan you will try true taste of traditional dishes and appetizers, because such places are often owned by ethnical Koreans who have saved ancient recipes and supply all necessary ingredients directly from South Korea. Ethnical Koreans appeared on the territory of Kazakhstan due to cruel Far Eastern policy of USSR when around one hundred thousand Koreans had been deported to Kazakhstan and, literally, left there to the mercy of fate. Local people helped poor and shocked deportees to survive in cold steppes; that is how Koreans started settling down on the territory of Kazakhstan.
Getting back to the food subject, it should not go unmentioned that Korean cuisine, which is quite popular and widespread in post-Soviet countries, however, differs from the food people used to eat in modern South Korea. Here, local restaurants replace many specific ingredients with food products available at local markets and common to local population (various types of sea grass and some types of fish and seafood); and recipes are adjusted in such way so as not to shock Kazakhstani people who are not used to hot spicy food. Despite this fact, people love Korean food and enjoy cooking it. Especially, they like hot meat dishes like pulgogi (grilled marinated beef), jokbal (pig’s feet served with red salted shrimp sauce), galbi (marinated beef), galbitang (soup made from beef rib), gamjatang (soup made with pork spine), samgyetang (chicken soup), seolleongtang (ox bone soup), Korean grill, samgyeopsal (pork strips), and many more.
Traditional Japanese food is also quite popular here – sushi (fresh or fermented fish/seafood with rice), rolls (rice and other ingredients are covered with nori stripes – black sea grass), nigiri-sushi (bite-sized vinegared rice topped with sliced fresh seafood), gunkan (rice and fish covered with nori stripes), sashimi (raw thinly sliced fish or shellfish), yakitori (barbecued chicken skewers), tempura (deep-fried vegetables or seafood), different types of noodles (ramen – Chinese-style wheat noodles; udon – wheat noodles; and soba – buckwheat noodles). It is believed, that the way these dishes served and their well-balanced composition create atmosphere of harmony and peacefulness so one can enjoy the meal. Only fresh ingredients of the highest quality are used for cooking: seafood, rice, sea grass, vegetables, sometimes beef and chicken. Kazakhstani chefs have excellently adopted Japanese best cooking practices – many sushi bars and restaurants serve various specific dishes; some restaurants even invited chefs directly from Japan.
This is all an indicator and a result of historical closeness between Kazakhstan and Oriental countries that have got common trade and political ties since ancient times. Many countries of modern Asia were connected with Kazakhstan owing to the Great Silk Road so Pan-Asian dishes had already arrived in Kazakh steppes at those times.
Traditional cuisine of many Oriental nationalities (including Turkic) is closely related to traditional Kazakh cuisine, and this fact is reflected in many dishes of modern Kazakhstan. Main peculiarity that made Kazakh food famous and recognized all over the world, is that it can satiate you for long hours ahead. The food mainly consists of meat, milk, grains. Also baking has always been an important feature of Oriental cuisine and a decoration of any celebration – local people love it and can prepare it in due order.
Kazakhstani people are used to the term “Oriental Cuisine” and unite several different directions under this term; among these there are Asian (Uzbek, Tatar, Uyghur) and Caucasus (Georgian and Armenian) cuisines. Sometimes, you can meet even dishes from Balkan States, for example, Turkish food. Similar approach in handling and preparation of meat and dairy products brings these cuisines together, as well as plentifulness of meat-pasta dishes.
In order to summarize the talk, we can say that this wonderful country has got a lot of cultural ties since ancient times, and that fact remarkably influenced over gastronomic preferences of its population. Almost each cuisine, from European food to Pan-Asian seafood, is represented in Kazakhstan where various cultures, peoples, traditions met in one place.