The Kazakh national cuisine is not just an essential characteristic of the daily life, but it, embodies its inherent hospitality, traditions and elements of nomadic culture. A natural question immediately arises for any person: how can simple food fulfill so many important roles? Looking ahead, we will answer this and so much more - it could not be otherwise, because it absorbed all key aspects of the life of nomads.
Do not forget that the Kazakh national cuisine for centuries was based solely on the great experience of the ancient predecessors, who perfectly adapted to life in the harsh steppe climate. This included snowy frosty winters and hot, sometimes arid summers. To survive these conditions, they had to have a good understanding of health and what influences it. Therefore, the nomads invented such dishes from a small range of products that the land provided them. This would allow them to preserve all the beneficial properties and vitamins as much as possible, while being able to capture a very pleasant taste. All this has formed into a fairly rich cuisine, albeit not too diverse, but at the same time extremely useful and harmonious.
It is noteworthy that each dish has its own history, purpose, and even a reason for being made (some of them were most often served during the reception of guests). Thanks to this, all meals in Kazakh families are turned into a kind of ritual, especially when relatives from other villages come to gather around a table.
Hospitality is the calling card of the nation
For centuries the Kazakh steppes have been led by the following rule: if a guest comes to the house (yurt), it means abundance and diversity should be on the table. One very capacious expression is even connected with this: “I recognize how you meet according to your look; I recognize how you respect according to your cup”. Even if the host family was not rich, the best meat, sweets and drinks were always taken from the barns, which indicated a desire to lay an exquisite dastarkhan (a table with treats). This was to emphasize respect for the guest and the desire to communicate. In particular great attention was paid to the quality of food being served, which indicated, the care of the host in relation to the health of the guest. The most honored guests are served with a rather specific dish - bass tartu. This is a boiled lamb head, which should be cut and divided between the other guests of the feast. Most often, such esteem is expressed by aksakals (elders, respected for their wisdom and experience), bless the meal by tasting the tender meat near the cheek of the lamb and treat the other participants of the feast, observing a certain order in which there in itself has a special meaning.
Equally as important, hospitality is not only in quantity, but also in quality. This was demonstrated in the ceremony of serving dishes. All of the dishes have a certain order of appearance at the table: from fairly simple to more complex in terms of prescription, which, of course, favorably affects the perception and proper absorption of food by the body.
Meat is the staff of life
Surely, if you haven’t already noticed that when speaking of the Kazakh cuisine, the first thing mentioned is meat. This is explained by the fact that during the formation of the Kazakh nationality, it was the meat dishes that played the most important role and formed the basis of the national cuisine. Nomadic cattle breeding provided up to 80% of the diet, while agriculture developed mostly in the southern regions of the country. Usually, horsemeat or lamb was consumed, much less often than beef, since cattle did not tolerate the roaming and could not graze on snowy pastures, or manage to get fodder from under the snow. Poultry meat was also a rarity. The greatest preference was given to horse meat, which is distinguished by its great nutritional and biological value, easy to digest and not too high of a fat percentage.
Given the nomadic way of life, Kazakh cooking should have been sufficiently “mobile” so that meat (and other products) that were not eaten in a short period of time spoiled. Particularly of great importance, was the ability to take food with you on the road, while not worrying if the contents would sour in the heat. That is why their culinary philosophy began to develop in the direction of preparing semi-finished products - the meat was dried, smoked and salted. It is believed that the abundance of meat products is harmful, but if you consume them in moderation, then these dishes will fill the body’s needs not only in protein and fats, but also in vitamins, macro and microelements.
So what do Kazakhs cook with meat?
The most popular examples of meat dishes are:
- Quyrdaq. A fat stew - an incredibly aromatic, juicy, and appetizing dish, that is most often prepared immediately after the slaughtering of cattle. From this, they take fresh meat, by-products, fat and cook them accordingly.
- Sur et is an air-dried meat, or sometimes get lightly smoked on birch bark. Nowadays, it is popular as a delicate cold dish.
- Kazy, today is a popular gourmet cold snack. Home-made sausage made from especially tender and tasty horse meat that has been prepared as follows: a well-washed gut is stuffed with pepper and salted meat cut from the ribs of the horse, so that it contains small layers of sweet, melting fat in the mouth. This gives a special juiciness to the finished product (be sure to have this served hot, immediately after cooking).
- Shuzhyq. Also homemade sausage from horse meat, at least - from beef.
- Kazakh meat (also known as Besbarmaq). Perhaps this dish is widely known and loved even far beyond the borders of Kazakhstan. Its secret is in a very successful and tasty combination of soft, and well-cooked meat (sometimes several varieties), with wide layers of homemade noodles and a fragrant rich broth with onions and spices.
The assortment of meat dishes is not limited to this list and practically each of them has its own special, sacral meaning. For example, in the old days, before a long journey was made by a very close and loved person, they would harvest a wedge (thigh-bone with meat) as a sign that in this house they would wait for his speedy return. It was dried and placed in deep dishes with flour, where it could be stored for several years. Upon arrival, the long-awaited guest of it was preparing a festive meal. Another unusual dish that was cooked in flour for a long time - ulpershek (heart of a young horse baked with fat in the form of fat and spices). This was sent by parents as a present for his daughter, who married and left her father's house, thus showing their love and care even from a distance. Unfortunately there were great cuisines, throughout the Kazakh recipes, that were faded out and gradually erased, going into eternity along with the nomadic way of life of the Kazakhs.
One of the pillars of the Kazakh cuisine is dairy products, this is still widespread today. It is believed that their use before, after or during a meal helps the digestive system more easily cope with the digestion of fairly heavy traditional food. And this is true - lactic acids and microorganisms that provide fermentation, accelerate the processes of fermentation and assimilation of food.
They are drunk, and eaten, and spread on bread
The assortment of milk has always been quite diverse, which makes it possible to produce various kinds of products from it: ayran from cow's milk, shubat from camel's milk, kymyz from horse's milk, qurt (dry curd balls), irimshik, аqlaq (delicate white curd with the addition of especially fat May butter), qatiq (very tasty and thick dish, which is made from boiled milk with ferments), suzbe (bitter-sour cottage cheese, used to raise the appetite and spice up drinks). Sour-milk drinks tone up, quench thirst and help digestion, dried dairy products do well with hunger during long-distance migrations, and different variations of butter, sour cream and cottage cheese (cream butter, qaimaq and irimshik) help to quickly recover from the disease and are also a refined delicacy.
And this is not even a complete list, because many recipes have long been forgotten and are no longer used. But most of the recipes from above are still very popular, not only among the Kazakh people, but also among other nationalities that are living in Kazakhstan.
Bakery products: the secret of lush shapes
Being overweight is extremely rare among Kazakhs. Constant movement, life in the open air, hard work and balanced food simply did not give a chance to let oneself gain weight in mass amounts. Therefore, the nomadic people have never been afraid of delicious traditional pastries in abundance, which has now become another important element of Kazakh cuisine. However, all these flour products are very high in calories and are quickly digested; therefore it is wise to limit the consumption of these delicatessens in our current lifestyle. But earlier, baking with the addition of milk, yeast, sour cream, butter, eggs, nuts and fats helped to quickly get needed body fat, which was important in the harsh conditions of the steppe. Pastries are now always served with tea, sorpa (meat broth), combined with many meat dishes. There are a lot of varieties of Kazakh flour products: taba-nan (wheat bread), bauyrsaq (round dough balls roasted in butter), shelpek (flatbread), quymaq (fluffy pancakes), kazanzhappai (bread baked in a cauldron) and many more.
Concluding our article about the specialties and uniqueness of Kazakh’s national cuisine, it is impossible not to mention its benefits to the human body. Even then, hundreds of years ago, the simple Kazakh people created an incredibly thoughtful diet, covering all aspects of health. The nomadic way of life brought forth an impressive list of delicious and elegant dishes from only the three main ingredients, which not only satisfied one’s hunger, but also provide the body with all the necessary microelements, to help with diseases, and to give children the essential vitamins and nutrients to be strong and resilient. Who would have thought that liver cooked in fatty mesh is so tasty and healthy? Where oil for frying meat can be replaced with sour cream, which will give the meat an incredible honey flavor? How about using a lamb's stomach instead of a cauldron for cooking your next meal? Truly, the Kazakh cuisine is the quintessence of the steppe flavor. Striking ancient recipes and amazing ways of cooking, so familiar and understandable to the local population, that will turn the heads of any modern traveler, leaving them with a rich fully belly experience.