It is well known that many travellers find traditional nomad’s food to be delightful. Famous American actor Mark Dacascos, Brazil coach Joao Barbosa, the Two Michelin starred Italian chef Norbert Niederkofler, and many other celebrities enthusiastically admitted that they love Kazakhstan not only for warm hospitality and wonderful people, but also for remarkable national cuisine. In this light, there is increased interest from local restaurateurs in revealing a great potential of nomad’s food. Every national dish appeared as a result of a certain life event; and specific nature of cooking arose from the need to conserve all useful properties of the food and to extend its storage period to its maximum. Now it has become a key aspect in transition of Kazakh cuisine up to the next higher level of the “gastronomic podium”.
What does the “haute cuisine” mean and is this term applicable to Kazakh cuisine?
Many people have got this question on their minds because these two, as it may seem, non-intersecting worlds serve just the opposite purposes: haute cuisine dishes are intended for aesthetical and emotional delight, whereas, the main idea of nomad’s food is to feed hunger as quickly as possible and for longer period. Some people far from the nomad’s style of life will find even a way of serving a traditional dish unusual. For instance, such dish as bas-karyn: a thick blister made out of a ram’s stomach is cut through so you could see fragrant pieces of meat and a blockhead that have been cooked in it. Of course, many people will appreciate such exotic dish but not all.
As we know the haute cuisine is based on three pillars:
- Refined and sophisticated way of dish serving, which shows not only a set of food products on a plate, but turns the food into a work of art.
- The highest quality and freshness of each ingredient: if tomatoes then only those on a branch; if parsley – only freshly cut sprigs and leaves; if spices – only freshly grounded powder; if meat – only fresh or chilled pieces, and so on.
- Original recipes that were developed by a chef based on classical ancient recipes but adding his or her own philosophy.
Moreover, it is equally important using of high technology (perhaps, some elements of molecular gastronomy), balancing between flavors and tasting harmony of ingredients mixed together. Today, we can confidently say that Kazakh direction of haute cuisine is rapidly developing and representing a much more exciting innovation than ever. And now we gradually have reached the main topic of this article.
Where in Kazakhstan you can try true Kazakh haute cuisine?
The idea of representing traditional cuisine from the other side – such possibility has not been considered before – initially emerged in constantly developing mega cities of the country – Astana and Almaty. National dishes are offered across the country, cooked deliciously and served beautifully; but these traditional dishes are rarely represented in a separate menu and are often mixed with cuisine of other nationalities without even mentioning about chef’s original menu developed on the basis of solely traditional recipes. And now, owing to the efforts of progressive restaurateurs, we can see a tendency of Kazakh haute cuisine turning into a distinctive feature and a calling card of the gastronomic field in Kazakhstan.
National delicacies for admirers of the haute cuisine
Specific nature and simplicity of ingredients used in traditional Kazakh dishes became a starting point for distinguished Kazakhstani chefs and restaurateurs to use their imagination. Using high cooking technologies and wide knowledge (including molecular compatibility of different food products), they have managed to develop absolutely new concept of ancient dishes turning these into a wonderful ensemble of taste and flavour. A true art, that one must definitely try, is being created in the restaurants with haute cuisine. For instance:
- Have you ever tried camel meat? This meat won’t be on a menu of common dining places. But in a fine dining restaurant you can try an amazing culinary masterpiece: the tenderest camel terrine starter (something between a pate and a baked pudding made of meat whipped to creamy state) with pieces of prune and sunflower seeds accompanied by the spiciness of physalis and basil sauce. By the way, nomads had always appreciated camel meat so highly because of its sweetish tender taste.
- Ceremonial Kazakh dish made out of liver and tail fat turned into delicious meal that will pleasantly surprise taste buds of foreign gourmets – liver “baur” galantine with fresh lightly salted butter “sary mai”, cherry plum and other additions in order to strengthen aesthetical effect.
- As many of you know, “kurt” it is solid and salty cheese balls and when dissolving in the mouth you can feel their pleasant creamy taste. Now, imagine that delicious kurt made out of high-fat goat milk was whipped to a cream and served with vegetables and fruits! Indeed, it is a steppe flavour in the haute cuisine.
- Worldwide famous Kazakh meat starters do not need in any upgrading because, when originally served, these all perfectly fit into menu of fine dining restaurants: jerked horse meat and mutton, rich “kazy” (a traditional sausage made out of horse meat) with equal droplets of incredibly delicate and sweet fat, boiled ox tongue, and spiced meat.
- A true steppe delicacy – horse meat “sheke” (cheeks, tongue, lip and brain)
- “Mi-palau” it is a quite exotic dish that is on the menu of one of the most fashionable restaurants in Astana. It is mutton brains cooked in a particular way and supplemented by black caviar.
- Meat dishes for those who would like to feel “a taste of the steppe” and touch gastronomic culture of nomads – the tenderest pieces of 7 months year old lamb “tokty” under a sauce of fragrant steppe herbs and served with “lavash” (a soft thin unleavened flatbread baked in tandoor) and vegetables; fillet “beldeme” (i.e. saddle of a lamb); “kuyrdak” (a traditional meat dish – liver, kidney, heart and lungs fried together) made of three types of meat and served with baked side dish; foal ribs with light sense of fragrant hot smoking.
“Besbarmak” can be even taken out of this list as it is absolutely beyond competition. Even in the fine dining restaurants this dish is cooked and served in accordance with old recipes.
So, and for dessert: unusual sweets from the depth of centuries in modern interpretation
I would like to complete this article as sweet as dinner in a luxury restaurant – going through desserts and, at the same time, composing my own feedback on chef’s culinary efforts. So, we know that Kazakhs didn’t have a big choice of various sweet desserts but they knew exactly how to prepare a wonderful treat for a tea made out of simple ingredients like milk, flour, wheat, and honey. Slightly modified, these thousand year old recipes were included into the dessert menu of Kazakh haute cuisine: “balkaimak” (fresh cream cooked on low heat – but it shouldn’t turn into butter! – with the addition of honey and some flour) as a part of the tenderest honey-creamy cake; fluffy cheesecake “yezhegei” (cottage cheese cooked from milk, whig, butter and salt) served with crispy “zhent” (a sweet made from cereals, nuts, honey, raisin, melted butter etc.); ice-cream made from “shubat” (fermented camel milk); hot sweet “yrymshik” (something between cheese and cottage cheese) with wild berries, and many more. All of these are an amazing quintessence of pure taste and fragrance, but without extravagance and excessive sweetness, that leaves behind a feeling of full gastronomic satisfaction.
Finally, to sum up our investigation, we can confidently say that all Kazakh traditional dishes, even those with some modifications in composition, texture, serving manner necessary to correspond an haute cuisine level, saved their national flavour. The national flavour, in its turn, makes these dishes recognizable and favourite not only in Kazakhstan but in many other parts of the world.