Central Asia cuisine consists of simple and tasty, often hearty dishes – the kind of dishes that help you get through a harsh winter in the heart of the steppes. A mixture of Turkish-Asian-Russian influence and nomadic traditions, there is a lot of grilled meat (mutton, horse) but also vegetarian dishes made of fresh vegetables and herbs that colour the stalls of street bazaars. We took pleasure in watching these foods being meticulously prepared and then cooked in steam, in a wok or tandoor (traditional oven used in Uzbekistan). But most of all, we enjoyed eating them by hand – the traditional way of tasting food in Central Asia!
Keys: KZ/Kazakhstan – KG/Kyrgyzstan – UZ/Uzbekistan
Tea and drinks
- Chaï: tea, literally. Tea is the most popular drink in Central Asia – after vodka, of course! In Kazakhstan, chai is served with milk.
- Shubat (KZ): fermented camel milk
- Kumis (KZ, KG): fermented mare’s milk, with a small amount of alcohol notes
Oromo – vegetarian rolls (KZ, KG) – 4 people
– 2 medium onions
– 5 big potatoes (or 10 small)
– 1 squash or pumpkin (during winter)
– a fine salt dough (recipe here)
– oil, salt, pepper
— Prepare your salt dough and set it aside. At the same time, prepare your filling in a bowl: potatoes in very small dices (~0,5cm), onions very finely chopped, 2 tablespoons of oil, salt, pepper. You can add 3 tablespoons of tomato puree to enhance the taste, but this is optional. Then prepare balls of dough, a little larger than your hand’s palm. Take one of them and spread it out until you get a very thin layer (1 mm thick, no more). Sprinkle your dough with the preparation, and make a roll. Place your roll on a shelf of your steamer. Repeat the operation until all the ingredients are used up. Allow about 20-30 minutes of steaming time before eating your Oromos!
Mante: Mantis look like large ravioli, and are usually stuffed with (mutton) meat. It’s quite possible to replace this stuffing with grated squash (prepared with a drizzle of oil, salt and pepper) or diced potatoes (mixed with oil and parsley). Mantis particularity lies in the way it’s folded: in the centre of a square (~5 cm side) of thin dough, put a teaspoonful of filling. First join the two opposite edges, which you “glue” together by pinching the dough. Do the same with the 2 remaining edges. Finally, using your fingertips, take two corners on one side and “glue” them together. Do the same with the opposite side. Mantis are steamed for about 45 minutes.
Plov, Palau – traditional rice dish – 4 people
If the plov is very widespread in Central Asia, everyone agrees that the best are cooked in Uzbekistan, where it is said to have originated…
– 500gr round rice
– 500gr carots (4 carots, 2 yellow carots)
– 1 big onion (or 2 medium)
– 1 whole garlic
– Optional: quinces, chickpeas and/or dried fruits (grapes, apricots) to replace the meat
– olive oil, paprika, salt, water
— Soak the rice in 750ml of hot water (use a kettle) and let it rest until the grains become translucent. This step removes the starch from the rice, and prevents it from sticking. At the same time, cut the carrots lengthwise and then into thin strips, after washing and peeling them. Slice the onion(s) into rings. In a wok over high heat, brown the onion(s) with two tablespoons of olive oil for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the carrot slices and cook over high heat until the carrots are melting. Add a pinch of paprika and about 2-3 glasses of water, so that all the ingredients are covered. Add a washed, whole (unpeeled) garlic to the wok, plus optional ingredients, a tablespoon of salt, then the drained rice. There should be no more water. Lower the heat to minimum, add hot water up to 1 cm above the mixture, and simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on.
Piroshki – russian hash browns
– Dough: 500gr flour, yeast, 50gr of sugar, a pinch of salt, 100gr of melted butter and 250ml of milk
– Filling: 1 big onion finely chopped, 1 whole crushed garlic, 250gr diced potatoes and 1 tablespoon of olive oil
— Prepare the dough by mixing all the ingredients mentioned, knead it and let it rest for 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare your filling. Take your dough, knead it and divide it into about ten balls. Spread each ball and put 1 tablespoon of filling. Close the dough on top, crush it with your hand’s palm to obtain a flat cake. You can cook your piroshki either in a very hot oil bath or in the oven at 180°C for 10-15 minutes.
- Beshbarmak (KZ, KG): traditional dish, which can be literally translated as “five fingers” (because it’s eaten by hand). The Beshbarmak is traditionally prepared with meat from horses or sheep – or even camels in some desert regions!
- Laghman: soup with potatoes, carrots, broth and meat
- Samsa / Somsa: fritter filled with meat, squash, mushrooms… cooked either in a traditional oven (tandoor) or fried
- Shashlik: meat skewers (usually lamb) grilled on the barbecue
- Sumalak (UZ): sprouted wheat dish prepared for New Year’s Eve, Norouz
- Ashlan-Fu (KG): dish of wheat and starch noodles, a specialty of Karakol, and stemming from the Dungan culture (ethnic group originating from China)
Sweet and cheese-filled blinis (KZ)
– Crepes (recipe here)
– Fresh cheese
– Dry fruits (raisins)
— Once your pancakes are ready, spread fresh cheese on top and sprinkle with sugar. You can also add a few raisins. Roll up the pancakes, and serve them warm!
- Kurut: hard little ball of fermented milk, reminiscent of the fabulous taste of… Kumis!
- Havla (UZ): sweet cake, prepared with milk, very popular at wedding banquets
- Bakhlava (UZ): a fairly common honey dessert of Turkish origin
More about Central Asia:
* Post written according to our personal experience *