Kazakh cuisine is rooted in the county’s nomadic background. For centuries, the Kazakhs were herders who owned camels, horses, and sheep, using them as their main source of food.
Recipes and cooking techniques have been passed down through the generations, with meat and dairy remaining prominent.
Travelers in Kazakhstan will have the opportunity to sample this unique gastronomy and may also experience the ritual and Kazakh social customs that surround important mealtimes and special occasions.
Kazakhstan Cooking Techniques
As the cuisine of Kazakhstan is heavily based on a nomadic way of life, cooking techniques such as salting and drying meat are common. These techniques were used by the nomadic people to preserve ingredients, making food last longer.
Kazakh cooking also involves minimal equipment. This is because, in the past, everything had to be carried around as the nomadic population followed their grazing cattle.
The iron Kazan is an essential item in the Kazakhstan kitchen, it is extremely versatile and can be used to prepare everything from soups and stews to shelpek, a traditional flatbread.
Most Popular Foods in Kazakhstan
After applying for a visa for Kazakhstan, foodie travelers can start planning the delicacies they wish to try whilst in Central Asia.
Visitors should take the opportunity to sample some of the nation’s traditional dishes.
Most Kazakh recipes feature meat, often mutton or horse, and dairy products, especially fermented milk.
Beshbarmak: the national dish of Kazakhstan
Travelers in Kazakhstan must try beshbarmak, the country’s most well-known dish. Beshbarmak means ‘five fingers’ and is so-called because it was traditionally eaten with the hands.
A typical beshbarmak recipe includes boiled meat, finely chopped, and served with homemade noodles and chyk, a type of onion sauce.
On special occasions, ritual surrounds the serving and eating of beshbarmak. The most important guest may be presented with the cooked head of a ram which they slice and distribute. Cuts of the meat are given out according to the age and status of the diner.
Other typical meat dishes in Kazakhstan
Other traditional delicacies which tourists may like to try during their stay in Kazakhstan include:
- Kazy: horse meat sausage
- Zhaya: delicacy made using salted and smoked meat from a horse’s hip and hind leg
- Zhal: made from the fat from the underpart of a horse’s neck which is salted, dried, and smoked
- Kylmai: another type of smoked sausage
- Pilaf: meat fried with carrots, onions, and garlic and cooked with rice
- Manti: dumpling filled with ground meat and spiced with black pepper
Popular Kazakhstan desserts and sweets
One of the most popular desserts in Kazakhstan are traditional sweets called Baursaki. Dough made from flour, year, milk, and eggs are deep-fried and sometimes eaten with sugar, butter, jam, or honey.
Baursaki are eaten during Eid celebrations in Kazakhstan. Kazakh Muslims give the fried dough treats to family and friends to make the end of the fasting season.
Shek-shek is another deep-fried sweet treat made from unleavened dough with optional hazelnuts or dried fruit. The fired balls are placed in a special mold and soaked in hot honey and left to set.
Vegetarian Food in Kazakhstan
Whilst meat dominates Kazakh cuisine, there are some options available for vegetarians.
Shalgam is a traditional salad of grated vegetables including carrots, peppers, onions, and radish. The dressing a white wine vinegar mixed with sugar, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper.
Non-meat eaters will enjoy the tradition of afternoon tea in Kazakhstan. Shelpek, the traditional fried flatbread is served with cheese, jam, or sour cream and accompanied by a cup of tea.
Tohax is another excellent bread product in Kazakhstan. The bread is round with a large dip in the middle, it is baked until it has a golden crust.
Traditional dairy and milk products in Kazakhstan
Whilst not suitable for vegans, vegetarians in Kazakhstan can try some of the many typical milk products, many of which are considered to have health benefits:
- Irimzhik: a type of cottage cheese
- Sut: boiled milk
- Kaimak: sour cream from boiled milk
What Do They Drink in Kazakhstan?
Traditional drinks in Kazakhstan are mainly fermented milk products and usually served with the main course of a meal:
- Kumys: mare’s milk
- Airan: cow’s milk
- Shubat: camel’s milk
Kazakhstan is also one of the biggest tea-consuming nations in the world, every meal is accompanied by a cup of tea. Kazakh tea is strong black tea with added milk or cream.
Alcoholic beverages in Kazakhstan
Vodka is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Kazakhstan. It is usually drunk straight and sometimes followed by juice.
Beer and sparkling wines are also available at most restaurants.
Restaurant Culture in Kazakhstan
Home cooking is firmly rooted in Kazakhstan’s nomadic past, there are restaurants serving international cuisine throughout the country.
Particularly in the capital, Astaná, visitors will find many restaurants serving Kazakh cuisine in addition to Russian, Korean, and Japanese eateries.
At lunchtime, diners can enjoy a set menu which is generally good value for money, called a business lunch.