Many of the remnants of the nomadic culture persist despite the fact that few Kyrgyz people live in Yurts or are nomadic today. For example in the typical Kyrgyz home you will find little furniture. This harkens back to the days when the family had to be able to move everything in search of better pastures. Today it is still traditional to eat your meals sitting on the ground around a tablecloth "dastarkan" laid on the floor or on a short table.
If you are invited to a Kyrgyz party be prepared to spend several hours, eating, drinking, singing and dancing. As guests enter the party they are seated in a particular place depending on their gender and age. Women are usually seated on the left hand side of the room and men are on the right and the seat that is furthest from the door is given to the guest of highest honor - usually the oldest male.
A typical Kyrgyz party begins with the "dastarkan" full of breads especially "borsok," a type of fry bread that is very central to Kyrgyz culture. Bread is given an almost sacred standing in Kyrgyz culture. Bread is never placed on the ground or thrown away.
Also on the table at the beginning of a Kyrgyz party you will find a number of salads, often that have been canned for the winter. In the summer the table will also include sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Of course no Kyrgyz table would be complete without the tea. If the power is out the Kyrgyz use a samovar to heat water for tea. Tea is served to each guest with the handle-less cup in the right hand while the left hand is bracing the right elbow. This two handed service indicates respect for the guest.
The second course is usually a soup or some type of meat dumplings. During each course the guests will take turns proposing toasts and each toast is accompanied by a shot of vodka or perhaps wine or cognac. Sometimes between courses the guests will sing Kyrgyz folk or pop songs or dance. The singing is usually done with the passing of a cup - the person with the cup leads the party in their favorite song and then passes the cup to another guest to sing.
The final course at important Kyrgyz celebrations is Besh Barmak (five fingers). This course starts with someone (usually a child) coming around with a teapot full of warm water and a basin and he/she goes to each guest in turn for them to wash their hands. Then a large basin full of hot mutton is brought in and with their hands guests begin passing out pieces and cutting up the meat. After a few minutes another basin is brought in, this time full of homemade noodles. The cut meat is then mixed with the noodles to create a type of stew. The guests then eat their fill out of the basin using their hands. At the conclusion of the meal, all the guests hold their hands out in front of them palms up and once everyone is ready together in unison they pass their hands in front of their faces ending with the palms together while everyone says "omeen."
1 medium sheep or 3 kilograms
of mutton or beef
1 kilogram onions
4 cups of flour
Put the meat in a large pot along with onions and boil for two hours. While the meat is cooking prepare the noodles (store bought noodles can be substituted). Make a pile with the flour. Beat the egg and add it to the flour, then mix in warm salt water (1-2 teaspoon salt) until it holds together but is not so sticky. Knead well and then let stand for 10 minutes. When meat is done it is removed from the water and the noodles are then boiled in the same water to give the noodles a meaty flavor - noodles only need to cook for 5 minutes or less.
Besh Barmak is usually the
dish that is made for special celebrations such as weddings, special visitors,
or a housewarming. Besh Barmak is usually the final dish of a three-course
meal. Guests will wash their hands before the Besh Barmak is served. The meat
is brought out first. The guests eat some of the meat and the host and a few
guests chop most of the meat into small pieces. The noodles are then brought
in and mixed with the meat and some of the broth is added as well to make
a thick stew of meat and noodles. The guests then eat this mixture out of
a large bowl using their fingers as utensils - hence the name Besh Barmak
- or "five fingers."
5 tablespoons oil salt, pepper to taste
2 cups rice 1 kg beef or mutton, cut into cubes
2-3 fresh peppers chopped 5-10 cloves of garlic, whole
2-3 large onions chopped
5-6 large carrots chopped
Wash and soak the rice.
Heat the oil in a kazan (large, heavy pot) until hot; add the meat, cooking
until brown on all sides. Add the carrots, onions, and peppers, and cook until
tender. Add 5 cups of water and then all the rice so that the water covers
the rice completely. Push the cloves of garlic under the surface of the rice.
Cover and lower the heat a little. Cover and cook until rice is done, about
30 minutes. There are many variations of plov so feel free to experiment with
raisins, dried apricots or other vegetables.
1/2 kg meat (beef, or mutton)
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 marinated pepper
2 big onions
2 medium carrots
2 cloves of garlic
3 big green radishes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
2-3 tomatoes (or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste)
Chop the meat into very
small pieces and saute with butter and the red pepper in a kazan or heavy-bottomed
pot. After about 5-7 minutes add 1/3 cup of cold water. Bring it to a boil
and then add the onions, carrots, garlic, green radishes, and tomatoes. Steam
in low heat for 30 minutes. Turn up the heat and stir for about 5 minutes.
Add cold water (depending on the number of people you are cooking for, approximately
1.5 to 2 cups per person) and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and keep
for 30 minutes more. In a separate pot prepare spaghetti or linguini noodles.
Put the pasta in bowls and cover with the sauce. (Too make the dish more interesting
feel free to add other vegetables such as eggplant. You can also use homemade
noodles or egg noodles.)
1 large onion
2 cups flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup water
6 or 7 medium potatoes
pinch of salt
Mix flour, water and salt
in a bowl to make dough. Knead and set aside. Boil potatoes. Mash potatoes
and add some of the onions. Roll dough on cutting board. Take small ball of
dough and roll out to form small circle - about the size that fits will in
your palm. Put small spoonful of potato mixture in the center of the circle
- press sides together around potato. Drop each vereniki into boiling water
for 7 to 10 minutes. Drain water and serve vereniki with sauteed onions and
For additional recipes (for borsch, monti, samsa, pelmeni, and blini), download the file here.