Beshbarmak is a very popular Kyrgyz dish. “Besh” can be translated to five, and “barmak” can be translated to finger. The dish is named so because it was originally meant to be eaten with your fingers, not with a spoon and fork.
The simple version of beshbarmak is made with noodles, topped with boiled meat, and served with a mildly spicy sauce. Bouillon is then poured over the dish.
There is a ritual associated with eating beshbarmak: A sheep is first slaughtered then boiled in a kazan (large, round pot) for hours. The bones, with the meat still on them, are presented to the guests, with the best ones going to the eldest and most honored guests. The rest of the meat is then diced; the diced pieces are the ones used for this dish.
Shashlyk, also known as kebabs, are cubes of meat that are skewered and cooked over burning wood. Mutton, or sheep meat, is the most commonly used meat for shashlyk, though other meats, such as beef, pork, chicken, and even liver, are also used.
Mutton shashlyk oftentimes has one skewered piece that is pure sheep fat. It is believed that the fat dripping onto the embers enhances the taste of the food.
Before the meat is skewered, it is sometimes marinated overnight to lock in a preferred flavor. Shashlyk is often served with lepyoshki (Kyrgyz bread), plus raw onions and vinegar for seasoning.
Plov is a rice dish with boiled or fried meat mixed in with carrots, onions, and other preferred local ingredients such as raisins. While locals tend to stick to basic ingredients in its preparation, the dish can be customized to include vegetables of your choice.
All the ingredients are mixed and cooked in a kazan, a large open cooking pot.
Cooking in the kazan, in fact, is the main signature of the dish, as the cooking process makes the meat soft while retaining the freshness of the vegetables and rice.
Plov is a favorite dish in Southern Kyrgyzstan, and it is customary to serve it to honorable guests. Special meals in Kyrgyzstan aren’t really complete (or special) without plov.
Samsa – or samsi, in plural form – is a baked meat dumpling that is most often cooked in a clay oven known as tandoor.
The dough used in baking samsi can be simple bread dough or pastry dough, and the filling is usually a mixture of lamb and onions. However, street vendors have samsi varieties that have beef, chicken, and even cheese fillings.
Samsi is a popular snack in Kyrgyzstan, and both street vendors and food establishments offer the popular meat dumpling. Be careful in eating them, though, especially when they are freshly baked. Hot fats might squirt out and scald you.
Laghman is a dish that has many variations across the world, including China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Australia. It is a dish of flat noodles that is cooked in a steaming stew of mutton bits, carrots, radishes, onions, and potatoes.
In Kyrgyzstan, laghman is made with thicker noodles, and the dish is significantly spicier too. Locals love it, especially the minorities. In fact, the Uyghur and Dughan minority groups consider it a national dish.
A primarily Russian version of laghman can also be found in Kyrgyzstan. Called shorpo, this variation does away with the noodles entirely.
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