The food culture of Kazakhstan is rooted in the Kazakhs’ nomadic past, where the most readily available food was usually horses and sheep.

The cuisines of some non-Kazakh groups – Russian, Korean, Uyghur, Dungan – are also prominent. A sign in Arabic script usually indicates a Uyghur restaurant and good laghman (long, stout noodles) to be had inside. Major cities have excellent, varied dining scenes for all budgets, from cheapie stolovayas (canteens) to high-end Japanese.

The Basics

The ‘business lunch’ (biznes lanch, kompleksny obed) offered by many restaurants is usually a good-value set meal, typically comprising soup or salad, main course, dessert and drink.

The Kazakh national dish is beshbarmak, chunks of long-boiled mutton, beef, or perhaps horsemeat, served in a huge bowl atop flat squares of pasta with onions and sometimes potatoes. The broth from the meat is drunk separately.

In bazaars and some restaurants you’ll come across horsemeat in various forms. Menus may offer a plate of cold horsemeats as a starter, and horse steak as a main dish. Kazy, shuzhuk/shuzhak and karta are all types of horsemeat sausage, in horse-intestine casing. Kuurdak (or kuyrdak) is a fatty stew of potatoes, meat and offal from a horse, sheep or cow, boiled in a pot for two to three hours.

Across the country you’ll find ubiquitous Central Asian dishes such as shashlyk, laghman (long, stout noodles), manty (steamed dumplings), plov (pilaf) and samsa (samosa). Kazakhs make a sweet plov with dried apricots, raisins and prunes. In summer open-air beer and shashlyk bars, with glowing (or flaming) grills out front, spring up in every town.

A favourite local snack is baursaki, fried dough balls or triangles, not unlike heavy doughnuts. Kazakhstan is reckoned to be the original source of apples, and wild apple trees still grow in parts of the southeast.