Authentic food in Kazakhstan.

People in Kazakhstan are very hospitable and they treat a guest with a great honour. Kazakh cookery is extremely various because of the fact that Kazakhstan is a multinational country and the cuisines of all nations (kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Germans, Polish, Koreans and others) combined into one.

Couple days in January I did english-russian translation for an American who came to visit Astana. He had never been to Kazakhstan or any of FSU coutries before, so it was quite a big culture shock, both in a good and bad ways. He wanted to get to know kazakh culture and we started with authentic food and national meals.

I remember his astonishment when I said that horse was one of the national meals in Kazakhstan. Another shock to him was to find out that there was no menu in English and waitresses were of little help. I thought it might be useful to know more about the culture of the country that one goes to. So I would like to present a point of view of an American who was in Kazakhstan and tried many national meals. I hope it can be both educative and interesting.


By NADIA WHITE, state editor for the Star-Tribune, Wyoming.

Let me confess right up front: My vegetarian habits are on hold.

Take that one more step: I spent most of November eating horse meat, drinking mare’s milk and marveling at the social niceties involved in serving baked sheep’s head.

I am just back from Kazakhstan, where machismo is measured by how much meat one can eat and hospitality in how much a guest is fed. Suffice it to say, the Kazakhs are extraordinary hosts and I am eating more macho than I used to.

During a month in the Central Asian nation, numerous table-filling feasts were spread before me. A spyglass across time, they recall the days when a guest who arrived at a nomad’s yurt would have traveled very, very far, across the steppe, with little in the way of clothing or fine food.

Often, I was given a velvety tunic or overcoat decorated with traditional swirled ram’s horn designs in gold braid and beads and seated near the head of a long dining table.

Salads took the form of grated beets and carrots blended with light sour cream, walnuts and shaved horse meat.

Appetizers were thinly sliced horse meat sausage, sheep intestines and cheeses.

There were many other side dishes served, but the centerpiece of the meal was a huge platter or two of the national dish, besparmak.

Besparmak is huge chunks of horse meat, boiled on the bone and served with a broth on top of wide doughy noodles. The word means “five fingers” and it is still OK to just reach out and grab a chunk of meat and noodle and pop it into your mouth.

Horse meat tastes, well, like meat. I liked it. It was a little sweeter than lamb or beef, and had a very nice texture. It wasn’t gristly or tough or stringing. But it was horse. I really don’t know why we don’t eat horses, but it is a little like eating dog. It’s got a name and sometimes comes when you call it.

It made a big difference to me that some horses are raised to be eaten and some are raised to be ridden. I went to a feedlot and met some future dinner. I hate to say this: They were soooo cute.

A little cowlike, the eating horses were fat and fluffy from living outside and not running around much and they followed me around their corral as though I might be delivering them some food. They let me hug them.

Let’s move on.

Occasionally, a feast was crowned with the arrival of a baked sheep’s head, which was laid at my place, staring up at me. Fortunately, this item was not so much for eating as it was for serving. I learned to cut a symbolic little piece off, then pass the whole thing on to an honored person more familiar with tradition than I.

Here is how to serve a sheep’s head:

— Cut off an ear and give it to the youngest person so they listen to their elders and learn well.

— Cut a piece from near the eye and give it to a person who is important to you so they will be attentive.

Cut a piece from the forehead and give it to someone with a challenge to help them be smart about it.

Gastronomically, I thought the shift from eating mostly vegetables to eating mostly meat would be tough on the gut. It wasn’t. I attribute this to the addition of a great deal of cognac to my diet.

Posted on February 21st, 2008
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3 Comments a “Authentic food in Kazakhstan.”

  1. wolverine says:

    I find it funny that she’s a vegitarian, and knows what beef and lamb taste like…..
    I have never knowingly had an opportunity to eat horse meat. Even though the claim is that one of the world’s largest horse meat slaughterhouses is 150 KM away from me, and there are quite a number of horse feedlots around, the meat never trickles into the local market.

    I have eaten other things talked about in this article though……

    It’s a great article you wrote. I’m slowly working my way through your blog. Keep on writing.

  2. Translator Astana » Blog Archive » New year in March? says:

    […] Translator Astana Snezhana Skakovskaya – English translator in Astana « Authentic food in Kazakhstan. […]

  3. FAQ | English-Russian | French-Russian | English-Kazakh Translation Services in Astana says:

    […] First of all, people in Kazakstan eat a lot of meat: mostly mutton, beef, even horse meet, rarely pork. The most popular traditional food is so-called „beshbarmak“ which means „five fingers“ since traditionally people eat this meal without fork or spoon. For more information see the article about authentic food in Kazakhstan. […]

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