If you’re a foodie and you pride yourself on having an adventurous palate, Kazakhstan will definitely be an exciting culinary exploit to add to your bucket list. Kazakhstan’s nomadic history, Silk Road connections, and a melting pot of cultures have greatly influenced Kazakh cuisine. Food in Kazakhstan may share some similarities with other Asian cultures, but feature ingredients like beef, lamb, and wheat, which are more readily available in the Central Asian steppe. We’ll explore 8 amazing dishes that I tried on my recent trip to Kazakhstan that make the food scene truly special there.
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First up, we have the beloved Baursak. Imagine golden, bite-sized pieces of deep-fried dough, crispy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. Almost every restaurant serving Kazakh cuisine will also offer this quintessential Kazakh snack. Our friends in Kazakhstan ordered this as a delicious starter for every meal. That perfect balance of savouriness and sweetness kept me coming back for more.
The Baursak is not just a snack, but a symbol of hospitality in Kazakh culture! In Kazakh culture, the act of offering Baursak to guests is a gesture of respect, friendship, and hospitality. It signifies a warm welcome and a desire to make guests feel comfortable and well-cared for. You’ll never find single-piece servings of Baursak. It will always come served abundantly on a plate or platter. There will always be plenty to go around.
Next on our culinary journey is Manti, Kazakhstan’s take on dumplings. Meat-filled steamed Manti can be found in various shapes and sizes, and are often served with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
With China being a neighbor to Kazakhstan, you may find that Manti reminds you of Chinese dumplings. Apart from being much larger, the texture of Manti is also different from Chinese dumplings. Kazakh manti are made with wheat flour, while Chinese dumplings are made with rice flour. This makes Manti dough thicker and less delicate. As Manti wrappers are a lot firmer, they can hold much more filling. They are filled with hearty amounts of beef, lamb, and pumpkin, similar to many food in Kazakhstan.
Manti has a history dating back to the days when traders along the Silk Road brought their culinary traditions to Kazakhstan, resulting in this delicious fusion.
Third on the list is Samsa, a popular street food in Kazakhstan. The pastry shell of a samsa is thin and crisp. Multiple layers of pastry puff up during baking, creating a delightfully flaky and golden-brown crust. Best served hot out of the oven, it boasts an incredibly flakey pastry that envelopes a savory filling of minced meat (often beef or lamb), onions, herbs, and spices. They are baked in tandyr (tandoor) ovens and this gives these baked pastries a beautiful smokey flavor.
Originally, Samsa has its roots in Persian cuisine and was introduced to Kazakhstan during the centuries-old Silk Road trade. And now, it has become a beloved snack enjoyed by Kazakhs. In fact, this is one of my absolute favorite snacky snacks to eat in Kazakhstan and I inhaled quite a number of these.
4. Tandyr Nan
Breaking bread is a huge deal in Kazakhstan and here is none other than one of Kazakhstan’s traditional flatbreads, Tandyr Nan. It is cooked in a clay oven known as a tandyr, it boasts a crusty exterior with a soft and airy interior. This bread is an integral part of Kazakh cuisine. You break tandyr nan into small pieces and enjoy it with various toppings like butter, cheese, or homemade jam.
Hold your horses! Don’t bite into a single piece of Tandyr Nan. A common thread among food in Kazakhstan is an open-hearted culture of sharing. In Kazakhstan, the Tandyr Nan is a staple and it is a part and parcel of Kazakh tradition to tear apart and share a serving of bread. This is a form of respect and hospitality.
Another dish you’ll find in Kazakhstan with its roots in Persian culture is Plov – an iconic dish from Central Asia. An aromatic rice dish cooked with tender pieces of meat, carrots, and fragrant spices, Plov is for those who love rich flavors generous portions of meat, and carb on carb.
You can find Plov prepared in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or a specialized pilaf cooker. The meat and rice are cooked together allowing the rice to absorb the flavors of the seasoned meat and spices. Yummy! The combination of flavors and the way everything melds together in one glorious pot make it a true comfort food. I loved the hearty servings of Plov which makes it perfect for sharing at a Kazah table.
Lagman is Kazakhstan’s iconic noodle dish. This hearty, spicy dish consists of hand-pulled noodles, succulent meat, and a medley of bell peppers, onions, and vegetables in a rich, aromatic broth. The key to its unique taste lies in the special blend of spices and herbs used. It can be prepared in different ways, and my favorite style of Lagman is stir-fried in a tasty slightly spicy sauce. Apparently, this is also the most popular way of consuming this dish.
Lagman is commonly associated with Uighur cuisine from Xinjiang. I personally found that Lagman felt like a cross between La Mian and Udon noodles. If you love noodles, you absolutely cannot miss having a plate of stir-fried Lagman while in Kazakhstan.
7. Lagman Shurpa
Say hello to the broth-based version of Lagman. “Shurpa” is a Central Asian lamb and vegetable stew, so the Lagman Shurpa combines the goodness of chewy Lagman noodles with a comforting lamb stew. It’s loaded with chunks of meat, vegetables, and the same aromatic spices that make Lagman so special.
Lagman Shurpa isn’t as popular as stir-fried Lagman, but I’m sure it hits the spot during the icy cold winter months in Kazakhstan.
The last of eight dishes on the list is Shashlik, Kazakh-style barbecued meat skewers. Big pieces of beef or lamb (sometimes chicken) are marinated with fragrant spices, skewered, and grilled till charred on the outside while remaining succulent.
Kazakhstan’s nomadic culture and traditions have given rise to this amazing dish. It harks back to the days when nomadic Kazakh tribes would grill meat over open fires during journeys across the steppes. You might also notice the influence of Middle Eastern and neighboring Central Asian cuisines in Shashlik.
I had Shaslik in the Shymbulak Mountains and it was so delicious! Definitely one of my unforgettable meals.
It’s incredible that food in Kazakhstan makes use of the same ingredients, but comes in really different forms. Do any of these Kazakh dishes catch your attention?
Planning a trip to Kazakhstan and need an itinerary? You can check out Goh Somewhere and their detailed 4D Kazakhstan itinerary.
If you find this guide useful, you can buy me pasta!