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How to Be Vegetarian in Kyrgyzstan

Reality on the ground: Kyrgyz people LOVE meat, and not without good reason.  Most meat consumed in Kyrgyzstan is homegrown:  born, bred, traded, and raised in backyards and mountain pastures.   Nomadic culture depended on food sources that could walk and transport themselves, and deep values of hospitality dictate that every main meal includes some form of meat.

All that considered, Kyrgyzstan also has quite a diverse selection of foods, with plenty of options for those that prefer to eat vegetarian.  Here is a list of some of the things to look for if you are a vegetarian in Kyrgyzstan:

  1. Bread: It’s on every table.  Beautifully imprinted lapyoshka is the norm, but whole wheat loaves can be found in most shops.  It is referred to as “gray” or “black” bread. 
  2. Kasha:  A little of this breakfast porridge is quite filling, and easy to find at cafes or prepare at home.  My favorite is kasha mannaya, which has a consistency similar to cream-of-wheat (it probably IS cream-of-wheat).  
  3. Piroshki: baked or fried, these bun dumplings are typically filled with cabbage or potatoes, kapusta or kartoshka.  They make for a great snack and are easy to find from windows, shops, markets and cafes all around the country.
  4. Camca:  generally camca has meat or chicken inside, but sometimes you can find it made with a pumpkin and onion filling, c tikvui.
  5. Laghman: at a restaurant or in places outside of Bishkek, this is a pretty good choice for vegetarians.  The laghman bowl is filled with noodles, veggies and broth, with a few meat pieces on top.  This makes them easy to remove and give to a friend.  
  6. Garniér: loosely translated as “side dishes”, these are the carbs that accompany meat orders: rice, mashed potatoes (puree), or buckwheat.  It is possible to order ONLY these sides as your meal, and sometimes they come with steamed veggies or a carrot salad.
  7. Gretchka: buckwheat.  An essential “village” food, gretchka is everywhere:  It is healthy, it is cheap, it is filling, and it is delicious!  
  8. Eggs: yaiitsa.  They can come boiled, fried, or as an omelet.   At the cafeteria style ashkanas you usually have to ask, but they can almost always make these for you.  If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, order a fried egg or two on top of gretchka.
  9. Salads: More traditional Russian style salads will be made with pieces of salami in them.  These are easy to eat around, but if you just want to devour salad, then vinigrette and vitaminka salads are straight vegetable, so pretty safe there.  Many restaurants will also have greek salads, carrot salads, and cabbage salads that are equally delicious. 
  10. Cheese:  called ser for normal block cheese, or tovorog for the crumbly homemade stuff.  Cheese of some kind is always available, just about anywhere in the country.  There are many types of tovorog, from sweet to bland to salty, so those are a fun try.
  11. Beans: a major cash crop, grown particularly in the region of Talas, but rarely eaten by locals!  Some salads will have beans, and sometimes they are included in a soup, but they are not common in traditional cooking.  Beans are plentiful in the bazaar, however, so if you have access to a kitchen then soaking and cooking up a batch is not too difficult.
  12. Dried Fruits and Nuts:  last but certainly not least, the dried fruit game in Kyrgyzstan is STRONG.   The bazaars are packed with multiple forms of dried apricots, plums, and apples.  Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and cashews are also abundant.  Keeping a small stash on hand as a traveling vegetarian is always a good idea, and it makes for great trail food anyway! 
Baked Potato filled with grains, jalapeños, cheese, and sauce
(A new trend emerging in Bishkek is the Turkish "kumpir", or baked potato.  Choose your fillings and eat to satisfaction!)

Phrases

To say “without meat”: beez miyasa

"I am vegetarian": ya vegetarianski/a

Bishkek Cafes (Editor’s Pick)

Adriano’s: the French breakfast is my go to, with a croissant, egg, and salad, but the Italian breakfast is also meat-free.  Delightful.

Cafe Pierre or Taksim:  if you’re hungry, dig into a traditional Turkish breakfast, or order menemen, a savory skillet of eggs, peppers, and tomatoes.

Bublik: bagel sandwiches, creamy soups, seasonal smoothies… the menu often shows creativity and inclusion of other world cuisines.

Prego: quite good Italian food, but they offer a whole vegetarian menu PLUS there are vegetarian options in the main main

Sierra: constantly improving the menu to include vegetarian options in every section.  Mix and match breakfast items or get fairly good Mexican cuisine with beans, cheese, and veggies.

by Ruby Mitchell, Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co. (and a happy vegetarian!)


All Vegged Out

At a New Years Day lunch in Talas, the mother of a friend prepared the ENTIRE meal without meat. From traditional salads to lentil soup and pumpkin manty, I was deeply touched by the love and care that went into making this meal. It was heaven to eat fearlessly!


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