Kyrgyz Food and Karakol Specialties
Go deep into Karakol's diverse cuisines.
Take a Bite out of Karakol
What makes Karakol a fascinating center of history and culture also makes it a food paradise: it stands at the crossroads of culinary traditions that reach east and west, and back in time. The specialties you’ll taste here have been honed over generations by the people who settled here, with a dash of inspiration and unique creativity from those who were just passing through.
Karakol’s markets and restaurants sizzle with stunning ethnic diversity, with sights and sounds and smells you’ll only find here, and the best way to get to know them is by connecting with knowledgeable, enthusiastic locals. Take a food walking tour to sample the best dishes from market stalls and restaurant chefs, or do a deep-dive into local culture with a Dungan family dinner. After a meal full of flavors you’ve never encountered before, you’ll walk away with a full stomach and a new understanding of Karakol.
If your idea of a great trip is eating your way through a place, you should sample at least a few of these dishes in Karakol. If you fancy yourself a foodie, sign up for the Karakol Food Crawl, where you'll sample many of the region's most famous dishes, representing four different ethnicities, in just a few hours.
If Karakol had an official dish, this would be it. This spicy, cold, Dungan soup plays with texture and taste by using two kinds of noodles — thick rice noodles and thinner wheat noodles — mixed with a vinegar chili sauce and topped with a heaping spoonful of chopped herbs. To balance the flavor, tone down the spice, and mop up all that delicious broth, order a side of piroshky (fried bread stuffed with potatoes). You can find this dish over town, from restaurants to stand-up stalls.
Local's Tip: Look out for the alleyway at Karakol’s Small Bazaar entirely dedicated to ashlan-fu, or sign up for the Dungan Family Dinner tour to make your own!
These hand-pulled noodles are found all across Central Asia, but Karakol is a great place to learn about and sample the three main styles of noodles. Traditional laghman noodles are quite soupy, boso laghman noodles are fried, and guyru laghman noodles are boiled and less soupy. You can sample a range of versions from different ethnic groups — Uighur, Uzbek, and Dungan people all have their own signature styles paired with different ingredients and herbs.
Note: Several restaurants in Karakol will serve a vegetarian version of laghman if you request it.
Just about every country has its own version of dumplings, and manti are a favorite dish in Central Asia. Typically smaller than your palm, manti are usually steamed and can be filled with anything from pumpkin (seasonal) to the more traditional lamb and onions. Karakol is especially known for its juisai (greens) version. All versions make for a succulent, addictive treat. If you like spicy, ask for some laza (local roasted chili pepper sauce) to go with your manti.
Another Dungan-inspired dish that is not only popular in Karakol, but throughout Kyrgyzstan. Ganfan features a similar spicy meat and vegetable sauce as laghman, but it is served over steamed rice instead of noodles. Consistently good and hearty, ganfan can be easily served as a vegetarian dish if you ask for it. For those who like a bit of spice in your food, ask for laza on the side.
These baked, stuffed pastries are usually made with onions and lamb meat, but potato versions are also available. In a triangular or half-moon shape, lightly golden on top and often sprinkled with sesame seeds, samsa are most reminiscent of Indian samosas and just as delicious. Eat them hot for a nice flakey crackle, or load up on them for a trek. Samsa serve as a perfect snack any time of the day.
A traditional Kyrgyz nomadic dish made with mutton (or other meat) cooked in its own juices for hours, then poured over hand-cut noodles. This dish’s name translates as “five fingers” because it’s meant to be blended and then eaten with your hands. This is a delightfully messy concoction bursting with meat, broth, and slick noodles that just cry out for a slurp. Beshbarmark is perfect for when you want a hearty meal before or after your trek. Beshbarmak is most often eaten in the mountains, but several restaurants in Karakol also serve this most traditional of Kyrgyz meals.
This is a hearty Kyrgyz dish of fried marinated meat, onions, and potatoes. The focus here is on a perfect mingling of flavors, spices, and ingredients for a well-rounded, one-plate meal. Delicious any time of year, kuurdak especially hits the spot in the winter months.
Not only pretty to look at, but delicious to eat. Oromo is a traditional Kyrgyz dish made with layers of handmade dough filled with cabbage and carrots (vegetarian version) or small bits of meat and onions (meat-eater version). It is then rolled into a roulette and cooked in a special pan. Delicious with kaymak (like a heavy sour cream).
Note: It takes a while to make oromo from scratch so some restaurants require that you order oromo at least one hour in advance.
Like the Kyrgyz version of chicken soup, this comforting dish is loaded with chunks of meat, veggies, potatoes, and fresh herbs in a rich broth. It will warm you up quickly on a cold day, or get you fired up with new energy after a long, tiring trek.
For something very local, very authentic, and very Kyrgyz, try kymyz (fermented mare's milk) at some point during your visit. Though an acquired taste for some, the trademark kymyz jolt of tanginess can be a revelation. It also features a raft of purported health benefits. But don't drink too much on your first try — kymyz can be especially "helpful" in balancing the digestive heaviness in traditional dishes like beshbarmak. Those who have tried and enjoyed kefir or Ayran in Turkic and Central Asian cultures will likely enjoy kymyz as well. Learn more about kymyz here. (Photo courtesy of Baytur.kg)