During my time in China i was always trying to imagine what the food in neighbouring Kazakhstan would be like. From travellers i had heard a lot about horse milk, lamb meat and breads (nan). I couldnt wait to get there cause i had a few bowls of noodlesoup too much in china and was ready for a change. Unfortunately i still had to wait for my Kazakh Visa that was issued at the Embassy in Urumqi. It took about a week until i had my passport back. Urumqi was actually the perfect place to get an idea of Uyger food and nomadic influenced dishes such as Shashlyk, Lakman noodles, hearty kebaps and of course chai( black tea). It´s available almost everywhere in town.When i finally held my visa in my hands i was ready to head towards the land of nomads. The city of Almaty should be my first destination.
The busride from Urumqi to Almaty takes about 24 hours. It´s not the best option for tall people cause the beds inside the bus are really small. For smaller people it´s a perfect way to enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and make the first local friends on the bus. I met really friendly kazakh people on the bus that helped me out when arriving in Almaty. I got invited for a bowl of “Beshbermak” and a cup of chai as well.These lovely people even gave me a ride to the “apple hostel” with it´s amazingly friendly owners. For sure a place to feel home.
My first impressions of Almaty where just “wow”! I just walked through the city all day and had lots of streetfood and coffee. i loved it! It was all different from what i had imagined. It is a city of culture, arts and beautiful buildings. The cafes and restaurants can totally compete with cafes in europe and i felt absolutely safe during the day. You can get to almost any place by metro which is supercheap and clean. After walking all city from north to south i thought it´s time for some cooking. Via couchsurfing i got in touch with “Aliya”. She is a doctor and lives and works in Almaty. She mailed me to me to meet her on the local market the next morning. She said that her mother has agreed to cook some “kuyrdaak” with us. I was so happy!
Proper kazakh homecooking! The only problem was getting to the market without a word of russian. The second problem was to spot a taxi. It seemed that there wasn´t any on the streets. After 15 minutes i just called Aliya on her mobile and told her that there was no taxis available. She laughed loudly and told me to put my arm out, which i did. The next car just stopped in front of me and i jumped in. I was speechless! Anyone is a potential taxi here. I couldn´t believe it. I handed my old Nokia mobile to the taxidriver so he can receive directions from Aliya. Within 15 minutes i was dropped at the foodmarket in the suburbs of Almaty.
Aliya was already waiting for me at the front of the market. She was smiling and superfriendly. ” Welcome to Kazakhstan” she said. Let´s get food!! We hardly knew each other but her uncomplicated personality made me feel super comfortable. Aliyah knew exactly where to go. Straight to the local butcher! “We need lung, heart, lambmeat and liver” she said! I took a deep breath and smiled. It was not like being in Italy and shopping for a pasta! I realised this is something different. But i was really happy to learn and taste! Aliya´s mother was waiting for us at home and we jumped into the next car (taxi) to get to her flat. When we arrived she was already in her cooking dress. We couldn´t communicate but a smile says more than 1000 words. I felt priviledged for this experience. This is exactly what i wanted. Staying in a strange country , sharing time with locals, learning about culture, listen to stories and do some “authentic homecooking”. I have learned a lot about Kazakh culture from Aliyah and her mother. These humble and kind people touched my heart with their grand hospitality.Thank you so much!! I hope we meet again somewhere in the world. I would like to share the recipe of Aliya´s Mama with you: Note that iam not providing exact quantities. She just did it by feeling. It´s homecooking You have to taste it.
Onions ( roughly diced)
Potatos (roughly diced)
liver of lamb
lung of lamb
heart of lamb
a piece of tender lamb meat
red chili flakes
( You can also just work with the “liver” and “lambmeat” if you won´t be able to get the other organs)
How to do Kuyrdak:
1.Fry the onions together with the organs and the lambeat for 10 minutes on lowheat.
Except for the liver! All organs and the meat should be cut into bite size chunks.
2. After frying for 10 minutes add the salt, blackpepper and lamb seasoning. Stir and fry on low heat for another 5 minutes!
3. Now add water until the meat is covered and reduce it for 20 minutes.
4. After 20 minutes put the potato chunks on top of the meat so the meat is covered.Dont stir! The potatos have to be on top to get steamed. Now let that boil for another 20 minutes on low heat.There should be little water left.
5. When the time has passed add the liver chunks, give it a stir and let the “Kuyrdak” boil for 10 more minutes. The water should be reduced and the meat and potato mix has a creamy consistency like a hearty gulash. Taste the dish and plate it. Add salt if needed and garnish your plate with fresh dill. Have some black tea and nan bread to get the real kazakh experience. Kuydak is a slow coooking meal and takes some time to do. But it´s so yummy!! It´s worth all affords!!
Thanks so much for reading this 🙂
See you soon for the next recipe
Your foodvagabond, Michael