Traditionally the Kyrgyz are a very hospitable people. If a Kyrgyz family invites you for a meal then you should take a small gift – nothing lavish, for example fruit or flowers. Take your shoes off when entering the house.
Picnics, especially, are served on a dastorkon, (a large cloth laid out on the ground around which the gathering sits – with your feet either to your side or away from the dastorkon), but don’t be surprised if this happens indoors as well. Handle the food only with your right hand.
In many homes, (unless strict Muslim ones) eating will also involve drinking. Alcohol will be served and you will be expected to drink. Don’t think that you can drink just a little – once started it can be difficult to decline further rounds – especially as drinks are often associated with toasts. It may be better to decide on complete abstinence (on religious or health grounds, for instance) than suffer the consequences of excessive hospitality later on
Bread. In Bishkek there is a wide range of breads available. Outside the cities, the flat, round lepyoshka is found almost everywhere. Fresh, warm, straight from the tandyr (a clay oven) it is particularly pleasant. At meals it is usually broken, not cut with a knife and never placed on the table upside down.
Meat. The most common form of meat is used in Kyrgyz cuisine is mutton. Sheep have a high place in Kyrgyz culture and the Kyrgyz use every part of the animal for something. Sheep meat tends to have more fat than that from other animals, and so it should be no surprise that fatty meat is often considered to be the best. (There is even a Kyrgyz saying – “Cheap mutton has little fat”). In some households and festivals the Sheep’s head, (the eyes in particular), may be offered to an honoured guest. Horsemeat is also highly revered and for special occasions and funerals it is common for a horse to be slaughtered and the cooked and presented to guests. Only young mares are used which have been fed on Alpine grasses, which are thought to give the meat a particularly good flavour. A great favourite in the countryside, (but also available in Bishkek) is chuchuk – a sort of sausage made from horsemeat. Beef is also found, but less often. Chicken is rarely used by the Kyrgyz – chickens being found among settled peoples rather than nomads. Pork is not used by the Kyrgyz, but can be found in Chinese and Russian restaurants.
Fish. Fresh fish are caught in the lakes such as Son-Kul and Issyk Kul. Popular are the dried and smoked fish that are sold by the roadside near Issyk-Kul.
Fruit and Vegetables. Most of the produce is grown locally and seasonal and there is a wide variety – although recently more exotic fruits and vegetables are imported and available in the markets. You can encounter fresh produce, cooked, dried and preserved (jams / pickles etc.). Nuts are also very popular. In the South – look out for Walnut Jam, made from the fruit of the tree while it is still green – before the husk has formed – actually the “walnut fruit” is whole and in a sweet syrup rather than a thick jam.
Honey. It is very popular – and in the mountains the traveller can come across a solitary trailer, or a cluster of five or six gathered together, packed with and surrounded by beehives. The owner will happily sell a litre of fresh mountain honey (but you should have your own container if possible).