If you were expecting chunks of salted boiled meat and sour milk (ok, I'll admit I was!) you will be happily proved wrong with the variety of dishes on offer in Kyrgyzstan's strangely charming capital Bishkek.
Here are my top picks to keep you well fed in Bishkek:
With its vibrant silk adorned walls, glittering chandeliers and staff decked out in colourful national dress, if you want to dine in a place that truly feels Central Asian, Arzu is a great choice. The menu thankfully does the decor justice, with plenty of local dishes - including beshbarmak, a traditional stew meaning "five fingers" reflecting how it is meant to be eaten made of horse meat strewn on noodles. Other good picks are flaky meat stuffed samsa (similar to samosa) and lagman noodles doused in a rich sauce. There is the obligatory thimble of kymyz (fermented mare's milk) to start off the meal, but thankfully served in a quantity most can manage.
If you want a real taste of the Orient, the sprawling Osh Bazaar located on the edge of Bishkek has an amazing selection of traditional Central Asian treats including mounds of kimchi-like salads, fresh fruit, great big wheels of Kyrgyz bread locally known as naan and - for the more adventurous eater - the local sausage made of fat and offal. Worth a wander even if you aren't hungry
If you are looking for something a little more contemporary, you can head to Vinoteka for an elegant evening of wine and cheese surrounded by Bishkek's chic set and many of the city's expats. The glass-fronted wine bar serves a great selection of European and South African wines by the generous glass, and has an equally interesting cheese selection to accompany your drinks - including the interestingly named Baltic Black Prince cheese.
Cafe Pur Pur
My favourite find in Bishkek, this atmospheric Georgian restaurant with its tassled lampshades, burgundy drapes and rug strewn floor lending it a caravanserai vibe, served up a delicious selection of Georgian dishes, including probably the tastiest version of adjaruli khachapuri (utterly moreish egg topped cheesy bread) I have ever eaten. Definitely the cosiest place to curl up with a glass of Georgian wine on a night in Bishkek.
Save The Ales
Fancy a craft beer in the Kyrgyz capital? Well you are in luck as this city is home to a teeny local brewery serving up a small but flavourful selection of locally brewed ales, including my favourite find from this region of the world - the red ale. I've tried a few versions in Macedonia, and more recently in Bulgaria, and am definitely a red fan. They also have stout, IPA, Pale, wheat and fruit ales, all served in an extremely minimalist bar with what looked like an attached summer garden for the warmer months.
Bar With Red Blinds
Ok, that's not what it's called but I've tried to find the name, and short of knowing it started with the letter "T", I have been completely unsuccessful. If you do manage to find this little cocktail bar just round the corner from Save The Ales (the ladies who run the brewery helpfully directed us to it) you can get ready to sit back... for a while as service was a bit on the slower side... and enjoy a selection of classic and creatively crafted cocktails.
Have you been to Bishkek and have any favourite haunts of your own? Would love to hear about your culinary adventures in the Kyrgyz capital.
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