Ok, I admit it; a huge motivation for my travels around the world is largely based on how good the cuisine is. Everyone has their ‘thing’ they search for when exploring a new country, and mine is undeniably a passion for uncovering the most incredible food experiences available. I had always wondered what is Central Asian food all about?
I surprised myself when I agreed to take a journey through ‘Central Asia’ or otherwise known as ‘The Stans’.
I’d never heard anyone talk about Central Asian food, so I researched it a little online to find out what to expect. I had my answer within seconds, and my diet was about to consist solely of mutton, bread, tomatoes and tea. Not the most exciting or nutritious food to live on for the next six weeks, but did I have any other choice?
We knew from our past travels throughout Mongolia that Nomads live off the land meaning they eat whatever livestock they breed, commonly horses and sheep as well as their milk and milk products (such as yoghurt, cheese).
Also, anything they can grow in the dry earth which is generally root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions and wheat from which they make bread.
What is Central Asian food? These 7 staple foods of Central Asia are the most popular foods in this region
Skewered meat (commonly mutton) usually cooked on a grill called a mangal. These days it is also made of chicken, pork or beef. The skewers are either all meat or sometimes a combination of pieces of meat, chunks of fat and vegetables such as bell pepper, onion and tomato.
We ate many shashliks along the way; a few good ones but the majority were made up of chewy chunks of mutton and lots of fat.
What is Central Asian Food? Plov is found all over Central Asia. It’s filling & cheap.
Rice with chunks of meat, fried julienned carrots, peppers and caraway seeds, all cooked in mutton fat (which gives it flavour). A national dish (originates from Uzbekistan) which is the favourite among locals.
Our favourite plov was unsurprisingly from the local markets in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. A cheap, filling and tasty meal for sure. If you find a plov with juicy raisins included, you are winning! If you get to visit this region, you will find that this dish is available everywhere. I couldn’t write this list on what is Central Asian food without the very popular dish, plov.
What Central Asian food did I enjoythe most? Manty was one of the most delicious foods that I found in the region, especially the home-made manty eaten in guesthouses and homestays
Round dumplings filled with minced mutton, mutton fat and onion. Served on their own or sometimes with yoghurt and tomato salsa on the side if you are lucky.
We found some pumpkin filled manty in Khiva, Uzbekistan, which were a welcome change from countless mutton meals.
Samsa are one of the best Central Asian foods to pick up anywhere.
A small baked pastry yet again filled chunks of mutton and onion. The best thing about a samsa is seeing the way it is cooked. The samsa is slapped on the inside of the makeshift tandoor ovens and peeled off once it is golden coloured. Although these are a cheap snack found almost everywhere.
5) Bread or Naan
What is Central Asian Food? Bread is served with everything, and it’s available at all times of the day, baked fresh.
Bread (or naan) is the king of any meal in Central Asia, and I can’t remember eating a meal without it. Locals that we met along the way explained that they cannot eat a meal without naan. If you question what is Central Asian food without bread, the answer is not nearly as good. Bread is the foundation of Central Asian food.
We loved wandering the streets or bazaars finding the freshest bread being pulled from the tandoor ovens and being stamped on top with a tool called a chekich. The shape and consistency are determined by the region.
Rach eating Central Asian food. Bread is eaten with almost every dish, and it’s wonderful and fresh.
Borscht is a hearty soup that is very popular in Russian and Central Asian countries. It is most commonly made with a beef or pork broth. It usually contains heavy starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and always beetroot, the vegetable that gives it the familiar colour.
Served with a spoonful of sour cream, this dish is usually served with dark bread.
Lagman noodle soup is a popular Central Asian Food. There are some variations of this dish, but quite tasty for sure.
A dough made from flour, eggs, water and salt is cut into noodles with a sharp knife. The noodles are boiled in salted water strained and then covered with a special sauce which is prepared from mutton, potatoes, carrots, peppers, onions and tomatoes. All these ingredients are fried with a little water and stewed to readiness.
This dish is quite tasty if you can find a good one that is served with edible pieces of meat. More often than not, you won’t, so be prepared to push the chewy gristly mutton to the side of your plate and enjoy vegetarian lagman.
Interested to travel to Central Asia, eat the cuisine and find out first hand what is Central Asian food all about? WendyWu Tours offer some incredible group tours to discover the best of Central Asia.
Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 187 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.