Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in the northeast of the former Soviet Central Asia. It borders China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Most of the territory is covered with the Tien Shan mountain ranges. The country's highest mountain is Pobeda Peak (7,439m; "Victory Peak" in Russian; Kyrgyz: Jengish Chokusu); the lowest parts lie at an altitude of about 400 meters. The area is 199,900 square kilometers - five times as large as Switzerland.
The country's population is a little over 5.6 million. Since life is hard in the mountains, most of the people live in the valleys. The largest ethnic group are Kyrgyz. They make up 72% of the population (2013 estimate) and are spread throughout the country. The largest ethnic minorities are Uzbeks (14.5%) concentrated in the south and Russians (9.0%) living mainly in the north. There are also Dungans (1.9%), Uighurs (1.1%), Tajiks (1.1%), Kazakhs (0.7%), Ukrainians (0.5%) and other smaller ethnic minorities, including Germans.
Although you can sample Uzbek, Russian, Uighur, Dungan and other dishes in almost every part of modern Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz, of course, have their own traditional cuisine. However, influenced by the nomadic past of the people, their menu is not so diverse as the ones of the peoples with sedentary heritage. There are no Kyrgyz chicken recipes, for instance, for growing poultry would have required sedentariness, but there are many traditional Kyrgyz cattle meat dishes cooked to preserve them for a long time.
Among the traditional Kyrgyz recipes stand out various horsemeat sausages. Chuchuk is probably the most outstanding of them. It is a high-fat horsemeat smoked sausage with a piquant taste. They use horsemeat for cooking a variety of other dishes, such as karyn, which is cold horse stomach slices. Very popular is beshbarmak (also spelled as beshbarmaq) - boiled and shredded meat with noodles in broth.
The Kyrgyz have long been cooking Uzbek, Tajik, Uighur and other neighboring peoples' signature dishes, such as pilaf, laghman noodles (in gravy with meat pieces and vegetables), manti and chuchpara (chuchvara) dumplings. Since the times of the Great Silk Road Central Asian nomadic and sedentary cultures, including cuisines, have always been mixing up, complementing each other.
The local people very much love and often eat honey. Honey with local flatbreads is a common morning meal in the country.
There are a lot of most delicious fruits in Kyrgyzstan in summer and autumn. The apples from Issyk-Kul Lake orchards, for instance, rank among of the world's best. When it comes to vegetables, the Kyrgyz like pumpkin very much.
What Kyrgyz cuisine is also notable for is a wide variety of fizzy fermented milk and cereal beverages. First, it is kymyz, fermented mare's milk, slightly alcoholic - the signature drink of Eurasian nomads. Very popular in the country is maksym - grounded grains, water or milk, flour, all fermented. Ayran - a mixture of fermented milk, salt and water - is also very common in Kyrgyzstan. Jarma, like maksym, is made from ground grains and mixed with ayran. Chalap is similar to ayran, and is known as Tan in the market. All these beverages are made almost everywhere in Kyrgyzstan. You can buy them from the local bazaars, stores and even at the roadsides.
Traditionally, Kyrgyz families have their meals at a dasturkhan - a large cloth spread on the floor. If you visit a Kyrgyz home, invited to dinner, you must take the food with the right hand and put your legs away from the dasturkhan. Try not to sneeze, if you can. They do not think doing so while having meals is appropriate either.