Central Asian staples like the rice dish plov, the hearty stew laghman and dumplings or manty are well stocked in Kazakhstan’s cafes. You’ll also see skewers of shashlyk and samsa pastries being sold everywhere.
If you get a chance, try the national dish beshbarmak, which is horse meat served over flat noodles. The broth the meat was cooked in follows separately.
Honoured guests invited into private homes may also find themselves presented with the head of a sheep and offered meat from the cheek to eat or even the eyeball. These are considered the best parts.
Cafes are widespread along roadsides in Kazakhstan and are generally a cheap and filling place to grab a quick meal. Prices are normally fair – around 200-350 Tenge for the standard dishes and salads – but get into the practice anyway of asking for the menu or checking prices before you order. If not, you can occasionally find yourself presented with a surprisingly large bill.
We typically found a meal with bread and a drink ran about 500-800 Tenge per person, depending on how many beers we indulged in. A service charge of 10-15% is almost always included in the total, on top of menu prices.
Nearly every town has a bazaar where you can pick up the usual selection of fruits and vegetables, prepared salads, meats and dried goods.
No matter where you are, you’re almost always certain to find at least one magazin or general store around and often several on one street. These tend to carry your standard dried and tinned goods as well as some dairy products and often chilled drinks; a nice change from Uzbekistan where most drinks were kept lukewarm on the shelf.
Beware the bottles of ayran, a salty yogurt drink. These are quite different to the drink found in the Middle East by the same name. We were surprised to discover a thin, slightly sour and carbonated mixture inside instead of the smooth, thick drink we’d come to love in Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Freezers full of ice cream outside stores or by street stalls are common and make a great treat on a hot day.