Kyrgyz food is quite similar to the rest of Central Asia: laghman and manty are always on the menu.
In homestays, a hearty soup is very often the main course served at lunch or dinner. The rice dish plov may also appear and sometimes fried or boiled eggs fresh from the chickens running around the garden. Homemade jam and bread and pots of tea are plentiful. Breakfast may include a rice pudding cooking in milk (sprinkle sugar on top) or a salad.
Soviet canteens serve hearty meat-and-potatoes type dishes for budget prices and keep an eye out in markets for Dugan women selling gelatine noodles with a spicy sauce.
Vegetarians can ask for the traditional meals without meat but the dish is still likely to include an animal-based broth.
To drink, tea is always offered, both green tea and black with milk. Instant coffee is also normally available as are the standard soft drinks. For alcoholic beverages, popular choices include Baltika or the Kazakh brew Shymkentsoe. Vodka is also common, sometimes mixed with juice.
In mountainous areas, the drink kymys will be sold from roadside stands and offered to travellers by nomadic families. It’s made from fermented mare’s milk and is an acquired taste to say the least: quite sharp and slightly fizzy. Small children sometimes mix in a little sugar and this may help if you can’t handle it straight.
Wherever you find kymys, you’re also likely to find salty balls of dried cheese. If you like things like feta cheese you may love these and they make a great travel snack as they never spoil. They can also be good grated on top of pasta or in an omelette.
For self-caterers, almost every village has at least one small shop. Ask around if you don’t see one. Someone probably sells things from their home. If the shop appears closed, look for a small buzzer near the window or door and ring this to summon the shopkeeper.
Things almost always sold in these shops include candies, chocolate bars, cigarettes, coffee, cookies, pasta, powdered milk, soft drinks, sugar, tea, tins of corn or peas and, of course, vodka. You’ll usually also find tins of tomato sauce, some variety of sausage and fresh eggs. The biggest shops will sell fresh vegetables and cheese. We found porridge oats difficult to locate.
Cooking oil can often be bought in just the quantity you need. Bring a small plastic bottle and ask to have it filled up.
You may need to know the name for what you want as it won’t always be visible from behind the counter.
Bazaars selling a decent selection of vegetables and fruits are only found in larger centres. The standard vegetable trio of carrots, cabbage and potatoes are always there along with onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. Apples are usually around too. Anything more exotic depends largely on the season.
For water, we always drank from communal pumps and never had a problem. A water filter is handy for drawing water from rivers and lakes in remote areas or where pumps aren’t working. All shops should sell bottled water but it’s reasonably expensive, around 20-25 Som or about $0.75 U.S. for a 1.5 litre bottle.