05 December 2011

Eating in Bishkek

This post could be about restaurants and cafes in Bishkek, but since I almost never go out, it's not. It could be about trying to cook American food in Bishkek, but since that boring, difficult, and expensive, it's not.  So it's about cooking good food at home in Bishkek without either spending a huge amount of money or traipsing all over Bishkek every week trying to find every ingredient. 

I really enjoy cooking here now, but it took a long time to figure things out. We like to eat a variety of ethnic food and I think that's the easiest way to go in Bishkek unless you're willing to eat a totally local diet, which I'm not.  There is a lot of good local food in Bishkek, but it's limited in some ways, especially in the winter.

While there are a few things you can't get here, there are lots of things you can eat here that are hard to find anywhere else, or at least more complicated to find. Jusay (garlic chives), tofu sticks, black vinegar, Pakistani rice, green garlic, laghman, and so many other things are easy to find here and you can make some amazing new dishes.  Especially if you look at Uyghur, Dungan, Uzbek, and Tajik dishes, your mouth will be happy.

I also cook Thai, Mexian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic foods besides just Central Asian ones.  I hear there are black beans in town, but I'm happy using the brown and white beans I can find at any bazaar.  Salsa's easy to make yourself and the Pakistani rice makes amazing red and green rice.  The one Mexican thing I miss is corn tortillas because I don't have a good way to make them, and the only cornmeal/masa type thing I've ever seen here is coarsely ground.

Middle Eastern food is easy because Beta Stores is Turkish and you can get tahini, garbanzos, bulgur, red lentils, feta, and more (although a lot of these things are avaialbe in some bazaars now, although they're more expensive than at Beta Stores).  Indian food has been really easy too, although sometimes you have to hunt a bit to find all the spices.  And I've never found tamarind here, so I bring that with me.

Thai food is generally easy since there are a couple of Chinese grocery stores around, although I have never found fish sauce or coconut milk, unfortunately.  But I have a nice mother who sends fish sauce periodically to satisfy our craving.  Coconut milk is less pratical to mail so we don't have much of that.  But I generally prefer non-coconut milk Thai food anyway.  There's plenty of rice noodles at the bazaars or even in tiny stores, and black vinegar and sesame oil.  You can find yucky soy sauce in stores, but the Chinese groceries have good soy sauce and rice vinegar and soybean paste and brown sugar and tofu (and lots of other Chinese ingredients)

I also bring maple flavoring for fake maple syrup and it's nice to bring some extracts too since I've never seen vanilla here.  Now you can get decent chocolate here, but I've still never seen good cocoa.  I also like to bring yogurt starter.  You can buy yogurt (ayran) here, but we eat enough yogurt that it's worth making our own.  There's also yogurt in the stores, but it might be even sweeter than American yogurt. 

When we lived here the first time I managed a two-week cycle of dinners, but now I can easily do four or five weeks.  We all love laghman so we have that every week, and plov comes up pretty often too.  All of the food we make is easy to add vegetables to, or to serve with vegetables.  The vegetables are amazing here from about June-November, and not too terrible the rest of the year.

All in all, it's been an adventure to make cooking here work, but it's been worth the time. 

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