Today I met yet another foreigner attempting to live meat-free in Central Asia. Considering that nearly everything in Kyrgyz/Kazak/Uyghur/Uzbek cuisine has at least some meat, this is no easy feat. While living in Urumqi I had one couchsurfer tell me that she basically subsided off of bread for the entire two months she and her boyfriend spent in Central Asia. However, there is hope! Below are some of the meat-free (and slightly more nutritious) options for non-carnivores in the capitol: (Cyrillic to come once I update this post on my ipad – Russian and my computer don’t cooperate so well)
– Cottage Cheese/Tborog/творог gluten free!
Comes in regular and fat free, and is more solid than the American variety.
Where to find it: the dairy cooler section of any grocery
– Cheese pancakes/sirniki/
A mixture of cottage cheese, eggs, and wheat. Not the healthiest, but at least they have protein!
Where to find it: In stolovayas (canteens) and the deli sections of grocery stores
– Semi-solid Turkish yogurt/Suzme
Sour, somewhat like sour cream, if sour cream was made from Greek yogurt.
Where to find it: Beta Storesin the dairy case
– Kefir and yogurt/кефир, йогурт
Bishkek grocery stores have an amazing variety of yogurt. The ‘Bio’ brand also has Greek yogurt, and Greek/Turkish yogurt can be found at Plus Market. Kefir comes in no-fat, low-fat, and 2.5% fat
Where to find it: Basically everywhere. Harodnie carries the Bio brand
The Turkish version of Russian Okroshka, this yogurt-based soup has plenty of cucumbers, dill and yogurt, but without the mystery meat.
Where to find it: most Turkish restaurants.
Breads, Samsa and Dumplings
– Russian crepes/Blini with cottage cheese/blini si tovarogom
Blini with tovorog are basically crepes with cottage cheese. Or you can buy plain crepes and stuff them with fruit, yogurt, or salad.
– Cold noodles/Ashlanfoo (gluten free! – usually)
Ashlanfoo are a sad mockery of Xinjiang’s liangpi….alas. The cold noodles are usually made of bean or rice jelly, and come with a hot sauce, and perhaps some chickpeas and shredded vegetables.
Where to find it: Korean sections of bazaars, Harodnie, sometimes at small bazaars
Pizza is surprisingly popular in Bishkek, and thankfully for vegetarian eaters there are generally a lot of salad-like option, like Greek Salad Pizza and Mexican pizza
Where to find it: Imperial Pizza, Old Edgar, Dolce Vita, and a hundred other places serving Pizza
– Potato dumplings/manta si kartoshkom
Not exciting, but cheap and filling
Where to find it: In grocer deli sections, outside of bazaars, in canteens
– Pumpkin dumplings/kawa manta
Imagine a savory, golden slice of heaven wrapped oh-so-lightly. Not so high in protein, but at least less starchy than the potato dumplings.
Where to find it: the Manta Bar just east of Tsum, one of the many “Yurt” manta stands outside Beta stores or other shopping centers; unfortunately only available in fall
– Potato, Cabbage or Garlic Grass Pierogi
Small dumplings stuffed with one of the above
Where to find it: In canteens, small restaurants, and the deli or freezer section of most grocery stores
– Potato-stuffed fried bread
Where to find it: Street-side stalls and little burger stands selling samsa, usually in the vicinity of shopping centers or bazaars
Pide is pretty much Turkish pizza. Unfortunately the only meat-free varieties are generally cheese and spinach (but the spinach and feta cheese variety is delicious!)
Where to find it: Turkish restaurants
Basically flatbread covered in spices, vegetables and ocassionally meat (make sure you ask) – it’s like a pizza without the cheese
Where to find it: Again, Turkish restaurants
Salads, Vegetables and Legumes
– Carrot Salad/Morkovi/моркови
Shredded carrots with spices and some oil, Korean-style
Where to find it: In the deli section of groceries, or the Korean section of bazaars (where you might also find tofu, ashlanfoo, and a dozen other mixed salads)
– Beet Salad/Svekla Salat/Свекла Салат
Where to find it: In the deli section of groceries,in Canteens, Russian restaurants and Turkish restaurants
– Mushroom Salad/Gribnoy salat/грибной салат
Where to find it: In the Korean section of bazaars (DON’T buy mushroom salad from the deli section of Harodnie)
– Cabbage salad/salata iz kapusti/салат из капусты
Sometimes mixed with shredded carrots; sometimes far too oily.
Where to find it: In the deli section of groceries, canteens, and most Russian restaurants
Cooked Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) topped with warm broth, shredded carrots, and spices
Where to find it: Uyghur/Uzbek restaurants; sometimes at bazaar stalls
– Bean salad/Piyaz
Turkish bean salad generally has beans, peppers, vegetables, spices, and a bit of olive oil. Most Turkish starters (meyze) are in fact meat-free, and you can dine on platefuls of peppers (biber) and eggplant (patlijan) if you please.
Where to find it: Beta Stores’ deli section, bigger Turkish restaurants
– Stuffed green peppers
Green peppers are usually stuffed with barley and vegetables, though sometimes with meat, so make sure before you buy.
Where to find it: smaller Russian grocery/lunch stores like Aladdin on Manas and Toktogol, canteens
Fortunately Bishkek cafes love green salad. Just try to make sure you aren’t ordering anything with a pound of mayonnaise on it, and that your salad is more than a plate of lettuce.
– Lentil Soup
I’ve seen at least three types of lentil soup in Bishkek. It’s most common in Turkish restaurants, but most cafes serve it as well.
Restaurants that cater to the meat-free:
Most restaurants in Bishkek are meat-heavy; I haven’t yet seen a vegetarian restaurant. The ones below just seem to make it more possible for vegetarians to enjoy a full meal. To note, there are a decent number of Chinese restaurants, where I’m sure it’s easy to find vegetarian-friendly fare. However, having grown accustomed to eating good and authentic Chinese fare over my five years in that country, I’ve not ventured into most of the Chinese restaurants here, and thus cannot make any recommendations.
-Cyclone (Chuy, just W of the square)
A slightly higher-end Italian (…erm, somewhat Italian…) place with good salads, fantastic pasta, and at least three or four meat-free soups, including a fairly authentic gazpacho.
– Park Cafe (Erkindik and Kievskaya)
The main-menu at this Turkish restaurant is meat-heavy, but they do have omelets, Turkish breakfast, usually two or three types of lentil soup, lots of salads, and good desserts. Just in general, though Turkish restaurants are most famous for their kebabs, they generally offer enough of the above for vegetarian eaters.
– Sofra 2 (Kievskaya, about 3 blocks west of Manas)
Mafia-heavy clientele, but the restaurant offers a lot of different Turkish starter dishes, and may still hav a $5 weekend brunch.
– Old Edgar (behind Bar Suk, between Chuy and Frunze)
A lot of the stuff on their menu has meat or mayonnaise, but their extensive thin-crust pizza menu has a lot of vegetarian options (and a lot of veggies piled on their pizzas)
– Furusato (Bakenbaeva)
This Japanese restaurant run by an actual Japanese chef has plenty of salads, light soups, and tofu dishes.
– Sierra Cafe (s)
The Starbucks of Kyrgyzstan also serves up soups and salads, all of which are fresh, some of which are meat-free
-Stolovayas/Cafeterias/столовая (every corner in Bishkek)
Not the best food you’ll ever have, but at least you can see your food before you choose to eat! The one just south of Manas University on Mira/Manas is pretty good, and there’s a decentish one next to the Harodnie on Chuy/Manas.
And of course there are always the bazaars, beautiful with produce all spring and summer long! Osh and Orto Sai (along with some of the smaller bazaars) have Korean deli sections full of mixed veggie, tofu and bean belly noodle salads. They usually give you samples, so you can find the best stand before you buy. My favorite by far is the spicy carrot salad.