Red Onion & Broccoli Salad: More Foods We Can Make in Bishkek

When I was in Ankara this past November I didn’t experience a single food craving.  After a few days I realized I should chock this up to the great quantities of leafy dark greens I was consuming – chard, spinach, arugula. Back in Bishkek winter vegetables are a little…flat.

Thankfully, there are still a few places selling green vegetables a few shades darker than that pale cabbage.  Orto Sai Bazaar, Yimpas, the little bazaar on Moscovskaya between Ibramov and Sovietskaya, and occasionally Boorsok and Globus all have broccoli and spinach.  Sometimes the spinach looks a bit frayed around the edges, but the broccoli is generally good.  And from here comes my fallback winter salad recipe:broccoli salad 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 broccoli head
  • 1 red onion (or white if you can’t find red)
  • 2 T fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t sumac and or isot (a dark smoked pepper)
  • Optional: cranberries, sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans, scallions to top

Instructions:

  • Cut the broccoli into bite-sized chunks
  • Steam the broccoli (just long enough so it isn’t raw but still has a bit of crunch)
  • Chop the onion; mix withe the broccoli
  • Squeeze out the lemon juice
  • Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, spices and optional dried cranberries, sunflower seeds or garbanzo beans with the broccoli
  • Let sit in the refrigerator until cool
  • Voila!  Delicious winter salad that is actually possible to make with available ingredients.
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Buying a Car in Bishkek

…And how we ended up with the country’s only Audi S4.

If you’ve been in Bishkek for more than a week, you may have noticed something rather peculiar: there are no car dealerships in or around the city (in fact, I think the nearest dealership is in Almaty, Kazakhstan).  So how do you buy a car? And how do you know it’s good to drive?  Unfortunately it can be a rather tricky and drawn-out process.

First, I would not recommend unless you meet all of the following three conditions:

  • You do not live and work in the city center, or you need a car for work
  • You will stay in Kyrgyzstan for 2+ years
  • You speak Russian/Kyrgyz well, are very familiar with cars and mechanics, and have a trusted mechanic in Bishkek, or you have a trusted associate who knows cars and Kyrgyz/Russian.

Why? Besides the matter of driving in Bishkek (corrupt traffic cops, insane traffic habits, inexpensive taxis), it can be quite difficult to locate a quality car. All cars in Kyrgyzstan are imported (at some point).  There are almost no new (or nearly new) cars in the country, and none of the in-country cars come with garage histories.  Finding a car that you are absolutely sure has no major problems and making sure you have all the right legal paperwork is often a rather long and stressful process. Selling a car can also be difficult, as most people want to trade cars rather than giving cash.

Where to find a car:

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Can I Use a Credit Card in Bishkek?

Again, yes and no. Bishkek is primarily a cash-based society, and many shops and stores don’t have credit card machines. Those that do usually only take Visa (No MasterCard, UnionPay, or anything else) Places where you can reliably use a credit or debit card include:

  • Most shops inside a mall (Vefa Center, Bishkek Park, Beta 2)
  • Most large chain grocery stores (Beta Stores, Plus Market, Narodnie)
  • Most chain clothing stores (Mango, Mavi Jeans, Kotton, MixX, Colin’s, etc…)
  • Most cafes, western restaurants, bars and clubs (rule of thumb – if they have free wifi for customers, or their own instagram or twitter account, then they probably also take credit cards)
  • Airline offices and travel agencies

And that’s it.  Everywhere else you go – bring cash (preferably in denominations of 200 som or less). Also, keep in mind that some credit or debit cards won’t reliably work in shops that take credit cards.  Our (Kyrgyz) Demir Bank Debit card, for example, does not work in Plus Market (but it does work at Narodnie and Beta Stores…)

Which brings us to the next question – where can one withdraw money in Bishkek?

Pretty much everywhere, as long as you have a Visa.  Demir bank has reliable service and good exchange rates, but most banks are probably OK and have English option on the ATMs (“Bankomat” in Russian).  Most Demir locations allow you to withdraw som or USD and convert from USD or Euro to Som.  There is, however, about $330 (or $340?) limit on how much in USD you can withdraw at one time. This seems to vary a bit by bank/ATM through – so just plan ahead. Keep in mind that ATMs also seem to frequently run out of USD at the beginning of the month.  If you want dollars, try to withdraw before people get their monthly paychecks, or just go to the bank (but don’t forget your passport).

If you have UnionPay, then you can take out money at Halyk Bank, PCK Bank, Росинбанк, and Commercial Bank of Kyryzstan/Коммерческий банк КЫРГЫЗСТАН (which I’ve found to be the most reliable; a list of ATM locations here).

If you have Master Card….uh… supposedly the Kazkommert Bank/KazKom is the only bank that takes MasterCard.  Look here for a list of locations, but I can’t promise all of them will work.  Your better bet is getting a Visa before you travel.

If you have cash and just want to exchange money, there are a number of exchange offices along Sovietskaya between Chuy and Gorkovo, and on Manas between Chuy and Moscovskaya, as well as an office in Beta 1 on Chuy and in Vefa Center.  It’s much easier to change from USD, though a number of places will also take Euro, Kazakh Tenge and Russian Rubles.  Good luck if you have anything else. Also, the exchange rates for other currencies will be terrible.

And on a random note, according to the Commercial Bank of Kyrgyzstan website, citizens of Japan can enter Kyrgyzstan visa-free for…forever? or, as states, “for an unlimited term”. Hmm…