5 am Bishkek Eats

We’ve all been on that flight, the one that comes in from the crowded holding grounds of the Istanbul Airport at 3am. It’s  3 pm or 11 pm where you came from, your head is still slightly spinning and you haven’t had a breath of fresh air for half a day.  Maybe the friends you’re staying with aren’t yet up, or you’re tired of eating cellophane-wrapped food and don’t want to head home to an empty fridge. Or you’re driving back from a datcha, or stayed out late for a birthday bash and the hunger pangs have suddenly struck.  Most of Bishkek will start waking long after the sun peaks over the apartment rooftops, but here are 3 joints to satisfy your 5 am (or 3 am, or any odd hour) food cravings:

1. Taksim Cafe (Chuy and Kalyk Akibev – one block E from Jash Gvardiya)

This is  the late night burrito bar of Bishkek: cheap, reliable, and open 24 hours a day, not to mention on the way from the airport and within walking distance of several clubs.  Menu is a mix of Russian, Kyrgyz and Turkish fare.

Go for the plentiful outdoor seating and warming homestyle soups. The omelets are also not bad. As a bonus, the outdoor garden also has an artificial stream and tacky-cute bridges.  Just don’t sit inside – as only partially evident from this photo, the decor is enough to give you Madonna nightmares for decades:

Worth Visting During the Day? Eh…

Bonus: This vertigo-inducing 1 minute intro video put out by the management

 

20140418-183706.jpg2. Cave Coffee (Gorkova, 1 block E of Vefa Center)

The perfect place to relax after a long flight and wait for your hotel to open/your couchsurfing guests to wake up/your friends to come and get you, this simple cafe is both sumptuous and serene.  Prices that are normally a little high for Bishkek will seem a genuine bargain after airport food court rip-offs.

Go for the calm and quiet atmosphere, comfortable couches, coffee, tea and desserts.  If you’re on a budget, the tea is fairly inexpensive and always very fresh.  While I don’t think they have a full kitchen, they do also pull together good Russian classics like blinis with fresh fruit toppings.

Worth Visting During the Day? Yes, for coffee and desserts.  It’s also a great place to hold meetings when the electricity on your office goes out)

3. Cafe-Bistro Moskva (Razzakov, 1 block N of Bokonbaev)

If you’re absolutely new to Bishkek and starving after a half day’s journey, this slick soho-style not-so-soviet canteen is probably the best place to go.  A clean, spacious and top-class take on the soviet-era stolovaya (canteen), Cafe Moskva lets you survey all the samplings of Russian and Kyrgyz fare before selecting your favoured plate.  If you’renew to Kyrgyzstan and don’t understand anything on the menus, this is a great way to figure out what’s on offer and see what you might like.

Prices are certainly higher than those at classic canteens but lower than in a restaurant – almost everything on the menu (pdf here) is under 100 som.  And unlike a regular stolovaya, nobody is impatient, unless it’s lunch hour at the nearby embassies.

Go for the wide variety of local food, clean and expedient presentation, and fresh-pressed espresso at the adjoining cafe.

Worth Visting During the Day? Yes, definitely – for a simple but satisfying meal, or newbies to the Central Asia food scene.

Cosmo Park Restaurant Reviews

Almost every week we head over to Beta 2 or Orto Sai Bazaar at least once for weekly grocery shopping, or for a dinner when we don’t want to battle the downtown traffic.  The problem is though that there aren’t many decent restaurants in the area.  There’s Barashek by the 11th Microdistrict for kebabs and fancier fare (or just overstuffed interiors), Adriano Coffee for a Portland-esque escape, but all of the places we used to frequent have either closed their doors (like the open air Brazilian restaurant) or grown steadily worse over the years (like the Beta 2 restaurant).  So this year we decided to try some new fare.

aroma 2
A few weeks ago we stopped by Aroma Pizza right outside of Cosmo Park.  Considering that this is a chain restaurant and has ‘pizza’ in the name, I thought it was going to be terrible.  It wasn’t.  The service was prompt and courteous, the food was fresh, and the prices were decent. We ordered two kebabs and two salads.  For a franchise, the kebabs were even better than those at Barashek – juicy, tender, just a tinge spicy.  Our vitamin salad was flavorful and light; the mango and chicken salad came out with… honey-glazed ham and canned peaches on a bed of spinach with a bit too much oil.  But other than that, everything was absolutely fine.  Our bill for food and drinks for two came out to 1100 som after service – not bad. It’s not a ‘prime restaurant’, but we’d definitely go there again for an outdoor dinner, or before catching a film at the ‘English Movie Club’ at Cosmopark (finally some films not dubbed in Russian!).

This past Thursday we tried out another new Cosmopark-area offering: the “Black Rabbit Bar“.  We’d stepped in the one on Kievskaya before and had an awful experience – bad waitstaff, everlong waits for anything, cheap decorations, a ‘cappuccino’ that tasted like it came from the vending machine in a hospital waiting room.  But – new venue, new staff, right? Anyway, the top floor terrace seating looked too appealing, so we decided to give it a go.

Continue reading

Bishkek Restaurant Review: Barashek

Summer Seating – picture form their website

Barashek translated as “lambling” I was told.  It’s also a sprawling restaurant complex in the 11th Microdistrict, southwest of Beta 2 where Kutubaev intersects with Aaly Tokombaev (map here).

Despite being quite literally on the edge of the city, the 11th microdistrict is a pleasant, soviet-planned neighborhood with a warren of old apartments, shops and restaurants nestled among the tall green trees directly facing a park with a ferris wheel and a half-dozen shashlik houses that open outdoors in summer.  Usually the shashlik isn’t very good, but the Arpa on tap is fresh and, for Bishkek, the setting couldn’t be better.  Continue reading

Easy Bishkek Dessert Idea: Warm Cinnamon Apples & Honey Cake

medovnik

This dessert (or Wednesday morning breakfast…) is super easy to make and looks great (especially if you’re having people over for dinner and want to impress them with your two-minute presentation skills).

You will need:

  • Approximately 1/2 slice honey cake (medovnik) per person.  DO NOT BUY THE MEDOVNIK AT NARODNIE! IT IS AWFUL AND TASTES LIKE STYROFOAM
  • 1-2 red or yellow apples
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, with possible nutmeg, allspice or ginger
  • Kaymak (Turkish clotted cream), Smetana or Greek Yogurt for topping
  • Possible crushed walnut for topping

Directions:

  • Thinly slice the apples and place in a microwave-safe bowl with spices and maybe 1/4 tsp butter. Microwave for 2-3 min
  • Thinly slice the medovnik and artfully arrange on the plate.
  • Microwave the medovnik for ~20-30 seconds to warm it up.
  • Top medovnik with apples, kaymak/yogurt, crushed walnuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Voila!

Bishkek Burger House: Happy Mod-retro Meals

So this evening I convinced E to try out Bishkek’s new Burger House on Kievskaya for dinner. This is a man who loves hamburgers, as much as I love the first fresh salad in spring or lush dew-dropped strawberries straight from the field. Every time we visit Turkey he eats hamburgers for the first four or five days…starting in the Istanbul airport. But his last experience with a hamburger in Bishkek was so terrible (even the streetdog he offered it to wouldn’t touch it) that he had all but forsaken them until we next leave the country.   It was a good thing he hadn’t completely forsaken the experience, because Burger House was actually decent. And by decent I mean not the best burger I’ve ever had, but good enough to put American fast food chains to shame, and absolutely incomparable with Bishkek’s other options.

The menu is pretty simple – six types of hamburgers (including lamb burger and chicken breast), salads, fries, milk shakes (for once not called “milk cocktails”!) and both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. As you can see from the menu, everything but the alcohol was very reasonably priced.

The hamburger-man ordered a lamburger and fries, I ordered a London burger, and with beverages our total came to exactly $10 (615 som). As should be clear from the picture, the vegetables were fresh, the cheese real, the buns well-baked (unfortunately they only have white, but at least it wasn’t soggy), and the meat was actual meat. Mine was actually a bit pink in the middle – but three hours after dinner I’m still feeling perfectly fine.

 Unfortunately I only got half a shot of the lamburger, because it was half-gone before I took out my camera. But – service was quick, presentation was clean, food was cheap – and the ambiance was surprisingly good.

   The managers have gone for a classical industrial-mod look, with high exposed ceilings decorated in chains of artsy frosted bare bulbs and wrap-around second floor ceiling. There are actually a lot of tables in the place, but because of the high ceilings it doesn’t feel crowded or claustrophobic. One time design was done right.

UPDATE (3/28): We made a second trip to the Burger House.  Man had a classic burger, which he pronounced completely satisfactory; we ordered rosemary fries (which were addicting – I just wish they had rosemary potato wedges; though probably equally unhealthy they would feel classy); we shared a house salad – beautiful fresh tossed greens in the lightest of dressings topped with raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and blue cheese in a city where there is little blue cheese – beautiful, and $2; and I got a ‘signature burger’, which had gross red sauce (it was supposed to have BBQ sauce…) and canned mushrooms and pickles. I would not try it again.

So, the basics:

Where: Kievskaya, just E of the ploshad (map here)

Price Range: Moderate (200-300 som/person).

Food on Offer: Basic burgers, fries, shakes, salads…and imported German beer.

For What Occasion: Any. Casual dinner, mid-day replenishment, hamburger-hungry expats, a break from bazaar fare for inter-stan explorers.

Seating & Service: It’s kind of a cross between a fast food joint and a decent sit-down restaurant. Minimal- efficient service.  Booths and tables inside, a few tables on the entranceway patio outside.

English: Menu. Friendly staff might speak a word or two.

Vegetarian: nope (unless you can survive on salad, fries and wine).

also…OMG ACTUALLY NON-SMOKING!!!

Bishkek Restaurant Review: Park Cafe

You won’t find this Turkish standby in any of the Bishkek guides, but Park Cafe is definitely our go-to joint for Turkish cuisine.

Simit (bulgur and lamb) kebab with thyme and savory pepper

Some prices are a little higher than the Turkish places in the malls, and the decour is standard, but the food is clean and well-prepared, service is prompt and friendly, our bill has never been off,  they have daily specials with discount prices, and the tandoor meat. Tender. Fresh. Juicy. Melts in your mouth. They also have great kebabs, good soup and fırın sütlaç (oven-made rice pudding), year-round fresh green salad, crisp lahmacun and a great breakfast spread.  On weekends they provide a full Turkish breakfast spread all day – go with a few friends and split a table full of food.  Portions are man-sized and we rarely finish.

Arguably Bishkek’s Best Turkish Breakfast Spread. This is half the setting for two people.

Recommended Dishes: 

– The Soups are always good (especially the lentil – mercimen corbasi); around 100 som for a full portion, 70 for half

– For fresh salad, try the Corban Salatasi (sheperd’s salad), Mevsim Salatisi (Seasonal Salad) or Yesil Salatisi (Green salad); all about 100 som

– For breakfast, the Türk kahvaltısı (Turkish breakfast spead) is delicious (but a little pricey at 500 som/person); if on a budged, the menemen (which comes with lavash) and omelets are still very good, or you can go for the simple breakfast plate (around 250)

lahmacun

– If hungry, try the tandoor kebab with yogurt. Savory-sweet tandoor-oven slow-roasted mutton over a fragrant bed of rice is perfectly complimented by a spoonfull of sour handchurned yogurt. (450 som)

– To try something Turkish that we don’t often have in the west, go for the (abovepictured) simit kebab (300 som?) or lahmacun (200-250 som)

– If you want something a little lighter, they also make great chicken kebabs  with vegetable garnish (~250 som).

 

Practicalities:

Location: Erkindik and Kievskaya (on the ‘railroad park’, one block south of Chuy), next to a Begemont

Languages: Menu is in Turkish and Russian, but has ample pictures.  Waitstaff speak Turkish, Kyrgyz and Russian.  Most of the clientele seem to be either Turkish or local.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen another non-Turkish foreigner in there.

Price Range: Medium; around 300-500 som/person for a full meal (soup, salad, beverages, main course)

Does not serve: alcohol

Great for: Food. And watching Kral pop music videos.  There always seem to be a few tables of people discussing business in the restaurant. Go. Eat. You will not regret.

 

Bishkek Restaurant Review: Cyclon (Italian)

Let’s be honest: Cyclon (on Chuy, halfway between Beta Stores and the Plaza) isn’t really an Italian restaurant. But that’s a good thing.

Cyclon is one of our Bishkek ‘standbys’ (the others are Park Cafe, Old Edgar’s, Obama Bar, Cave Coffee, Coffee Cafe, Mira Kebaba, Furusato and occasionally Beta 2 for breakfast).  The restaurant is best in summer, when you can sit out on the covered terrace and watch the pedestrian traffic go by while catching the evening breeze. In winter it’s less crowded, but the interior is still well-situated.  The menu includes a lot of Italian classics (with names in accurate Italian!) along with a more general continental selection of soups, salads, pastas, meats, pizzas and desserts. There are some strange things on the menu – like Scottish Cock-a-leekie soup (definitely not Italian…), but everything I’ve tried has been good – fresh ingredients, flavorful, neither over nor under cooked, nicely presented.
IMG_0784Though, like a lot of Bishkek restaurants, garnishes are not included. E ordered veal with truffle sauce, and he got exactly that: veal with truffle sauce.

Some of my favorites from Cyclone include: cold gazpacho soup (in summer, with plenty of toppings), mini gnocchi, the tuna salad – actually basically all their salads. Yesterday we split a giant mound of cucumber, tomato and corn salad with pesto that was surprisingly fresh given the season. E swears by the wiener schnitzel and tomato soup,, and his ungarnished veal was not bad.

Some practicalities: 

– The menu is in both Russian and English (with grammatically accurate cute descriptions of all the food and stories behind the different Italian pastas)

– The waitstaff tries to speak English.  If you speak no Russian, they are polite and patient enough that you shouldn’t have a problem.

– Prices are all really reasonable for what you get (good service, attention to detail, carefully-prepared delicious food, good ambiance).  Soups run 100-200 som, salad 100-300, main dishes 200-800.  We usually spend around 1500 som for two (gratuity included), though if you just ordered a soup and salad you could easily have a decent meal for under 500. Things like tea and breadbaskets are also all reasonably priced, and we’ve never found our bill to be off. It’s probably the best value-for-your-money Italian-ish restaurant in the city

Easy-to-Make Cherry Chocolate Red Wine Cake

…that even rhymes!

Bishkek Food Hacks: Ovenless Red Wine (or Coffee) CherryChocolate  Cake

Noooooooo!

We all know it: Cake in Central Asia doesn’t quite compare.  It’s never dense or rich, just mildly sweet, somewhat dry, and definitely over-fluffy. A foray into any Narodnie will impart the impression that cakes in Kyrgyzstan are beautiful creations.

Napoleon Cake

Napoleon Cake

But it’s just the illusion of styrofoam-frosting. Unless you want a mouthful of dry, chemically-marshmallow, don’t try.  There’s no satisfaction in eating something that’s both bad for you and tastes fake. (One very special exception: Obama Bar does have good Napolean, which is  far superior to the US funeral variety and E’s favorite)

Our new apartment also doesn’t have an oven, so making a cake can create somewhat of a quandary.
But today I remedied this problem with red wine cherry chocolate cake with walnuts.  Dense, delicious, definitely chocolatey, and the tart burst of cherry was perfectly complimented by the dark tones of wine and soft, slightly bitter walnuts.  Did I mention that I made this in a microwave?
So, if you have access to a microwave and a Harodnie, here’s how to make rich faux-gourmet chocolate cherry cake:
IMG_0627
Ingredients for two:
(Follow this or any basic mug cake recipe, plus cherries and walnuts, swapping out the milk for 1-2 Tbs red wine)
5 Tbs flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1-2 Tbs unsweetened bitter chocolate
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1/4-1/2 dark chocolate bar, cut into slivers or small chunks
Pinch nutmeg, possible cardamon
10 walnuts, crushed
1/2 cup frozen cherries
I added shredded coconut, but it would have been smoother without
– Wet Ingredients –
1-2 Tbs greek yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp oil
1-2 Tbs red wine (or coffee, if you don’t have an already-opened bottle of wine)
Instructions:
1. Place walnuts on bottom of a large coffee mug/small bowl (if you plan on flipping it upsidown for presentation)
2. Mix together dry ingredients
3. Add frozen cherries and mix in
4. Add wet ingredients.  Mix minimally (mixing too much will make it very chewy)
5. Microwave on high/medium high for *about* 90 seconds.  Stop when the top is solid.
Top with yogurt, or a drizzle of honey.
As you can see, I forgot to take a photo before we started, because I didn’t know how good it was)), and unfortunately the photo does not capture the rich beauty that is this cake. So try it, leave comments, and let me know of anything else you’ve discovered to be possible in a limited Bishkek kitchen.

Bishkek Food Hacks: Chicken Alfredo

IMG_4922.JPG
If you want something a little more gourmet, and don’t have time/don’t know what to make with the limited winter produce/like Italian, this almost matches the pasta at Cyclone, costs $3 for an entire pot.
I was making E post-basketball pasta today and decided to see if the mushroom “Happy Milkman” creamy spreadable cheese sitting in the back of our fridge would work as pasta sauce. I don’t remember the last time I got so much praise for dinner. It was so good I almost ate it myself (and I’m not a pasta eater…). And it was super easy.

Ingredients:
Pasta of Choice (20-50 som)
1/3 container spreadable cheese, mushroom flavor (80 som/container)
Chopped dill (10 som)
1/4 onion, sliced thin (5 som?)
Chicken breast (50-100 som; depends on how much you want

1. Make Pasta; add sliced onions if desires
2. Drain Pasta
3. Cut chicken breast into cubes
4. Sauté chicken breast
5. Mix spreadable cheese into pasta. Sprinkle dill. Add chicken. Stir.

Possible Modifications:
Thin sliced onions to garnish
Ham instead of chicken?
Sliced and sautéed mushrooms

Kyrgyzstan, Cake

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IMG_1487.JPG
If I ever complain about Cake in Bishkek, this is why. Last night we had some friends over for dinner and, as per custom, they brought a cake. Dessert didn’t follow dinner however, and the cake was left in it’s box ’til morning, when Erdem and I decided to see what was inside. Cute cake, but basically white fluff, like someone had sprayed a vanilla-flavored sponge with plasticy-sweet Styrofoam. In other words, typical of most desserts in Kyrgyzstan – always fluffy, always sweet, never very intense in taste or ultimately satisfying. Considering that I grew up going to Cafe Latte for sweets and Sunday brunch, this is more than mildly disappointing on the occasion where I do want dessert (or where you’re served a plate and expected to eat it). Seriously, I salivated looking at the cakes from Cafe Latte.

Turtle Nut Cake




Seriously.


However, I have found one place that serves decent dessert – the Stolovaya (Cafeteria) just south of Manas University on Prospect Mira has fantastic honey cake for 45 som (about 90 cents). And it’s only this stolovaya too – even coutured cafes and restaurants can’t compare. Erdem loves it heated up and topped with kaymak and honey – last time he ate it in about five seconds flat, so no pictures for the blog.
But seriously – the Medovnik from the public cafeteria near Manas University is the only cake worth eating in Bishkek. Waste not your waist anywhere else.