Eating in South Shore
Discover local cuisine while connecting with local families.
Taste the Flavors of Nomadic Cuisine
South Shore's culinary traditions pull inspiration from the region's long nomadic heritage, and combine traditional dishes with a fascinating array of spices and flavors that merchants brought on their journey along the ancient Silk Road. Generations of nomads and Kyrgyz people have carried on these culinary traditions in their homes and at festivals and celebrations.
Today in modern Kyrgyzstan, travelers along the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul will taste the most popular Kyrgyz dishes right in their yurt camps and guesthouses. Because of the region's unique layout, restaurants are a less popular dining option for guests staying at more remote accommodations. Many independent travelers (and tour groups too!), will book nightly meals at their accommodation. All of the region's yurt camps and guesthouses can provide three daily meals by request (breakfast is often included in the price). In fact, shared meals in the dining yurt of your camp may stand out as one of your favorite experiences in South Shore — the food is plentiful and guests can share stories together as they enjoy a range of tasty salads, traditional Kyrgyz dishes, fresh breads, and more.
Several yurt camps and guest houses offer cooking classes so travelers can learn how to make traditional Kyrgyz dishes themselves. Do a search for "cooking" in the accommodation listing to find out which places offer cooking courses.
Independent travelers staying in Bokonbaevo have more traditional restaurant and cafe options available for any meal. However, even then you can almost always book dinner at your guesthouse or hotel. If you're driving through the region, some of the larger villages and hotels have cafes as well. Use our directory for a full listing of South Shore restaurants and cafes.
You can also pick up snacks, fruit or other essentials at the market or grocery store in Bokonbaevo, located near the bus station and in front of Argymak Cafe. It is open from 9:00-19:00. There is also a smaller market open in Kyzyl-Suu village (Jeti-Oguz District) from 09:00. You'll be able to find simple food shops in other villages throughout the region.
Note: Fluent English-speakers are not always available at every yurt camp or guesthouse. If you have very serious food restrictions or life-threatening allergies, please be proactive and carry a printed card with these allergies translated into Russian Cyrillic. And please notify the Destination South Shore team so we can help you communicate your needs to your accommodation.
Most independent travelers eat at their yurt camp and guesthouse accommodations, and this is actually a benefit for vegetarian travelers and those with food restrictions. Many of these places have experience hosting tourists and understand dietary restrictions better than local restaurants, which are most accustomed to serving Kyrgyz and Russian tourists. Always notify your hosts when booking your stay, and remind them again whenever you book daily meals so that there are no surprises.
Vegetarian food is also available on any treks booked through Destination South Shore and the CBT — both organizations will clearly communicate your restrictions to your guides and cooks, ensuring you have appropriate food during your trek.
Guesthouses and yurt camps often prepare foods that allow them to best meet the needs of all people dining at the yurt camp that evening. For that reason, you may not be able to request specific dishes, but you will receive a tasty vegetarian version of traditional dishes.
Vegetarian food options: Many Kyrgyz meals, especially during the summer season, include fresh salads (usually with a base of cucumber, tomato, and onion) and seasonal fruit. Additionally, a handful of traditional Kyrgyz and nomadic dishes are easily prepared vegetarian, including: oromo, manti, samsa, laghman, ganfan, and ashlan-fu. Kyrgyz meals can also include a variety of hearty and delicious breads with each meal.
Snacks: Consider traveling with your own supply of nuts and dried fruits. You can find these at the market in the city center of Bokonbaevo, or buy snacks in Bishkek or Karakol (which has a particularly wonderful range of vegetarian dishes, food tours, and culinary offerings for vegetarian travelers).
No immersion into South Shore's living nomadic culture is complete without sampling the dishes that nomads have eaten for centuries. Before you leave South Shore, be sure you've enjoyed the unique flavors of at least a few of these dishes.
Shashlyk & Kazan Kebab
Shashlyk is best known as kebabs. Locals grill these delicious skewers of meat to perfection. Usually prepared with mutton (but also with chicken, beef, or goat), shashlyk is sometimes marinated to enhance the flavor. When served as a part of your meal, shashlyk is garnished with fresh onion and vinegar. Fair warning: When grilling mutton, locals preference almost always includes one piece of fat on the skewer to enhance the flavor as the fat drips onto the burning embers. Kazan kebab is essentially shashlyk cooked in a pot — something that sounds simple, yet is uncommonly tasty.
Spices perfectly mingle with fried marinated meat, onions, and potatoes in this hearty Kyrgyz dish. It's an easy one-plate meal, which has made it perennially popular with Kyrgyz nomads. Although you may sample this any time of year, kuurdak is particularly beloved during the cold winter months.
Marinated for days and slow-cooked in a traditional kazan, tash kordo was the preferred dish of the country's ancient nomadic hunters. Once properly marinated and flavorful, meat is further seasoned with wild onion and garlic as it cooks. This is a real treat that is best enjoyed at a yurt camp out on the jailoo — Jaichy Yurt Camp prepares a particularly tasty version! Be sure to order at least one day in advance if you hope to sample this meal since it takes many hours across two days to prepare and cook it. (Photo credit: TripAdvisor)
Central Asian cultures love dumplings and Kyrygz people are no different, you'll find dumplings prepared in a variety of ways. Oromo is a popular dish traditionally made with layers of handmade dough, which is then most often filled with minced meat and onions, but it can also be prepared with cabbage and carrots for vegetarians. Manti is also widely enjoyed throughout the region. Traditionally, succulent lamb and onion fill these steamed dumplings, but some versions also include seasonal ingredients (like pumpkin), or juisai (greens). Manti is rarely prepared vegetarian unless specifically requested as even the versions with greens will include animal fat unless you specify ahead of time.
A flavorful, traditional nomadic dish prepared with mutton (or other meat) and hand-cut noodles. This is a forks-optional meal: beshbarmak means “five fingers” in Kyrgyz, and nomads usually blend the meat, juices, and noodles with their hands. Most often eaten in the mountains, beshbarmark is a perfect choice to fuel your trek or outdoor adventures.
Most yurt camps, guesthouses, and homestays serve boorsok, which are small fried squares of dough, typically served with honey, jam, or a clotted cream called kaymak. Boorsok is often used to welcome guests and is considered a sign of hospitality. Jaichy Yurt Camp even offers a fun, quick boorsok-making class.
If you love the flavors of kefir or Ayran in Turkic and Central Asian cultures then you just may have a new favorite drink! That said, kymyz is an acquired taste for many travelers and can have certain cleansing effect for those new to drinking it. Made from fermented mare's milk, kymyz is very local and very authentically Kyrgyz. It's worth trying this tangy drink at least once during your visit. Learn more about kymyz here. (Photo courtesy of Baytur.kg)
Kyrgyzstan's position on the Silk Road ensured that the country's cuisine incorporated a fascinating array of flavors and spices pulled from its neighbor's favorite cuisines. As such, these dishes are an authentic representation of cuisine in Kyrgyzstan. They are tasty, too!
A wildly popular dish in nearby Karakol, this Dungan soup is served cold, spicy, and delicious. It's also inherently easy to prepare it vegetarian since the sauce is made from a blend of tangy vinaigrette broth and garlic chili sauce. The broth-sauce is then served with fresh wheat noodles and thin ribbons of starch (usually corn or potato starch). Traditionally, savory minced meat is scooped onto the top of the soup at the end. This makes for an especially delicious lunch and is available at Cafe Argymak and Aysuluu Cafe, as well as in some of the region's yurt stays.
With just the prefect blend of al-dente texture and rich flavor you would expect from freshly hand-pulled noodles, laghman is a real treat for Central Asian travelers. There are several styles of noodle preparation — fried, boiled, or noodle soup — but all traditionally include a spicy sauce of meat, vegetables, and herbs. Locals also prepare a version of this called ganfan, which features similar ingredients served over a bed of rice instead of noodles. If you like a bit of spice in your food, ask for laza (a condiment made of sauteed crushed chili and garlic) on the side.
Reminiscent of Indian samosas, Kyrygz samsas feature a different flavor profile. These flaky stuffed pastries are usually filled with a well-seasoned mixture of onions and lamb. However, you may find potato versions available as a street snack. Expect to find these cut into triangles or half-moons and then cooked to a light, golden perfection. Pro tip: Although they taste incredible as a hot snack any time of day, they are also particularly handy as trekking food!
No Kyrgyz meal is complete without a hearty portion of bread. In fact, you will often be welcomed to Kyrgyz homes with bread, since bread is considered a sign of hospitality. Many styles of bread and preparations date to nomad times, while others pull influence from neighboring countries. All are delicious. You are likely to find lepyoshka, dense rounds of flatbread, just about everywhere, including at markets and on tables during large meals.