Horse meat is widely consumed throughout most of Central Asia and is considered a delicacy. When the European horse meat scandal occurred, many Central Asians joked that they would love to pay for beef and accidently get horse as it would be a much cheaper way to get their favourite cut.
The exception of course is Turkmenistan where the production and consumption of horse meat is not allowed. Although not illegal in Tajikistan, it is not that common. This still leaves Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan where you’ll find it everywhere.
The most common horse meat dish in Central Asia is Beshbarmak (Бешбармак) , literally translated to “five fingers” as you are traditionally meant to eat it with your hands. Kazakhstan claims Beshbarmak as their national dish. It consists of flat noodles cooked with onions in a light broth, topped with shredded chunks of horse and then pieces of horse sausage known as Kazy.
Kazy (Казы) is another popular dish which is a horse meat sausage. Made from large chunks of meat combined with fat inside intestine casing, the dish is often served as a snack while drinking, as part of an assorted meat platter, on top of beshbarmak, or on top of plov.
Naryn (Haрын) is thin strands of pasta with finely shredded horse meat and topped with a couple of pieces of Kazy. Naryn is either served cold with a bowl of broth on the side or served already in broth.
There are plenty of other dishes as well which feature horse meat. Kuurdak (қуырдақ) is a dish of fried meat, onions and potatoes. This is also very popular in Kyrgyzstan. Zhal (жал) is a smoked horse lard similar to Salo, the Ukrainian pork equivalent. Or you could of course have it as a kebab, or “shashlik” as it’s locally known.
If you want to avoid horse meat it isn’t difficult though. Sometimes people comment that they’re worried they might be served horse meat by accident. Firstly, horse meat is not sold everywhere as it is a speciality and secondly, it is significantly more expensive that beef, chicken or lamb. That being said, it is best to learn the words for horse to avoid any issues if you don’t want to eat it. In Russian the word is Konina (Конина). In Kazakh it is Zhilky Yeti (Жылқы еті). With this in mind, menus are almost always in Russian and very rarely will Kazakh or any other local word appear. Most importantly there is no chance that you’ll accidentally receive it when you thought you were trying to order something else.
Of all the countries in Central Asia, horse is most widely consumed in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan also happens to be the second largest horse meat producer in the world, after China. Sometimes you’ll hear Kyrgyz complain that the best horse meat they produce is sold to Kazakhstan, meaning they don’t get to consume it themselves.
Of course, if the meat of a horse isn’t enough for you, the most popular beverage in much of this part of the world is horse milk, known primarily as Kumis. A fermented beverage that is quite sour but also happens to be slightly alcoholic.
If you'd like the chance to try some of these unique delicacies, why not join us in Central Asia next year?!