Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ala-Archa Skiing

Just returned from several days skiing in Ala-Archa with my friends David (a Brit living and studying Russian in Bishkek) and Frieder (a German attending medical school in Bishkek). The trek in was long, the last 2 km took us over 6 hours and we arrived well after dark. We camped out in an old abandoned ski lodge situated at 3500 m (that is over 11,500 ft) at the head of the Ala-Archa drainage. Although the snow was shallow, weak (check out snow profile) and windblown we had a great time exploring, skiing mellow runs at the base of several glaciers and dreaming of returning when there is more snow and longer days.

PHOTOS (click to see more photos)

SNOW PROFILE (click to enlarge)


Food is not the highlight of Central Asia, but still a tasty and often fatty experience. Food in Kyrgyzstan is a combination of the traditional diet of meat, dairy and bread mixed with regional influences from Dungan Chinese, Uzbek and Turks. Meat is king, and fatty mutton is the most esteemed ingredient of any meal. People also eat beef, chicken and at weddings and funerals horse meat. Daily food is based on potatoes, bread, rice, noodles and often some various combination of them mixed with mutton and load of fat. Bread products abound from street stalls into everyone’s home. Produce is seasonal, I look forward to spring and summer when the markets will fill overflowing with apricots, peaches and apples (did you know apples are from the Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan area?). In the winter, all fruits and vegetables besides potatoes seem to be more decorative than nutritional.

Meals are usually served on a dastarkhan, a large cloth laid on the floor. In some homes people sit on the floor around a small table as well. The meal usually starts with tea the breaking of bread, torn apart and distributed across the table. Then the main meal is served and it seems to be a free for all. As a guest a more elaborate setting of food is usually present. You can read about my experiences of being a guest in Issy-Kul.



  • BESH-BARMAK- Translation means five fingers, which is a literal meaning as it is usually eaten with the hand. Not just a dish, besh-barmak is a entire process from the slaughtering of the sheep to the distribution of who gets what piece of meat.

  • SHASHLYK- Kebabs of fresh marinated meat cooked outside over an open flame. Most common is mutton but you can also find beef, chicken and liver. Delicious!

  • LAGHMAN- Noodles served with mutton and a few vegetables in a broth. Everywhere, seems to be the go to item for most people.

  • MANTY- A steamed dumpling filled with meat and onions.

  • PLOV- Rice pilaf made with mutton, lots of fat and few pieces of carrots and onions all cooked in a kazan (large cauldron).

  • GAMBURGER- Found only on the streets of Bishkek, it is like a hamburger but it is not. Westernization of mutton packaged up with lots on mayo.


  • NAN (Kyrgyz) and LEPYOSHKA (Russian)- Bread usually baked in a tandoori oven. Everywhere in many forms and served at every meal. Did I mention it is everywhere?
  • SAMSA- Meat and/or veggie pie made with pastry dough baked in a tandoori oven.
  • PIROSHKI- Deep fried meat or potato pies. Different from a samsa because it is a heavier dough and deep fat fried.
  • BOORSOK- Square pieces of fried dough. One of the most preferred and respected types of bread. Heaps of boorsok often decorates the table for quests.

MILK PRODUCTS Central Asia offers the best dairy products I have ever tasted in my life.
  • Kaimak is a heavy cream, scooped of the top of sitting milk.
  • Yogurt takes on many forms here. There is plain yogurt best in rural areas when it is fresh. Aryan or kefir is a salty yogurt/water mixture. Katyk is a thinner version of Aryan. And Kurut! Kurut are small balls of dried salty kefir (yogurt). Often an acquired taste, kurut is one of my favorite snacks. Kymys is alcoholic fermented mare’s milk that is the national drink of Kyrgyzstan. Despite all the dairy, there is not too much good cheese to be found.
  • Ozz is my favorite, the thick sweet milk only produced by a cow in the first 10 days after giving birth to a calf


Tea and vodka are the drinks of choice...

  • Chay (TEA) Tea is of the utmost importance and as a guest your piala (round tea mug without handle) is tended to diligently and never left empty. Both black and green tea are common.

  • VODKA Despite the fact that most people are Muslim, drinking is not a light affair in Kyrgyzstan. Vodka dominates every drinking affair I have been involved with. The pressure is heavy to drink, the toasts long and the shots often. In Russian “chut chut” just a little bit is often the preface. But just one is not really an option. I have found it to be all or none.