Top 20 Most Popular Foods in Turkmenistan
Lying deep in the heart of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is a land set high and dry, with hot summers and dry winters. Bordered by the Caspian Sea and largely covered by the Karakum Desert, this nation is known for endless deserts, gorgeous carpets, Golden Akhal-teke horses, and of course, scrumptious food.
You can taste the most unique dishes of the East in Turkmenistan, and the food here will leave you with unforgettable impressions. The country’s distinctive cuisine is shaped by its climatic and geographical conditions. That is why the main characteristics of Turkmen dishes are their nourishing value and simplicity not masking the natural flavors with intense herbs and spices.
With the blend of its nomadic history, Turkmen cuisine is piled high with meat dishes, rice, bread, dairy, kefir made from camel’s milk, and vegetables and fruits. The Turkmen table is also adorned with the sweetest and juiciest melons in the world. If you are a meat lover, here, you can dive into the world of meat dishes. Turkmen prefer mutton to other meats. As most Turkmen are Muslims, horse meat and pork are not consumed in Turkmenistan.
So what are the most popular foods in Turkmenistan? Scroll down to see the top 20 foods you absolutely need to try on your trip to Turkmenistan.
Palaw also called ash is a staple and considered the core dish of Turkmenistan as well as neighboring countries. While it is a must-have dish for family dinners, it is also a required meal for special celebrations.
The main ingredients of palaw are lamb meat and rice. It is made by frying meat, julienned carrots, sliced onions and boiling rice. Rice is boiled and after absorbing the water it is steamed until cooked. When it is almost ready, dried fruit and garlic can be added if desired. This regional delicacy is enjoyed best when served with a chopped green summer salad.
Dograma is real Turkmen comfort food which is certainly not found in the cuisine of other Asian countries. This original and ancient Turkmen dish has a long history dating back to sacrificial rituals and rites. It is still loved, honored by the Turkmen people, and prepared on special occasions, weddings, and religious holidays like Kurban Bayrami.
The ingredients are fresh lamb, onion, and dry flatbread “dograma chorek” or “petir.” The bread is baked in special ovens called tamdyr and the lamb is cooked separately. Then, the bread is torn into small pieces— a task that usually involves the entire family with neighbors also invited—and mixed with slices of onion and shredded meat. Finally, dograma is scooped into a bowl and covered with hot broth for each guest to enjoy.
For heat lovers, it can be seasoned with black pepper.
Unash is a famous soup with beans and hand-made noodles. This thick, nourishing and delicious hot dish with red pepper is perfect for chilly days. In traditional practice, unash is recommended to be eaten in winter as a preventive strengthening the immune system. And when someone has a cold or flu they have unash as a remedy.
The soup is made with beans, lamb chunks or govurdak, sautéed onions, and tomatoes. Then, hand-made fresh noodles are added and the soup is boiled until it is ready. Enjoy it with strained or palin yogurt and you will not stop wanting more of this hearty dish.
Manti are steamed dumplings which is one of the most appetizing and popular Turkmen dishes. More specifically, they are dumplings widely enjoyed in a number of East and Central Asian countries. The filling of manty consists of meat and vegetables such as onions or pumpkin. Salt and pepper are added to give flavor.
It is cooked in a multi-level steamer for 40 minutes. Manti is usually served with süzme (a traditional strained yogurt) that balances the spiciness of the meal and gives a refreshing aftertaste.
Govurdak is one of the most popular and basic meat dishes Turkmen have relied on since ancient times. It is made by frying pieces of meat in their own fat. This traditional dish can be eaten either hot or cold with a side of Turkmen çorek (bread).
Back in the days before refrigeration, govurdak was cooked as a way of preserving meat. Govurdak preserves its edible quality for a long time and can also be kept in a cool place. It is used when preparing other Turkmen dishes as a base and to give them a rich, tasty flavor.
A truly distinctive dish in Turkmen cuisine and considered an ancient dish, Gazanlama is traditionally prepared by shepherds in the desert using saxahual, a desert bush. One gets a chance to see the spectacular Turkmen desert when eating this feast dish since it is impossible to prepare Gazanlama in the modern kitchen.
Lamb meat is marinated in salt, paprika, and garlic and placed directly onto hot coals and covered with a big cauldron lid, which is then buried in slightly wet sand. The fragrant smoke from the saxahual coals gives the meat a delightful, unique taste. It is impossible to depict the fragrant smell of meat cooked on saxahual coals. Gazanlama is not the easiest dish to cook, but one that is worth your hard work and time.
Similar to the kebab, Turkmen çişlik is skewered pieces of meat, usually lamb, grilled over an open fire made from desert wood saxahual, which is a tree-like shrub unique to the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan.
It is a dish similar to that enjoyed in countries all across the former Soviet Union until today.
However, what makes Turkmen çişlik/kebab so special is its secret ingredient, desert wood saxahual. The smell from the fire is absorbed into the meat, which is cooked over it, letting the meat absorb the wood’s roasted flavor. Çişlik takes a prominent place at Turkmen tables, so if you are looking for a unique grilled experience, definitely give çişlik a try!
Usually served as a side dish, gutap is a savory, half-moon-shaped pastry that draws culinary influence from southern Asian neighbors. This crispy outside and juicy inside dish is also known as street food, so if you are traveling you can opt for this filling and delightful dish in markets and bazaars.
The filling consists of meat or spinach, pumpkin with chopped onions, salt, and pepper. The filling is put in rolled-flat dough and folded in a half-moon shape, deep-fried or cooked with a little oil in a pan flipped once until both sides are golden brown. The gutaps can be baked in the oven, in this case with slightly thicker dough. The dish can be paired with soups and salads or be enjoyed on its own for a quick and tasty bite.
You will never see a Turkmen handling their naan carelessly with one hand.
Called naan in some regions, chorek (flatbread) is the most important thing on a traditional Turkmen table. Bread is always treated with respect and it is also the first thing offered to a guest along with green tea when one arrives.
The dough is made using fresh yeast, salt, and water. After resting the dough for two hours in a warm place, it is baked in a tamdyr, a clay oven, which is considered the most sacred place in a home.
There are delicious savory and sweet variations of bread. Bread with meat inside can be eaten as a main meal on its own. Yagly çorek (literally oily bread) is made with butter in rolled-out dough and layers are created by rolling and folding, giving the bread an oval shape.
Hot out of the tamdyr (oven) Turkmen bread is best enjoyed dipped in cold water next to the warm tamdyr while other bread pieces are being baked.
A dish of Turkmen shepherds, işlekli (pronounced ishlekli) is a meat pie that was traditionally baked by burying it in hot sand and embers. Nowadays, işlekli is baked in the oven but local enthusiasts keep the traditional technique alive for a more authentic experience.
The filling consists of meat, sheep’s fat, and onion, all chopped into small pieces, and pepper. Chopping the meat is a key procedure, as chopped meat gives better results than ground meat. The filling is put between two round flat dough pieces and the edges are pressed down to seal. A hole is made in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Then, it is baked in the oven until the top is light brown. The scrumptious and juicy taste of this heavenly meat pie is simply captivating.
Pishme is a Turkmen kitchen staple. It is a traditional snack that is served with green tea during celebrations, especially weddings and “galpak toy” –a celebration held for the first haircut of a child. Although pishme is seen as a sweet snack now, it was originally prepared without sugar. However, nowadays it has turned into a sweet snack that is even tastier.
To make pishme mix flour, dry yeast, salt, milk, and sugar (optional) in a bowl to make the dough. Divide the dough into smaller rolls and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Roll out the dough until it is 5 mm thick. Cut the dough into long, 4–5 cm wide strips. Then cut the strips crosswise, making diamond shapes. Fry the dough in batches and strain once golden brown. This light delightful snack can be served with homemade fruit jam and green tea at breakfast, too.
When visiting Turkmenistan you cannot leave without tasting the famous çal (kefir from camel’s milk) here. Çal is a traditional Turkmen drink made from fermented camel’s milk. Camel’s milk can be fermented because it has a high sugar content. An early morning glass of breakfast çal in Turkmenistan is said to wake you up faster than a double espresso. It is also believed to have healing properties.
To make çal, the cream is skimmed off the milk, and the milk is thinned with water and left to ferment slightly. Because it is extremely perishable and requires specific preparation procedures, it is consumed close to where it’s made, soon after it is made. Sip away and let this wonderfully sour, sparkling drink cool you in the intense heat of Turkmenistan.
13. Börekli çorba
Originally a Russian dish, pelmeni (Börekli çorba) are dumplings with a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough. The dish is widely enjoyed by Turkmen and was quickly adopted as a Turkmen meal.
Turkmen’s version of dumpling differs in its tasty and hot soup. Dumplings are cooked in a flavorful vegetable soup made with govurdak (meat) and vegetables. This wonderful soup is served with süzme (strained yogurt). It is perfect as a first course but can be eaten as a main course, too.
14. Asma çorba
Asma çorba is the ultimate Turkmen soup dish that Turkmen enjoy regularly throughout the year. Lamb broth, boiled vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, fried onion, and carrots), with boiled lamb meat and bones are served together in a bowl, then salted and peppered to taste. Sometimes bay leaves are added for a nice aroma. Asma çorba is always served with Turkmen bread and sour cream (if desired).
A simple and honest soup, this is very delicious when eaten hot straight from the pot. Infused with the aroma of meat and vegetables, this hearty meal will definitely warm your belly and soul.
In Turkmen, the word batyrma literally means to dip.
Batyrma is a classic dish Turkmen eat during summer. The dish gathers a blend of the best fresh vegetables in one pot. Similar to ratatouille, its key ingredients are ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and onion. It can be served as an appetizing breakfast with a couple of eggs. Finely chopped meat or diced potatoes can be added, but then the cooking may take longer.
As you can guess from the name, batyrma is eaten by dipping pieces of bread into it. This simple yet hearty meal will leave you extremely satisfied when you are craving something hot and quick.
Süzme is made by straining yogurt for hours: for the best results a day or two. The result? A thick, creamy yogurt that can be spread on bread or mixed with cold water and salt to make a refreshing summer drink called süzmeçal. Like yogurt (gatyk), süzme is used as a topping for soups, pasta dishes, and dumplings.
In the past, nomadic Turkmen would make yogurt (gatyk) from milk, then strain the yogurt to make süzme (strained yogurt; the yogurt is strained by putting it in a cloth bag and hanging) and finally, dry the süzme into hard, sour balls known as gurt. Gurt was a practical way of preserving dairy products and was used in place of yogurt in dishes like unash. These Turkmen raffaello-looking gurt balls are also served as a quick snack and can be eaten with a cup of tea.
To make this mouthwatering treat, add salt to süzme, mix well, and roll between your palms into a ball. Arrange the balls on a tray. Let the balls dry outside in the sun until they become hard. Gurt is usually ready in 2 days if dried outside, or 5 days if dried indoors.
Şüle is a humble and flavorful Turkmen specialty. This filling and nourishing rice pudding is prepared with meat or govurdak, rice, and other vegetables.
Delectable govurdak (meat), along with potatoes and tomatoes, gives the porridge an amazing taste. For spice lovers, add red pepper flakes and then serve the dish to those who are waiting to gobble up this delight.
Mäşewe is another tasty and thick yet light soup, made from mungbeans and vegetables. Govurdak (meat) can be added according to mood. First, vegetables (normally potatoes, carrots, and onions) are fried and mungbeans are cooked in their delicious juices until they are tender. Like other Turkmen dishes, this one can be accompanied with bread and fresh onions if desired.
20. Kelle başayak çorbasy
A truly special dish in the Turkmen kitchen, Kelle başayak çorbasy (boiled head and feet) consists of heads and feet of lamb. It is cooked at weddings and funerals and can be found at everyday dinner tables too.
The head and feet are cleaned, washed, and thoroughly prepped. Then, put them in a large pot with water, and turn on the heat. The scum is removed once the water starts to boil. Cook slowly on very low heat until all the meat is tender and add salt to taste. The broth and the meat are served in separate bowls.
It is recommended to eat the soup once a month to keep your bones strong.
To sum up, Turkmen cuisine is unique and outstanding. If you are a hearty meat lover, this is probably the best cuisine. It is tasty, delicious and quite simple to make and a treasure that is waiting to be explored by more and more people.