When you first arrive in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, picking up some city guides/maps of the city you are in is always a smart move. There is an excellent city guide called Welcome Journal available in Bishkek as well as a couple free maps of the city. (There are good maps available in Osh as well.) The city guides in Kyrgyzstan can give you a lot of helpful information about hotels, tourism related companies, and restaurants. If you are interested in Bishkek nightlife or nightlife in Osh, Kyrgyzstan especially, a city guide is a good item to obtain for finding popular pubs and restaurants.
Since all visitors to Kyrgyzstan will undoubtedly be spending a lot of time in Kyrgyzstan’s restaurants and cafes, it is on this area that I’d like to expand and give you a few tips in order to help prepare you for the restaurant culture in Kyrgyzstan.
WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE?
So let’s say you have your city guide in hand, your stomach is growling from your gazillion-hour long flight, and you select a tempting-looking restaurant in which to alleviate your hunger pangs. Now comes the fun part: functioning in Kyrgyzstan’s restaurant culture.
First of all, when you walk into a restaurant or café, just pick a spot and sit down somewhere. Unless you are in a really upscale restaurant, they will not have a hostess that guides you to a table. Someone will notice that you sat down and will come take care of your order.
Ordering in a restaurant in Kyrgyzstan
Always have 2-3 possible options in mind when you order in a restaurant in Kyrgyzstan. It is possible that your first choice is not being served that day for one reason or another, so you will have to move onto option two or possibly three. In small village cafes, it is better to ignore the menu altogether and just ask the waiter/waitress to tell you what they have available.
Service during Your Meal
Once your server has taken your order (drinks and food at the same time usually), they will come around occasionally to clear napkins off the table to clear away unused dishes, but otherwise, will not stop by to ask if you want refills on your drink or anything like that. If you need something, you usually have to flag them down.
Your server will also bring dishes out as they are ready, not wait for your whole table’s order to be ready and then serve it.
Tips in Kyrgyzstan
So now you have devoured your food, gotten your server’s attention, and they’ve brought you the check (or in village cafes, just told you how much you owe). You look at the check, but do not read Russian well and think frantically to yourself, “Oh no, do people tip in Kyrgyzstan? is the tip included in the bill?” Don’t worry. Gratuity should already be added onto the bill when you receive it (or the total that was told to you by your server), so there is no need to give additional tips in Kyrgyzstan unless you would like to of course. No one minds extra tips!
Can I Pay with Credit Card?
Some restaurants in the larger cities accept credit cards, but by and large it is much better to carry cash with you. In villages, paying with cash is a must.
The Price of Restaurants in Kyrgyzstan
If you visit a typical, run-of-the-mill restaurant or café in a larger city in Kyrgyzstan, an entrée can cost you anywhere from 120-300 soms ($2-5). If you are out enjoying the nightlife in Bishkek or Osh, Kyrgyzstan and order a larger meal that includes a salad, entrée, bread, and non-alcoholic beverage, you can safely estimate that it will cost you around 350-450 soms ($5.50-7.50). So really, the price of travel in Kyrgyzstan is extremely affordable with regard to eating out. If you are eating in a village café, the price of travel in Kyrgyzstan is even more outrageously affordable because village food is much cheaper than city food. It is possible to order a huge entrée for as little as 100 soms (less than $2).
So depending on the country you are coming from, service and restaurant culture in Kyrgyzstan might look rather different than your home country. However, it is fairly easy to cope with as long as you walk into restaurants knowing these few key facts. As you travel around Kyrgyzstan, I highly recommend trying a wide variety of restaurants, not just frequenting the first one you go to and like. In the cities there is a variety of cuisine you can try including Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Uigur, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Polish, etc. Treat your palette to all the different tastes you can find and Kyrgyzstan and enjoy the experience!
Photo from source: www.aibek.nomadlife.org, photo from source: www.bangusbelly.blogspot.com, photo from source: www.riceandwheat.com, photo by Ekaterina Ivashenko, photos by Vlad Ushakov