Beshbarmak

Beshbarmak as traditionally served in Kazakhstan. Image from weproject.media on Zen.yandex.ru.

Beshbarmak: The Five Finger Food of Central Asia

Published: January 1, 2021

Бешбармак (beshbarmak) is a dish enjoyed throughout Central Asia as well as regions of Russia and China. It consists of boiled meat served on a bed of thick, flat noodles and covered in an onion sauce called туздык (tuzdyk). A meal both hearty and delicious, бешбармак is particularly popular in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where it holds the privileged position of a national dish. It requires but a few ingredients to prepare, typically feeds an entire party, and, depending on how traditional one wants to be, does not even require eating utensils!

 

Почему они носят такое название?

The name “бешбармак” is a combination of just two words, “беш” (besh) and “бармак” (barmak) which translate as “five” and “fingers,” respectively. Combined, it describes the traditional way in which the meal is eaten: with the hands. This and the simplicity of бешбармақ both speak to the long history of mobile pastoralism practiced throughout the region, lives spent on the move between seasonal grazing grounds, and the people’s dependence upon their animals for sustenance.

Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and most other major languages of Central Asia are Turkic in origin. The dish is thus known by similar names across the cultures that traditionally eat the dish. For example, the number five in Kazakh is “бес” (bes) and the meal is sometimes, though not typically, called “бесбармақ”. The “қ” at the end of the word is unique to the Kazakh alphabet. In Uzbek and Kyrgyz, the number five is “беш” and the dish is thus called “бешбармак” (beshbarmak). In the Bashkir and Tatar languages, one would eat “бишбармак” (bishbarmak).

Central Asia also occupied a prominent role along the Silk Road. In the Chinese region of Xinjiang, which today boasts a large ethnic Kazakh population, бешбармак is called “нарын” (naryn) in Chinese. Нарын refers to a city, river, and region in Kyrgyzstan and may have served as the basis of the food name as well, referring to the place it was associated with when it was imported.

Lastly, while these are the most common names one would encounter on a trip abroad, some traditionalists, particularly in Kazakhstan, will say that бешбармак is not actually the name of the dish but only the style in which it is intended to be eaten. They instead call it simply “Ет ” (yet) which translates to simply “meat.”

Potatoes are the most common addition to this very simple dish. Photo from meadowsaffron.

Как правильно есть бешбармак?

While бешбармак is a delicious meal to eat anytime, most people will tell you that it is difficult to prepare in small portions. Бешбармак is typically cooked for large gatherings and served family style on platters placed in the center of the table. As a staple of their culture, Central Asians are quite hospitable people and take great pride in their history and traditions. It is not uncommon for guests to be served first with the best cuts of meat though in their absence, this honor is reserved for the eldest in attendance. If you are lucky enough to partake in meal of бешбармак and find yourself squeamish about using your hands to eat, fret not, utensils are a perfectly acceptable alternative though at least an attempt to eat with your five fingers will surely elicit a great deal of respect from those at the table.

For those who find themselves in Kazakhstan without a local chef, бешбармак can be ordered at restaurants specializing in traditional cuisine.

 

Как правильно готовить бешбармак?

Бешбармак can be prepared in a number of ways depending on the type of meat one would like to include in the dish. The most traditional form of the meal is cooked using horse meat, although beef and lamb are common substitutions. Pork and chicken are not recommended. For those looking to go truly authentic, horse meat sausage called “казы” (kazy) is cooked along with the other cuts.

Outside of Central Asia horse meat can be difficult to come by. In fact, some western countries have banned the sale and consumption of horse meat altogether. During the 2012 Olympics in London, the Kazakh national team had to petition the UK government to allow them to bring казы with them, arguing that it kept them fit and healthy for competition. In addition to beef and lamb, бешбармак in western Kazakhstan, where people have access to the Caspian Sea, is often prepared using fish. Sturgeon is preferred but salmon and trout are also acceptable.

In addition to meat substitutions, the dish can be altered slightly with additional vegetables. Popular choices include carrots and potatoes.

The only other aspect of preparing бешбармак that requires mention here is the noodles. Whether one chooses homemade or store-bought is entirely a personal preference, they should be square or rectangular in shape to allow for easy grabbing – the recipe below calls for diamond shapes. If you happen to be in Kazakhstan’s Kyzylorda region, though, expect to find your бешбармак meat resting upon a bed of rice rather than noodles, a regional variation that exists due to the abundance of that grain in that area. Other regional variations tend to be almost indecernable to those without deep knowledge of the food. For instance, the difference between Kazakh and Kyrgyz бешбармак is really only that you are more likely to find the onion sauce a bit thicker in Kyrgyzstan than you would in Kazakhstan.

However one chooses to prepare бешбармак, the most important thing to keep in mind is to make a lot and invite friends and family with whom to feast. Never fear making too much, either. The largest serving of бешбармак, prepared in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2018, weighed in at just over 3,200 lbs. – and all of it was eaten!

 

Давай приготовим!

Казахский Бешбармак

Состав

• 1,5 кг мяса
• 4 луковицы
• Соль
• Перец
• Лавровый лист
• Пшеничную муку – 600 г.
• Яйца – 3 шт.

 

Бульон

• Отмойте мясо холодной водой, разрежьте его 3–4 примерно одинаковые части.
• Положите мясо в большую кастрюлю, влейте холодную воду (4–4,5 л). Доведите до кипения на высоком огне. Когда бульон забурлит, убавьте пламя до минимума и варите 3–4 часа.
• По мере появления убирайте пену. Вытапливающийся жир отбирайте ложкой и сливайте в отдельную емкость.
• Через 2–3 часа посолите бульон, положите в него перец и лавровый лист.

Тесто на лапши

• Поместите муку в миску
• Разбейте яйца отдельно, вилкой взбейте, как на омлет, и добавьте к муке.
• Понемногу подливайте бульон и замешивайте тесто ложкой. Когда оно станет достаточно крутым (плотным), начинайте работать руками.
• Накройте тесто пленкой и оставьте на некоторое время.

Бешбармак: завершающий этап

• Выньте мясо из бульона. Разделите его по волокнам (руками) на небольшие кусочки.
• Лук нарежьте не так толсто — полукольцами. Обжарьте до легкой золотистости на сковородке, используя снятый с бульона жир. Выложите приготовленный лук на тарелку.
• Очень тонко раскатайте тесто. Нарежьте его полосками шириной в 5 см. Каждую разделите на ромбики. Пересыпьте их мукой, чтоб не слиплись.
• Отберите примерно литр бульона в отдельную кастрюльку, доведите до кипения и отварите кусочки теста в течение одной минуты.
• Бросьте ромбики в сковороду с жиром.

Подавайте бешбармак на общем широком блюде или подносе с высокими стенками. Вниз положите отваренное тесто, на него ломтики мяса, а поверх — лук. Приготовленный бульон подайте отдельно. Ешьте, пока бешбармак не остыл.

Kazakh Beshbarmak

Ingredients

• 1.5 kg of meat. (1 kg is approximately 2.2 lbs.)
• 4 onions
• Salt
• Pepper
• 1 Bay Leaf
• 600 grams of wheat flour (1 U.S. cup holds approximately 120 grams of wheat flour. Other types of flour may vary).
• 3 eggs.

Broth

• Wash the meat with cold water, cut it 3-4 roughly equal parts.
• Place the meat in a large saucepan, pour in cold water (4–4.5 L). Bring to a boil over high heat. When the broth is bubbling, reduce the flame to low and cook for 3-4 hours.
• Remove foam as it appears. Take out the melted fat with a spoon and pour into a separate container.
• After 2-3 hours, add salt to the broth, add pepper and bay leaves.

Dough for noodles

• Place flour in a bowl
• Beat the eggs separately, beat with a fork, as for an omelet, and add to the flour.
• Add broth little by little and knead the dough with a spoon. When it becomes thick enough (dense), start working with your hands.
• Cover the dough with plastic wrap and leave for a while.

Beshbarmak: the final step

• Remove the meat from the broth. Divide it by the fibers (by hand) into small pieces.
• Cut the onion not too thick – in half rings. Fry until lightly golden in a skillet using the fat skimmed from the broth. Place the cooked onions on a plate.
• Roll out the dough very thinly. Cut it into strips 5 cm wide (approximately 2 inches). Divide each into diamonds. Sprinkle them with flour so that they don’t stick together.
• Take about a liter of broth in a separate saucepan, bring to a boil and boil the dough pieces for one minute.
• Place the diamonds in the skillet with fat.

Serve beshbarmak on a shared wide platter or high-sided tray. Put boiled dough down, slices of meat on it, and onion on top. Serve the cooked broth separately. Eat while the beshbarmak is warm.

Our Favorite Beshbarmak Videos:

A great video from Kazakh TV in which a guest circus performer, Мурат Мутурганов, joins the host of a cooking show to not only demonstrate how to prepare бешбармак, but also discuss some of the culture, history, and tradition in making the dish.

Join these three Kazakh women as they prepare Kazakhstan’s national dish, бешбармак, and share their secrets to creating the most delicious feast.

Ever wonder how to make a 1.5 ton serving of бешбармак? Look no further! Enjoy this video from 2018 when Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest serving of бешбармак ever made! The majority of the video is in Russian, but you will also be treated to a bit of Kyrgyz as well.

About the author

Sean McDaniel

Sean McDaniel is a PhD of Russian and Soviet History who has particular interest in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. He is currently an adjunct instructor of history and as a Fulbright-Hays Scholar in 2017, he resided in Almaty, Kazakhstan and St. Petersburg, Russia conducting research for his dissertation, “Equine Empire: Horses and Power in the Kazakh Steppe, 1880s-1920s.” When he wasn’t inside a library or archive, Sean enjoyed exploring the rich history and culture of each locale. In particular, this included sampling lots of local cuisine.

Program attended: Online Internships

View all posts by: Sean McDaniel