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!
How Beshbarmak Got Its Name
(Почему так называется?)
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. It was also the original name of the food, before “бешбармак” was first applied to the food during the Soviet era. The new name was originally something of a joke, however, it soon stuck and became the standard. The original, however, нарын, perhaps best reflects the ancient and deep roots that this food has within Central Asian cultures, as it is a name that connects it the food to the wider land and identity of the people.
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.”
How and When Beshbarmak is Eaten
(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.
You can also read much more about Kyrgyz cultural traditions and thought surrounding бешбармак in this article, also on our site.
Preparing Traditional Beshbarmak
(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!
• 1,5 кг мяса
• Отмойте мясо холодной водой, разрежьте его 3–4 примерно одинаковые части.
Тесто на лапши
• Поместите муку в миску
Бешбармак: завершающий этап
• Выньте мясо из бульона. Разделите его по волокнам (руками) на небольшие кусочки.
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.
• 1.5 kg of meat. (1 kg is approximately 2.2 lbs.)
• Wash the meat with cold water, cut it 3-4 roughly equal parts.
Dough for noodles
• Place flour in a bowl
Beshbarmak: the final step
• Remove the meat from the broth. Divide it by the fibers (by hand) into small pieces.
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 beshbarmak, 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, beshbarmak, and share their secrets to creating the most delicious feast.
Ever wonder how to make a 1.5 ton serving of beshbarmak? 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 beshbarmak ever made! The majority of the video is in Russian, but you will also be treated to a bit of Kyrgyz as well.
More About Beshbarmak
If you are interested in learning more about beshbarmak, see this article about Kyrgyz cultural traditions and thought surrounding beshbarmak, also on our site. More on Central Asian food traditions and recepies can also be found on our site.
Of course, one of the best ways to experience Central Asian culture (and try traditional beshbamak!) is to immerse yourself in it in Central Asia. Students on SRAS study abroad programs in Central Asia can learn language, history, geopolitics, and more, all with an extensive cultural program.