Karakol has a unique location, in that, there are multiple ethnicities present. Karakol is known for its large Dungan population, making it the best place to get the famous cold noodle soup dish, Ashlanfu. The goal of the newly created food tour was to touch on all of the ethnicities and the foods in order to tell a story. The cultures and stories represented in this food tour are Dungan, Tatar, Ugur, and of course, Kyrgyz. Each stop on this tour, not only includes delicious food but a taste of life from around the Central Asian world.
First stop: Ashlanfu
Restaurant: Ashlanfu & Salad Shop
About the dish: Ashlanfu is a cold noodle soup dish that consists of potato starch noodles, thick noodles, a vinegar/soy sauce broth, an onion, and spice mixture, and topped with a spicy paste (if desired).
My group of eight ventured into one of the many small ashlanfu shops in, what is referred to as, the “Ashlanfu Bazaar”. Here, we split ashlanfu and some various central Asian salads. I was extremely hungry and had a slight flash of fear that I would leave the tour still hungry, but I was reassured that this was only the first stop and we still had four more points on the tour.
*Note: Sometimes the onion and spice mixture also includes meat, however, the Ashlanfu shop on this food tour serves the vegetarian version.
Stop 2: Shashlik
About the dish: A massive display of a variety of shashlik, a.k.a, meat on a stick. Shashlik is prepared on a coal grill and fanned with smoke until cooked. We were served a mix of chicken, beef, and lamb shashlik, accompanied by roasted vegetables. There are multiple types of shashlik meats, though not all are always available. You can find shashlik everywhere in the summer, though if you come in winter, you might have to do a bit of searching.
Stop 3: Azuu
About the dish: Think poutine but instead of cheese and gravy, pickles and onions. This dish begins with a base of french fries, then topped with an onion, pickle, oil, garlic mixture. Our group split two in an effort to not fill up too much before the main course.
Stop 4: Lagman
About the dish: The final dish is one that is common in many Asian cuisines, pan-fried noodles, and vegetables. There are two types of layman; Lagman soup, and fried lagman. On this tour, we tried the fried lagman. The dish consists of a traditional thick Asian white flour noodle which is then topped with a mixture of sautéed vegetables and meat. The vegetable mixture contains green radish, pepper, onion, garlic, meat, and carrots. It is possible to get this dish without meat if you are a vegetarian. We have presented a large plate of noodles and a second plate of the vegetable mixture so that we could make our own plate. Our guide, Rahkat, showed us how to put the plate together and explained a bit about the dish and its origins, as she had for the previous dishes on our food tour. At this point, our bellies were full and we were ready to relax with a beer and continue our conversations. So, onto the final stop of the food tour we went.
Bonus: To learn to make this dish, subscribe to Jiggy Nomads or check back next week for the full recipe and directions, straight from the village’s cookbook!
Final Stop: Dessert and Drinks
Restaurant: Fat Cat Karakol
Ethnicity: European/Vegetarian/Baked goods
About the dish: This isn’t just one dish. The owner, Jamilya, makes amazing cheesecake, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and various other specials. She also has a fully stocked bar and a refrigerator full of a variety of beers (yes, she has IPA). If you aren’t up for a drink, try some lemon ginger tea or an evening cappuccino. The special thing about this cafe is the heart of its mission. Jamilya conducts various social projects that focus on giving back to the Karakol community and neighboring villages. Ending here, after experiencing a diverse range of ethnic foods from the region, was a great way to allow the tour, and understanding of the spirit in Karakol, to come full circle.
To book this tour during your next trip to Karakol, or to get more information, visit the Karakol Visitor’s Center, located at 23 Gagarina (next to Fat Cat Karakol). Or send them a message through their Facebook page.
Don’t forget to ask about their other new tour products, such as the Dungan experience and Ugur experience!