Turkmenistan is a country in central Asia, bordered by Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Known as one of the great centres of the Islamic world, Turkmenistan was a part of the Silk Road until the fifteenth century. Later, Turkmenistan became Russian territory and joined the Soviet Union in 1925 until 1991.
The people of Turkmenistan were originally nomads, meaning that they did not live continually in one location, but moved cyclically to care for their livestock.
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Most Popular Turkmen Dishes
Turkmenistan’s food is influenced by the region’s history, geography, and climate, as well as its nomadic heritage. The cuisine is a blend of various Central Asian, Persian, and Russian dishes, with an emphasis on meat, dairy, and grains.
The food of Turkmenistan is known as Turkmen cuisine and most dishes incorporate some form of meat, rice, cheeses and vegetables.
Dishes containing many different varieties of meat can be found in Turkmenistan, from lamb to chicken to deer, and even camel. Eating horse meat is prohibited as they are considered sacred animals.
The Turkmen’s history of nomad lifestyle has influenced their cuisine, with recipes often using simple combinations of ingredients and little equipment.
Here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Turkmenistan, along with recipes to try for yourself.
Pilaf is a rice and meat dish, commonly made with lamb and thinly sliced vegetables. This dish has a bright yellow appearance due to the fact that the rice is boiled with carrots.
This is a popular dish served at special occasions and celebrations. Pilaf is a staple in many Central Asian countries, and it is often considered the national dish of Turkmenistan.
Shashlyk (Shish Kebabs)
Turkmen shashlyk are shish kebabs, often made of lamb, which are grilled over a fire. These are usually served with rice or flatbreads.
Typically, shashlyk is made by marinating meat in acid, such as vinegar or wine which makes it tender. The fire is traditionally made by burning haloxylon, a shrub that grows in the desert of Turkmenistan, giving the meat a distinctive flavor.
Bread is a staple food in Turkmenistan, and many different types of bread are made and eaten regularly. One of the most popular types of bread is called chorek, which is a round, flatbread, made in a clay oven called a tamdyr, that is often eaten with tea or served with meat dishes.
Shurpa (Mutton Soup)
Shurpa is a thick, mutton soup made with vegetables and potatoes. The name shurpa comes from the Arabic word for gravy, ‘shurbah’.
This soup is often served with a dollop of sour cream and bread. Other versions of the dish can also be found in Turkmenistan; sometimes shurpa is made with other meats or fish instead of mutton.
A similar dish, named shorba, is also popular in Afghanistan, however, this is prepared with beans.
Dograma is a stew made from chopped up meat, bread and onions. This is a popular dish across Central Asia; in Turkmenistan it is commonly served at special occasions and religious holidays.
Historically tied to sacrificial rituals, this ancient dish is a simple combination of mutton, onions and tomatoes, slow cooked until tender. Dograma is usually served with with chorek on the side.
Manti are Turkmen dumplings filled with meat and onions, commonly served with a tomato-based sauce and yogurt.
This ancient dish was originally made my sheppards in Turkmenistan, and was thought to have been introduced to the country via the silk road.
Manti can be boiled, baked, steamed, or pan fried to form a crispy bottom. Similar dishes can be found all over the world, such as Korean mandu.
Umpach-zashchi (Soup with Flour)
Umpach-zashchi is a Turkmen soup made by baking wheat flour in a pan until golden-brown, followed by diluting with water, seasoning and adding vegetables, such as onions.
This soup is commonly served with bread on the side, such as chorek.
Ayran (Yogurt Drink)
Ayran, a salty yogurt drink, is often served chilled alongside meals in the Summertime.
This is a popular drink across Europe, with the main ingredients being yogurt, water and salt. Additional ingredients, such as mint, may also be added for extra flavor.
Similar drinks called doogh and t’an are popular in Iran and Armenia, respectively.
One of the most popular sweet dishes in Turkmenistan is called halva. Halva is a sweet, dense confection made from ground sesame seeds or sunflower seeds and is often served with tea.
Halva originated in Iran, and is also a popular dessert in India and the Middle East.
Pishme is another popular sweet treat in Turkmenistan; these diamond-shaped pieces of fried dough are found at celebrations such as weddings and baby showers.
Pishme is usually served with a hot green tea on the side. These treats resemble donuts, but are usually not covered with sugar.