Kuurdak – a traditional Kyrgyz dish

June 21st, 2013 Sections: Cuisine, Food and Drink, Life In Kyrgyzstan

Just one of the many roadside cafes to be found in Boom Gorge

Not long ago I took some of the kids with me on my monthly trip up to Naryn to visit the guesthouse.  Because it had been an early mornig start and no-one had really had breakfast, we stopped off at a roadside cafe, (or Diner, for the Americans), in Boom Gorge for a cup of tea and a light snack – Brunch.

As we looked at the menu, there were all the usual Central Asian dishes, or rather dishes that you can find throughout Central Asia: Manti; Samsi; Plov; Laghman; Beshbarmack and Pilmeni – a sort of Russian Ravioli – both boiled and fried … as well Sausages; Eggs and so on.  To go with my Tea I normally take a portion of the fried Fried Pilmeni as it is makes for a filling but light meal … but this time I decided on a couple of sausages.

The kids looked at the menu and I knew we were going to be in trouble … especially when Sveta asked “What’s Kuurdak?”

“It’s like a stew,” I said – although I used the word Goulash because I am not sure that there is Russian equivalent for “stew”, “but you won’t like it.  It’s almost certainly made from Lamb”.

Now the kids are quite fussy eaters, and they all like different things – some won’t touch Chicken, others won’t eat fish. but there is one thing they all seem to agree on: none of them really eats Lamb.  Now, personally, I rarely eat Mutton or Lamb here either, but that’s not because I don’t like it, it’s because it tends to be quite fatty … there is even a Kyrgyz proverb that says “Cheap mutton has no fat”.  Anyway, as a result, we tend to have Beef or Pork or something Vegetarian … if, that is, we can find it.

Katya surprised me by saying that she would have the Kuurdak – “Even if it is made from Mutton?”, I asked … and she said “Yes, but just a half portion.”  Everyone else played safe.


For the record: The name probably comes from the Turkic languages, (such as Kyrgyz and Kazakh), and is close to the word for the verb “to fry”, although there is also a theory which says it is close to the Russian word for “mess” which is often used to describe a hodgepodge dish like a stew where the ingredients are all stirred in together.

To be fair, although Kuurdak is usually made from Lamb or Mutton, it can be made using Beef or, more or less, from any other kind of meat.  I have, for example, seen, (but never tried), Kuurdak made from Camel meat.  Quite often offal is also used – liver, kidney, chopped lungs, heart … and so on, (it’s all a question of taste and a predilection not to let any part of the animal go to waste).  Whereas I have seen recipies for anything from one to five kilograms of meat, at least one called for all the meat “from one animal”!

Kuurdak is one of the oldest dishes in Kyrgyz cuisine and it was particularly useful for the nomadic Kyrgyz because once the meat was cooked it could be stored and transported, then warmed up and used as the basis for other meals as and when required – easing and speeding up the process of preparing meals when on the move.

It’s actually quite a simple dish and is sometimes described in the recipe books as Fried Meat and Potatoes.  The potatoes seem to be added in order to give the dish more volume rather than add nutrients – and sometimes other vegetables such as carrots, sweet peppers, cabbage or pumpkin can be added.

The meat is basically fried in the fat for about 10-15 minutes, until browned, when the other ingredients are added and the complete mix is then allowed to simmer for about 30-40 minutes – until the water has been absorbed and all the ingredients are soft.



When the Kuurdak eventually arrived Katya had two surprises in store.  Well, the first one wasn’t really a surprise because I had warned her … it was made with Mutton.  As it happens, that didn’t phase her in the slightest, probably because of the second surprise … the so called “half portion” was huge !  Taking up more room on her plate than any one else’s – even the plov which is also, usually, a huge plateful.  “Thank goodness,” she said, “that I didn’t order a full portion!”

As it is, she only ate half of it before she gently pushed the plate away with the comment “I’m stuffed!”


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