One of the most annoying aspects of taking guests through Kazakhstan (as well as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) is the constant fear many have that they are inadvertently going to eat horse meat. They’ll be sitting down to a lovely meal and those sneaky Central Asians will sneak it into their food. Of course, many of you will also know that is simply not the case as horse meat in Kazakhstan is a specialty and more expensive than the other meats available. It is understandable where this fear comes from though. For many they have grown up thinking horse is an undesirable meat and likewise, there are plenty of parts of the world where undesirable meat is snuck into dishes and made to appear as the product you thought you were buying. Bush meat in Africa comes to mind.
One joke that was a constant during the horse meat scandal in Europe was what were those silly Europeans complaining about. They were paying beef prices and getting horse meat. What a bargain! Something no Kazakh would ever complain about. In that aspect, the statute of that meat here is very similar to horse meat in Japan (where it is called basashi).
Is it halal?
Some might be wondering, is horse meat halal? Since Kazakhstan’s major religion is Islam, it would be a problem if it were. In fact, horse meat is not haram according to Islam but stands in the grey zone of makrooh which means things that are better left avoided but not forbidden. Of course, the interpretation of Islam favoured by the Kazakhs is rather lax, check their alcohol consumption.
Name of horse meat in Kazakh
In Kazakhstan, horse meat is known locally either by its Russian name – Konina (Конина) or by its local name. In Kazakh it is Zhilky Yeti (Жылқы еті). With this in mind, menus are almost always in Russian and very rarely will Kazakh appear.
Horse meat dishes
The single most popular horse meat dish in Kazakhstan is their national dish Beshbarmak (Бешбармак), literally translated to “five fingers”, as traditionally one ate the dish with their hands. It is made from pasta sheets, a lovely meaty broth, onions, and of course different cuts of horse meat. Traditionally the best cuts of meat are served to whoever is the most important person.
Another extremely popular way to eat horse is Kazy (Казы), which is a type of horse sausage, which can either be eaten by itself as a snack, as one of the types of meat on Beshbarmak, on top of Plov, or even in a sandwich. It very often appears as one of the cold cuts of meat served on a platter when having a good old-fashioned drinking session.
There are plenty of other dishes as well which feature horse meat. Kuurdak (қуырдақ) is a dish of fried meat, onions and potatoes. This is also very popular in Kyrgyzstan. Zhal (жал) is a smoked horse lard similar to Salo, the Ukrainian pork equivalent. Or you could of course have it as a Kebab or Shashlik as it’s locally known.
What does horse taste like?
If you are not utterly rebuked by it, you might be wondering what horse meat tastes like, well, it truly depends on how you prepare it, with minced horse meat being not to far from beef but horse meat sausages being quite fragrant and strong.
The most important thing to remember is you won’t be served it unless you order it, and most Kazakhs know that eating horse isn’t a given in other cultures, so visiting someone’s home also doesn’t usually pose a risk either. And that’s the low-down on horse meat in Kazakhstan