Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Abay Restaurant - Almaty, Kazakhstan

One of my favorite meals of our trip to Central Asia took place at Abay Restaurant in Almaty, a city in southeastern, Kazakhstan.
Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, with over 1.7 million people, about 9% of the country's population. Almaty was the capital from 1929 to 1997 when the capital was moved to Astana, in north-central, Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, by area. Kazakhs, a Turkic people, descendants of the Turkic and medieval Mongol tribes, are 63% of the population and the Kazakh people have a tradition of eating horse meat. I knew this before-hand and was thrilled when our tour group was treated to a traditional meal that included horse meat. 

Almaty is a beautiful city located near the foothills of the Zailiyskiy Alatau  Mountains near the border with Kyrgyzstan. Our group took a cable car from downtown up to one of the small foothills that included a small amusement park (primarily a Ferris wheel), a restaurant, some shops and a large communication tower. 
The Ferris wheel is visible to the left and the rounded building to the right is the restaurant. 
A cable car starting the descent.
A view in the opposite direction. 
The restaurant is a round-domed building perched on the edge of the hill and has great views of the city, although we were not sitting near any of the windows. It obviously is designed as a tourist destination as historical scenes are depicted on the walls around the restaurant. But unlike many tourist destinations, this place delivers. 
Abay, perched on the edge of the hill, included outside seating. We ate inside. 

The dining room inside the circular dome.
A mural with a traditional Kazakh motif.
A mural featuring a Kazakh meal.
Beautiful tiles on an entry way wall.
We were treated to three beautiful young women playing local instruments and singing and it was probably the second best music we heard on the trip (bested by an orchestra using traditional instruments in Tashkent, Uzbekistan), and we heard lots of different groups singing and playing traditional music. 
We were sitting at large rectangular tables and were first served by an array of salads, including wonderful vegetables marinated in a teriyaki type sauce (variously colored peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and eggplant), one of the best salads we had on our trip; a green lettuce salad with chicken and a Caesar-type dressing which most people ate, throwing caution to the wind (most people were avoiding lettuce, because of the possibility of getting sick - but this looked so good it was hard to pass up); and marinated purple cabbage; some green scallions; etc. 

My favorite appetizer, and one of my favorite food items of the trip, was shuzhuk, a horse sausage made of horse rib meat and fat, cut into round slices about a quart inch thick. It was on a plate with a sweet and spicy mustard that complimented it perfectly. This sausage was smooth to the taste and quite pleasing. The fat had a low-melting point and gave a different texture and taste than the rest of the sausage. I was impressed that most of the people in our tour group ate the horse meat knowingly. 
Shuzhuk covered with mustard and some of the other salads.
The main dish was besbarmak, a traditional Kazakh dish made from horse hind quarters, shuzhuk, kazy (another horse sausage that is less fatty than shuzhuk) and lamb chops, along with wheat noodles and boiled potatoes, served with some spooned on onion soup. The kazy is less fatty than the shuzhuk, and not as tasty either. The boiled horse flank was quite dry and not particularly good. The lamb chops were nicely cooked and wonderful. Some people were a little more alarmed when this came around, and they learned it had more horse meat. Several people motioned our waitress to hold-down their serving sizes or to avoid giving them any at all. 
Many were also served broth that the besbarmak flesh was cooked in, but unfortunately it never made it to our table. Dessert was kind of an ordinary hard noodle candy held together by honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar. 
For me, this was by far the best group meal of our trip. I would love to go back to Kazakhstan and try more of their traditional horse-centric meals. 


  1. I agree with this being the best meal. We had several more in the same format, but none were nearly as good as this one, and the music/setting made it even more enjoyable.

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