Howdy all. Well, I have reviewed the food in most of the countries I was lucky enough to travel last year. But although I mentioned the food in my comprehensive wrap of the Turkmenistan tour, I haven’t delved too deeply into it. I ate at a bunch of different places, including under the stars near the fierce Darvaza Crater, and at hotel restaurants. In general, I was happy with the food without ever being even slightly amazed by it.
But what can you expect travelling in Turkmenistan as far as food is concerned? Well, it’s still Central Asia and so the staples that are popular elsewhere in the region are as always easy enough to find. If you fancy plov, shashlik or some sort of dumplings, you’ll be well looked after in Turkmenistan. Here’s a rough summary for you of the places I ate at and the things I ate.
The first meal on the first day was lunch. We stopped on our way to Konye Urgench, a historic site, somewhere not that far away at a café/restaurant that I’m not sure has a name. I was travelling with Owadan Tours as you might recall though, and they owned the establishment. They had a fair menu there that day, and almost everything was unavailable. In al fairness, if it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t have had a reason to open that day as I was travelling outside the ‘tourist season’. In the end I had dumpling soup. Pretty standard fare, and not remarkable to be honest.
It was better than the shashlik I had in the evening at the camp site at the Darvaza Crater though. To be fair, my main gripe was that it was cold. Actually, that’s a fair gripe. The food was disappointing on the first day. The BBQ shashlik was cold and small. The breakfast the next day was cold toast. Sigh.
‘Hezzet’ was the name of the place for lunch on the second day, and the first day in Ashgabat. It was recommended by my guide, and had some nice outdoor dining. It was sunny and around 18 degrees, so it was a pretty decent choice. I’m not sure exactly what I had here but it would have been manty (a kind of dumpling) or shashlik, or a combination. The food was fine, easily the best meal I’d had to this point and if you’re looking for a nice, outdoor venue in Ashgabat and can find this place, well it might be worth a try!
I stayed at the Ak Altyn Hotel, and next door was a couple of restaurants. I tried one that looked pretty groovy and modern, called ‘Uzum’, and it was something you would find in Western Europe I guess. Here there were western items on the menu and I had a simple napolitana and fries, which were small but fine and actually a nice change from all the food I’d been having since I arrived in Central Asia.
I ate shashlik at a little stand outside Kow Ata – this underground lake which is supposed to be good for swimming but stinks and the cave it’s in is full of bats. Nevertheless, there was a guy with a BBQ outside and we had shashlik there. I’m never 100% on these places, you see heaps of them in the ex-Soviet Union, but the meat is outdoors waiting to be cooked and that can’t be good. It was a little fatty but tasty enough though and I didn’t report any adverse side effects if you know what I mean.
The dinner I had at my hotel in Ashgabat – the Ak Altyn – was interesting. I was keen to try Laghmann again – you may remember that I tried it in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and found it too spicy. I was assured it wasn’t spicy in Turkmenistan, and it wasn’t. In fact – I complain in my diary that it was a bit ‘plain’.
When you’re on the road, you need a good place to stop for a meal. We stopped at a little restaurant by the side of the highway between Ashgabat and Mary. It was a recently built by the looks of it, and had a white tiled floor and looked pretty clean. My guide was good friends with the owners/people who worked there, and he loved stopping there. He said he always got his tours to stop at this place.
I went, again, with shashlik. And it was beef and really nice with potatoes which had been cooked in foil inside the charcoal. I know it seems like I am very limited in what I order, but in all fairness, it’s very limited in parts of the country. My guide had a whole fish cooked in the oil, which he said he always had at that place and he loved it. It certainly looked great, but I’m not a big fish eater. In fact, I steer away from seafood.
Otherwise there were two more main meals. The restaurant at the Mary Hotel (in Mary) was nice enough. Again I was the only patron though, which certainly is very strange. I went with dumplings (manty) and goulash.
Finally, on my last day proper in Ashgabat/Turkmenistan I went to the Berkarar Shopping Mall. This was certainly a lavish and highly decorated shopping mall, somewhat reminiscent of Dubai, and there was a large food court. Unfortunately I guess, the options were basically very similar. Russian food, Central Asia food, Turkish food. I tried a pizza. It was extremely cheesy but ok. It was what I expected. I had had a hankering for pizza for a little while, getting somewhat tired of the standard choices I’d had since I arrived in Dushanbe.
All in all, Turkmenistan provides the visitor with solid, but unremarkable food. It’s certainly not a country to sample a fast array of cuisines. If you’re a meat eater, you’ll be fine, bit more of a struggle if you are vegetarian. Don’t expect to be wowed, but you can be well satisfied if you find the right options! Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!