The cuisine in Turkmenistan is typical of Central Asia, with plov being the main staple. It consists of cubed mutton fried with onions, shredded turnip, and carrot, and served with steamed rice. Mutton also features in most other dishes, such as shashlyk, which is a variant of the kebab (meat and vegetables grilled on a stick), served in non (round unleavened bread, similar to pitta bread). There are dishes that are only found in Turkmenistan, such as ka’urma (mutton deep-fried in its own fat), churban churpa (mutton fat dissolved in green tea), and ishkiykil (dough balls filled with mutton and chopped onion, and traditionally cooked in sand that has been heated by the embers of a fire). Mostly, Turkmenistanis like to drink green tea, and you will find this beverage on offer everywhere.
Bars and Pubbing in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is not known for its nightlife since outside the large cities exists a quiet, rural way of life, with many Muslims not consuming alcohol. If you happen to find yourself in a sleepy backwater, it can be a novel experience to share a communal bottle of Turkmenbashi vodka with the locals. The liquor is immensely popular in this part of the world, with Turkmenistan producing its own homegrown and much-loved version.
Otherwise, for the best nightlife, you must head to Ashgabat, the capital city. Here, there are a few bar and nightclub options, although the entertainment district is limited. One of the most popular clubs in Ashgabat is Kumush Ay (Gorogly kocesi 8, Ashgabat), which plays typical trance music with booming bass lines, accompanied by strobe lighting. It gets busy on weekends, closing at around 3:00 a.m. You will need to dress smart-casual in order to gain entrance.
Since it is below Kumush Ay nightclub, a good place to start your evening may be the British Pub (Gorogly kocesi 8, Ashgabat). As its name may suggest, this is a regular bar with plenty of seating and a good range of drinks, and is a great place to meet and talk to friends. There is also a bar and nightclub at Hotel Nizza (18b Galkynysh Street, Ashgabat). The dance floor here opens at 11:00 p.m. and requires smart-casual dress.
Dining and Cuisine in Turkmenistan
If you are hungry in Turkmenistan, head to the local bazaar, or market. Here, you will find a choice of typical Turkmen food, which is simple, yet refined, and filling. One of the most popular choices of the locals is manty (dumplings filled with ground meat, onions, and pumpkin). Also commonly eaten is shurpa (meat and vegetable soup) and shashlyk (meat kebabs). If you are vegetarian, you may wish to opt for a samosa (fried savory, triangle shaped pastry which draws culinary influence from southern Asian neighbors) or an ishlykly (spinach filled dumpling). There are plenty of salads on offer, too. Turkmen cuisine does not use a lot of spice, allowing for the natural taste of the component ingredients to come through in the flavor.
If you are in Ashgabat, you will have the widest choice of restaurants. Here, you will find international cuisine offered alongside typical Turkmen cuisine. One restaurant that stands out against the crowd is Minara (Altyn Asyr Shopping Centre, Ashgabat). It is situated on the fifth floor of a shopping mall and gives wonderful 360° views of the city’s most famous green space, Independence Park. Aside from its location, another thing that pulls in the crowds is the menu, which boasts novelties such as ‘squirrel salad’, ‘fish hedgehogs’, and ‘English cakes with brains’. Reservations aren’t necessary and the restaurant is open late, allowing patrons to sit down for a meal at 11:00 p.m. if they wish.