We’ve told you before about 8 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan and 11 Things to Do in Bishkek but in all honesty most travelers don’t list ‘amazing food’ as one of their highlights from a trip through the ‘Stans. Drinking alcoholic horse milk and eating sheeps’ brain are good fun (and great stories!), to be sure, but even as a resident of Kyrgyzstan I rarely wake up thinking “I sure could use some besh-barmak today!”
There are a small number of exceptions to that trend, however, foods that not only taste amazing but whose histories reflect the diversity of populations that live in Central Asia and trace their roots back to migration along the ancient Silk Road. The best of the best of these, at least in Kyrgyzstan, is the surprisingly tangy and tasty treat of Ashlan-Fuu.
A relatively late addition to the Central Asian gastronomic scene, Ashlan-Fuu arrived in the region with the large numbers of Dungan refugees who fled to modern-day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to escape the consequences of the failed Dungan Revolt in Western China.
In a region dominated by a cuisine of few spices and lots of fried food (a throwback to a nomadic past and the need to take things on the move, on doubt), the heat and vinegar and fresh herbs of a bowl of Ashlan-Fuu is a shock to the senses after weeks of meat and potatoes. The broth is poured over a bed of hand-rolled noodles, topped with gelatin cubes, and generally served with a fried pirojki bread filled with potato. The whole thing is filling, delicious, and a small taste of China in Central Asia. The most famous (and in my experience the best) place to eat Ashlan-Fuu is the town of Karakol in Kyrgyzstan, or the smaller Dungan villages in its’ immediate surroundings, but there are restaurants across the country and reaching up into Kazakhstan that offer it on their menus. A well-prepared bowl of Ashlan-Fuu is, and this is not hyperbole, one of the culinary highlights of a trip to Central Asia.
Adventurous travelers spending time in the north of Kyrgyzstan will almost certainly pass through Karakol en route to trekking or horse riding opportunities. Especially after a week in the mountains, a cold but spicy bowl of Ashlan-Fuu on a hot summer day gives just a bit more insight into how the area around Karakol was named the ‘Heavenly Mountains’.