Eating out in Kazakhstan
Aktobe (Kazakhstan), September 5th 2015

Ten dishes are listed on the menu of the restaurant where we eat tonight. While the waitress watches us closely, we try to decipher the Cyrillic script. "A few more minutes please" we stutter in Russian, but the lady remains imperturbable. She probably wants to be rid of us as soon as possible so she can take a nap again. When we just entered the restaurant, the lady in question was sleeping while she was laying across on a few chairs. There are plenty of tables that still could use a good scrubbing, but at times when there are no customers, taking a nap is a nicer pastime. When we have made our choice, we hear a clear "Njet", as it is the case for our second and third choice. "What dishes do you have?" we ask our waitress. Of the ten dishes, there are only two available: sheep-fat soup or dough balls with sheep-fat. We opt for the sheep-fat soup and ask for a pot of tea.

While waiting for our food, the restaurant fills up. Nobody finds it strange that studying the menu is just a useless pastime. We have also unlearned to ask ourselves why such a useless menu is used at all. The local customers order their food and are being served their tea. The cutlery laid on their table is being wiped clean thoroughly by the customer with a paper napkin to remove the dried-on foods from earlier customers. No Kazakhstani waitress finds this remarkable, so a little while later, we do the same. When our sheep-fat soup is served, we ask where our tea remains. "Chai Njet" is the answer. Our waitress forgot our tea and all teapots of the restaurant are in use by other customers. No problem; we will survive a night without tea.

An extreme fat Plov dish in Aralsk with the fat of the Fat Tail Sheep's tail

Our soup with sheep-fat tastes better than it sounds. The bread that is served with it, however, has a thin layer of green fungi. This is not uncommon in restaurants in the former Soviet Union. Only for a few minutes, we can quietly enjoy our soup. Then the usual cat-and-mouse game begins that we have to play with most waitresses in these parts of the world. The rules are as follows: they want to take our plates and cutlery as soon as possible and we want to keep these attributes, at least until we have emptied our mouths. Easier said than done. Putting down your cutlery, even if it is only for a short while, seems to be a sign that you have finished your meal. We have regularly had our plates being snatched away, while we were still having a chicken leg or a slice of pizza in our hands. Nowadays it has become a sport to prevent this from happening. Our strategy is that we always keep a piece of cutlery in our hand. Rather inconvenient if you want to look something up in your travel book while you are eating, but it works!

Lunch in Kyzyl Orda

Once we finish our soup and the table is cleared, it is done with the overzealous waitresses. From that moment, we must make every effort to attract the attention of the waitress to get our bill. After finally paying the € 1.50 per person for our dinner, we walk out of the restaurant. "See you next time!" the waitress says and we honestly say the same words to her. It may well be that we're back here tomorrow night. The soup tastes good, the restaurant is busy and in terms of service, this is what you can expect in a dusty town in Kazakhstan.

An Afghan shepard with a Fat Tail Sheep, a local delicacy (Photo: Wikipedia)
Plov is a popular dish in Central Asia

The 'tasty' butt of Fat Tail Sheep (photo: Wikipedia)

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