Almaty’s Green Bazaar

Markets are microcosms of local food culture.

Whichever new country I go to, I always try to visit food markets. It’s a perfect way to learn about local diet, eating habits, seasonal products, traditions, language and even history.

The status of Kazakhstan’s capital belongs to Astana (recently renamed Nur-Sultan) since three decades already, but Almaty is still the biggest city and the cultural center of the country. Green Bazaar (Көк базар / Зеленый базар) is not only the most famous local fresh food market, but also one of the main tourist spots in the city. Trading here has a history of about 150 years, but the current market hall was built in the 1970s. Let’s have a look into this kaleidoscope of Kazakh food culture.

Kazakhstan’s diet is heavy on meat. Historically a land of nomads, there is no surprise in the fact that mutton and horse meat are the most popular kinds. Horse dishes are often reserved for special festive occasions. Beef and camel meat are also eaten. Islam is the major religion of the country, but many Kazakh Muslims are not strict when it comes to halal diet. We also need to remember that they are not the only ethnic group inhabiting Kazakhstan. A large chunk of the population is Christian, the largest percentage in all post-Soviet Central Asia. This is reflected in the presence of pork on the bazaar, where mostly Russian or Ukrainian ladies sell it. To name just one meat product, kazy is a Kazakh horse sausage that has won a particular fame.

Another trait of nomadic heritage is the abundance of dairy products. Kaimak, shubat, kurt, airan, kumys – the list of dairy goodies worthy of mentioning is long. It deserves a separate article on my blog (incoming).

The main hall of the market has a mezzanine with several little restaurants. This chaikhana (чайхана; “tea house”) had a lovely oldschool typography on its glass door. I couldn’t resist to keep it with myself by taking a photo.

We are on the Silk Road, dear friends, which brings to mind the ancient spice trade. The word “bazaar” itself echoes some kind of magic which calls for colors and fragrance of spices.

Dried fruits (Russian: сухофрукты) are another must-have for any Central Asian marketplace. Almaty’s Green Bazaar is somewhat famous for the vendors custom to let you try a little bit of what they have to offer for free. So don’t be surprised if you visit the Bazaar just to take photos and your Kazakhstani friends will accuse you of freeloading.

Korean salads (корейские салаты) can be found all over the post-Soviet states. In Central Asia, there is hardly a single food market without them! You may think “kimchi” and you will be only partially right. The “Korean salads” you find in Kazakhstan are something entirely unique. The background story of this delicious food is a story of success but also a tale of tragedy. I have published a separate short article on this fascinating phenomenon, click the link to read it.

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