I’m into the third country of my trip, Uzbekistan, but let’s start at the beginning–Kazakhstan. After an extremely long, and at times painfully boring train trip, I arrived in Astana to meet my Couchsurfing hosts. I struggle to think of better hosts than Liliya, Alfiya and Indira. Having amazing people lead me around made all the difference, and I left with a really good impression of Astana.
Astana has only been the capital of Kazakhstan for some 15 years, when president Nazarbaev built it out of the dust, Dubai-style. In contrast to so many of the older CIS cities, like Almaty and Bishkek (leaving aside Tashkent for the moment) Astana is completely modern. Aside from the fact that everyone speaks Russian, it seems to hold little debt to the Soviets.
Traditionally, the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz peoples were nomadic, which means that for food they used what was most easily available, namely meat, dairy, and bread. The food is certainly more connected to the rest of Central Asia than to Russia, with staples like manti (meat dumplings) kururt (dried cheese balls, shown above), and the ubiquitous, delicious lepeshka bread. You can even drink shubat, fermented camel milk, if you are so inclined.
If you’re in Astana, I can recommend eating at Marrone Rosso, part of the Israeli Aroma coffee chain (below), going to Bambino for ice cream, and going anywhere on the embankment for an evening drink, when it’s all lit up.