AMA #3: Food

My friend and avid foodie, Lorry, asks the following question:

Give us a quick breakdown and overview of the food in each of the countries visited, please?

Gladly, shag!

I will give you an overview, then I will give you my favourite and least favourite dishes, and then I will give you a rating.

I thought an overview would be nice so the piece isn’t completely subjective, which it nevertheless will be, anyway.

Might be surprising for those of you in Guernsey who knew me as vegetarian or pescatarian for years at a time.

So here it is, my overview of the grub in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Georgia, Turkey, Lebanon, and – BONUS COUNTRY! – the United fucking Kingdom.

Bon Appetit!



The Kyrgyz are a nomadic people, who throughout their history have roamed their beautifully inhospitable lands in search of food and shelter for their families, and pasture for their horses, an animal on which they were totally reliant for survival.

They drink horse milk and they eat horse meat.

They eat all meat apart from pork, as Kyrgyzstan is a nominally muslim country, though that doesn’t stop many of the locals from heartily drinking vodka. (In reality, generally, I found Kyrgyz character more nomadic and pagan, and their Soviet heritage renders many urban Kyrgyz atheistic.)

Kyrgyz men sitting or squatting down around a hunk of horse meat with nothing for garnish but a sliced onion is common.

They have a round, flat, crusty bread, which is damn delicious when fresh.

They snack on samsa, usually triangular shaped pastries filled with meat, like a sausage roll but less flaky and with less ground pig trotter and offal inside.

When the season allows, they eat fruits, berries and vegetables.

Favourite Food or Drink: 

I was adopted by two beautiful souls in my first week in Kyrgyzstan.

Upon telling my adoptive Kyrgyz mothers, Anara and Ikara, that I am vegetarian – which I was up until spending appreciable time in Kyrgyzstan – they would cook for me vegetarian versions of Kyrgyz classics, pretty much all of which contain meat. For instance, I ordered a “mushroom lagman”, thinking it was a vegetarian alternative, and it came with mushrooms and strips of an unidentified meat on top of it.

My favourite meal was the manti that Ikara cooked for me.

Manti are steamed or fried dumplings, filled with one of, or a mix of, meat, onions, potato, pumpkin, spices.

Ikara made me some simply spiced potato manti, one of the most comforting home cooked meals I had in Kyrgyzstan.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

Kummus! Shudder…

Kummus is fermented horse milk.

They leave it for anything from a few hours to several days to ferment, to the point where it smells smokey, tastes sour, feels slightly carbonated, and contains appreciable amounts of alcohol.

I drank kummus twice.

The first time, Henry the Younger of Sussex and I were walking through Osh in the south of Kyrgyzstan. I heard a woman hollering the word ‘kummus!’ from the street side, selling it in 1L plastic coke bottles.

Though Henry had warned me against the drink, for nothing solid left his body more than a week after he drank it, I desperately wanted to try.

Have you really been to Kyrgyzstan if you haven’t tried kummuz?

It was sour, fizzy, and left a strong smokey taste in my mouth that began to make me gag less than halfway through the bottle.

I had no ill effects whatsoever, which Henry was quite surprised about.

The second time, my friend Oleg and I, rest his vigorous soul, hitched a ride from the mountain lake of Son Kul and en route back to civilisation we were offered breakfast at his relative’s farm.

They had several horses and a few chickens scratching and clucking about the place. No electricity. The farmer said in Kyrgyz – which our driver translated to Russian, which Oleg translated to English – “We don’t have television, that is why we have so many kids!”

There’s a big wooden barrel in their living space with kummuz fermenting in the bottom of it.

Damn right I’m having some of that fresh kummuz!

Though it was tasty, quite like kefir, my stomach instantly and aggressively gurgled upon receiving it.

It was indeed a week until things solidified again for me.

Overall Score:

3/10 – Little I really liked

Iraqi Kurdistan


Kurdistan is, like Kyrgyzstan, very much a meat and dairy centric culture, but had more variety of dishes at table.

Breakfasts had a variety of bits and bobs at table, including cheese, butter, honey, compotes, flatbread, and eggs made into a kind-of omelette thing.

My crazy Kurdish compadre Ridvan AKA Moses made me a couple of full Kurdish breakfasts, and they were to die for. His grandmother’s homemade butter, cheese, peanut butter mixed with honey, plum jam, all mopped up with bread… Hmmm, salivating just thinking about it.

I remember eating dolma, grape leaves wrapped around spiced rice and sometimes meat, which I came across elsewhere in the region.

Kurdish cheese was particularly nice, some strong and stringy, some requiring boiling water to loosen it up before serving because it’s so tough.

Meat, otherwise, meat with rice and meat in stews – which were warming and delicious.

I ate grilled cow udder in Rwanduz, and feck me, if it wasn’t tender and delicious. My inner-former vegetarian doth protest, but alas, not nearly enough.

And lots and lots of chai, Strong, strong chai, sweetened to the point your teeth ache sipping it.

Favourite Food or Drink: 


The Kurdish value chai even more so than the English, I feel, who have succumbed to a coffee culture that the Kurdish have not and probably never will, such is their stubbornness and national pride.

I asked a couple of times to have it without sugar, which invited quizzical looks, and I found out why – it is too strong, too bitter, kind of disgusting without the sugar, which they put into the tea 3 or 4 teaspoons at a time, and all into one of those small tulip shaped glasses unique to the region.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

I guess just the surfeit of cow and lamb and chicken in the diet, it gets to be a lot, for me personally. Nothing specific comes to mind, actually.

Overall Score:

6/10 – On account of the Kurdish breakfast and grilled udder



Georgian cuisine seems optimally designed to maximally fatten you in as short a time as possible.

That is exactly what it did for me. Unctuous, beige, satiating stuff.

Khinkali, dumplings steamed or fried and filled with meat or mushrooms or potato.

Hachipurri, big, thick, pizza-like breads covered in cheeses, butter, and egg.

A Georgian fellow told me that in the north of Georgia, I think near Svaneti from memory, they cook hachipurri with marijuana.

Soups and stews and beans, some fresh salad, some fruit.

All of this is washed down with the peerlessly fresh and delicious Georgian house wine, a bottle of which I was gifted on my first morning there, or the infamously pokey chacha, the local brandy.

Favourite Food or Drink: 

Hard one, really.

I’m going to have to go for Ajarian hachipurri.

My host’s mother insisted on making one for me, and it was bigger than the plate on which that sweet woman served it it me.

Unctuousness culinarily personified. A thick, eye-shaped bread topped with cheeses, an egg and a big chunk of butter, all of which you mix together into the optimally satiating and fattening experience we know and love as hachipurri.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

Chacha. Christ. I underestimated that stuff.

Generally chacha hangs around the 50% mark, making it stronger than most vodkas and whiskeys. My Georgian friend told me it will always be upwards of 70% if you are given the homemade stuff! Kicks like a mule on Mexican supplements.

Overall Score:

7/10 – Mostly stodge, but delicious stodge



Turkey is a massive country and their cuisine varies from place to place. Bear in mind I spent most of my time in Istanbul and on the Aegean and Turquoise coasts, all in the west of the country.

Turkish cuisine has similarities to others in the region, Kurdish and Lebanese being mentioned here.

The Turkish breakfast.


I had a full Turkish breakfast on the coast of the Black Sea one morning, Ottoman era fortress above us and sea splashing over the wall next to us, and there were at least 20 dishes brought out over the course of that meal. That’s standard fare, too, for the Turkish.

Delightful little dishes of things like olives, tomatoes and cucumber, different cheeses, scrambled eggs, spicy sausages, chilli sauce, cheese-filled pastries, breads, sweet things like chocolate sauce, peanut butter, butter in honey – it’s hard to know where to start, and you feel like it might never finish.

The almighty kebab was something to behold. Streets full of kebab shops with grills alight with actual flames rather than radiators, all throughout Istanbul. The meats used seem actually to be meat, rather than the unidentifiable unfrozen dark-brown hunks that are spun through interminable purgatory in English kebab radiators.

Watch out for the pickled chillies, those things pack a deceptively hard punch.

Lots and lots of bread and pastry in Turkey, really stodgy beige food aplenty.

The desserts, the desserts were something else entirely. I knew the Turkish prided themselves on their sweets, but until I tried them in Turkey, I didn’t know why.

Turkish prize chai, too, and have it in the manner of the Kurds: strong, slightly aromatic chai, usually with lots of sugar.

Favourite Food or Drink: 

Baklava! Hmmm, baklava, with fresh, crunchy pastry, filled with pistachio and all else, oozing with honey. Luscious, luscious stuff.

No, wait! I just remembered!

A dessert Moses and I had on the road from Istanbul to Fethiye: tender roasted pumpkin with tahini and honey on top. Lord Almighty that was an unfeasibly delicious dessert.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

Börek, the Turkish usually-breakfast but always-available pastries.

They could be quite satisfying but got boring very quickly. They are filled with all sorts: meat, with beans and lentils, with cheese, with nuts and dried fruits and spices.

It because too stodgy, especially when not perfectly fresh.

Overall Score:

8/10 – Lots of variety, suited to all tastes and diets

Uzbekistan (8/10)


The cuisine of Uzbekistan preceded it illustriously.

My Latvian father has cooked me plov many a time, which was delicious and moreish, and I knew from him it originated in Uzbekistan.

I ate a few delicious portions in Kyrgyzstan – a veggie one courtesy of my Kyrgyz mum, Ikara, too.

But my friend Dima told me, “You haven’t tried plov until you have it in Uzbekistan.”

Samsa, too, was superior to that in Kyrgyzstan. Delicious, peppery, politely stodgy, fresh every morning. Outrageously cheap snacks to have on the go – 10p a samsa, and that was in the capital of Tashkent.

Much food is cooked fresh on the street in pans the size of satellite dishes, cheap and cheerful and delicious cuisine, such as plov, stews and lagman (a dish made of thick noodles).

There is a smattering of vegetables with meals.

I ate some delicious grapes, and I remember seeing lots of melons about.

Favourite Food or Drink: 

I had a plov in Tashkent that blew my mind.

All fried in one of those cast iron satellite pans: spiced rice, chunks of tender meat, with shreds of carrot and jewelled with sultanas, both of which become dank and sweet in the heat, unctuous with the oil it was all fried in… I’m salivating again.

Dima was right – I’m sorry Latvian Dad – you haven’t tried plov until you go to Uzbekistan.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 


In Kyrgyzstan, in Georgia, in Uzbekistan, all across the former Soviet states will you find marinated and grilled meats.

I’m not a massive meat eater, hell I wasn’t a meat eater at all before Kyrgyzstan, but the extent to which the Uzbek diet emphasises grilled meat becomes tiresome, and not just culinarily, but physically. Try feeling awake or alive in 40 degree heat after your host insists you eat yet another skewer’s worth of grilled lamb.

Overall Score:

8/10 – On account of that plov!



Lebanon benefits from being at a point where its influences range from its own history and situation on the Mediterranean, to the Ottoman Turks, to the Christian crusaders, to their Arab neighbours, even to Brazilian traders!

It is eclectic, to say the least, and the Lebanese cuisine is all the better for it.

Yerba mate, originating in South America, is widely enjoyed in Lebanon. It is a type of tea, which is drunk with all the plant material still inside the cup, and is usually sweetened. It is an acquired taste, which I found delicious.

The tastiest fruit I have every tried, I tried in Lebanon.

Orange juice that was sweet and jammy, almost thick, like marmalade.

Soft avocados blended with honey and strawberries.

Figs falling apart for you to eat them, dewey, like honey-jam.

The food, much of which was typically Mediterranean near the coast, I immensely enjoyed.

Hummus, swimming in olive oils which actually tastes of olives, salads with sharp vinaigrette and croutons (fattoush), grilled and spiced aubergines, falafel in bread and wraps or served fried by itself, fried balls of vegetables and pine nuts (kibbeh). Most things eaten with flatbread. All delicious.

These things, I must add, due to the economic woes of Lebanon, were disconcertingly cheap for us bearers of foreign currency.

My friend and I went to a restaurant in Beirut, which looked like the poshest in the area, and we ordered 4 dishes and 4 beers between us. It costs us less than £10. My friend and I agreed, with the quantity and quality of the food, and the lah-dee-dahness of the venue, you would easily pay £60+ for the same in the UK. And still, it wouldn’t be the same at all, really.

They had damn good beer there, too, less than a dollar a pop.

Favourite Food or Drink: 

Hard, real hard.

I really enjoyed the Hummus Beiruti at one particular joint, swimming in oil, some whole chickpeas, a bit of paprika to it…



Food or drink.

My friend and I went on a wine tasting tour near Baalbek, and we tasted some gloriously delicious wine.

For the first time in my life, I tasted a white wine that I actually liked. So much so, I almost bought a bottle.

But I can to my sense and purchased two bottles of red wine, one of which was the best I’ve tried in my life.

I know not why I was blessed with this red nectar, it feels undeserved and feels like a cosmic injustice that there are people on this earth who will never try it.

But I am grateful nonetheless.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

I genuinely cannot recall a meal I did not enjoy, and don’t see anything indicative of such in my diary over those three weeks.

Overall Score:

10/10 – High variety and quality of food and drink

United Kingdown


I was forced to pay £2,285 for the enforced pleasure of being quarantined for ten days here in a Heathrow Airport hotel, under pain of being imprisoned and fined £10,000.

As I could not transit through, I guess this is technically a travel destination, so it is appropriate I include the UK in our review of national cuisines.

Breakfast time comprises the following abominations.

Eggy pancake things, delivered sweating in a plastic container with no attempt to disguise the fact that they have been microwaved into something resembling beige tire rubber.

“Fully school compliant” synthetic orange juice, which has never seen an orange in its life, consisting of apple and orange concentrates, citric acid, flavourings, sweeteners and water.

A small and conspicuously imperishable skimmed milk carton, and a box of cornflakes, no more nutritious or tasty than chicken feed.

A hard pain au chocolate.

A satsuma.

This morning was the third morning that I left the full bag outside the door, save for the satsuma.

I have asked for four boiled eggs to replace the breakfast, which the last two mornings they have sent upstairs in two separate disposable polystyrene containers. They were still boiling hot and well overcooked.

Lunch. Let’s take today, for example.

A green soup with about five peas and three small bits of carrot. It was sweet, to a degree I found quite unsuited for, what I assume was trying to be, a savoury soup.

Pasta, with a few black olives and chickpeas. Tastiest meal I have had so far. Yet still bland and void of nutrition like all else, save for the smattering of olives and chickpeas.

Hard white bread roll. Doubtlessly unfrozen, with bit of unbranded, anaemic looking butter. The butter’s packaging says ‘Brake Bros Ltd’ in smallprint on the back.

Same synthetic orange juice.

Bag of crisps.

Dinner. Let’s take yesterday.

‘Veggie’ lasagne, consisting of about 70% melted plastic masquerading as cheese, burnt on the top.

Hard white bread roll, butter.

Tasteless potato salad, potatoes slightly crunchy.


Favourite Food or Drink: 

I get a single watery satsuma with my bag of breakfast crap in the morning.

Least Favourite Food or Drink: 

Everything else.

Overall Score:

N/A – Unworthy

5 thoughts on “AMA #3: Food

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