One Night in Bishkek (And the World’s Your Manti)

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

Like Kazakhstan’s Almaty, Kyrgyzstan’s Bishkek is a city flanked by Tian Shan mountains, where hiking and ski resorts are a short drive away.


If there’s one thing Bishkek has enough of, it’s the carnival game where you have to pop a balloon with a dart. There are several of them set up just out on the sidewalk, near the central Ala-Too Square.

The statue of epic folk hero Manas, who is believed to have united the 40 tribes to form a Kyrgyz state, towers over the Soviet-style state museum in the back.

Behind the state museum is a statue of Lenin, another remnant of the Soviet past.

Like Almaty, Bishkek is a pleasant, modern city with a Soviet past. As I stroll around town, I see people lining up for live theater. (Apparently, there’s good theater in town, provided you can understand it.) Also, I see kids playing ping pong and toddlers in a bouncy castle in the middle of a park.

I end up having dinner at Manti Bar, an upscale-ish restaurant with fancy decor, dim lights, and a piano player, to have one of the national Kyrgyz dishes Azamat recommended: manti. They are another example of how these Central Asian “Stan” countries are truly in Asia; they’re dumplings, similar in shape, taste, and pronunciation as Korean mandoo.

There’s no English menu, so I try and improvise in broken Russian. The waitress tells me that I’m ordering something that sounds like the word “chicken.”

Da. Spasiba,” I acknowledge.

Nearby is a young Swedish couple that notice the exchange and tell me, “Good luck.” They too had known of the place based on the Lonely Planet recommendation. They are vegetarians and are drawing a picture of a pumpkin to order the pumpkin manti that they had the last time they were there — when one of the staff knew a little English. (She must have had the night off.)

Johan and Sofia and I have dinner conversation and I appreciate the English. We have the usual introductory traveler talk and I learn they have been in the country for a few weeks and are heading to China for two months. (They would have left already if not for Sofia getting food poisoning from another Kyrgyz dish, samsa — which has a similar shape, texture, taste, and pronunciation as an Indian samosa.)

They ask me about New York since they are planning to go, after all that they’ve seen in TV and movies. I tell them I live in the area Girls takes place but my life is more like it is on Seinfeld. They laugh.

My food arrives and I take a bite. It’s not chicken at all, but beef. I’m not vegetarian so it’s delicious to me. In fact, they’re real and they’re spectacular.

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Next entry: To Fly or Not to Fly: Kyrgyzstan

Previous entry: Home on the Range

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This dispatch is one of over 70 travel dispatches from the trip grouped and titled, "The Global Trip: 'Stan By Me." It's an archived compilation of Instagram and Facebook posts which chronicled a trip through three countries in Central Asia: Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

Next entry:
To Fly or Not to Fly: Kyrgyzstan

Previous entry:
Home on the Range


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