Lying deep in the heart of Central Asia, Turkmenistan is a land set high and dry, with very hot summers and mild, dry winters. The people of this ancient Silk Road nation are mostly ethnic Turkmen, with Uzbeks and ethnic Russians mixed in.
Turkmen share a culinary heritage with their Turkic neighbors to the north, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The country's cuisine has also been influenced by the cooking over their southern border in Iran, Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent.
In the past, most Turkmen were nomads, herding sheep and eking out what little they could from the sere, dusty landscape. While today's Turkmen have mostly settled down into towns and cities, this nomadic imprint remains strong in the typical diet: lots of meat, bread, dumplings and dairy, and only small amounts of vegetables. Dishes are seasoned simply., Soups and stews (shorpa) are very common.
Mutton is the most popular meat, stewed slowly or roasted in pits. Goat and beef are enjoyed too. As most Turkmen are Muslim, pork is very rare. Fish and seafood are also uncommon, except along the Caspian Sea coast in the west.
Rice pilaf (plov, or palaw) is a core dish in Turkmen cuisine, as it is in all of Central Asia. Dograma, a meat and bread stew, is sometimes considered the national dish. Bread (çörek) is served with most meals, and a wide variety is available, often stuffed with savory meat or vegetable fillings.
Vegetables used in dishes include carrots, cabbage, eggplant, pumpkin and tomatoes. These are often preserved to last through the winter. Turkmenistan is famous for its melons, which are said to be the sweetest in the world.
Meals are still mostly served in the traditional way, with dishes spread out on a beautifully colored cloth (sachak) on the floor. Food is eaten with either the hand or with cutlery, but always using the right hand only.
Typical Turkmenistan Dishes