Social Profile

Food & Drink : Turkmen food is similar to that of the rest of Central Asia. There are a number of good Western-standard restaurants in Ashgabat, although they rarely have an extensive menu. Plov - pronounced ‘plof’ - is the staple food for everyday (but is also served at celebrations) and consists of chunks of mutton, shredded yellow turnip and rice fried in a large wok. Shashlyk (skewered chunks of mutton grilled over charcoal - kebabs - which come with raw sliced onions) and lipioshka (rounds of unleavened bread) are served in restaurants and are often sold in the street, but the quality can be variable. Manty are larger noodle dumplings filled with meat. Shorpa is a meat and vegetable soup. There are, however, a number of dishes that are particularly characteristic of Turkmenistan: ka’urma is mutton deep-fried in its own fat and churban churpa is mutton fat dissolved in green tea. Ishkiykli are dough balls filled with meat and onion which are traditionally cooked in sand that has been heated by a fire. On the shores of the Caspian Sea, seafood is often substituted for mutton in traditional dishes such as plov. In the west of Turkmenistan, there is a speciality in which mutton is roasted in a clay oven fired with aromatic woods.

In general, hotel food shows strong Russian influence: borcht is cabbage soup, entrecôte is a well-done steak, cutlet are grilled meat balls, and strogan is the local equivalent of beef Stroganoff. Pirmeni, originating in Ukraine, are small boiled dumplings of meat and vegetables similar to ravioli, sometimes served in a vegetable soup. Green tea is very popular and can be obtained almost anywhere. Beer, wine, vodka, brandy and sparkling wine (shampanski) are all widely available in restaurants. Kefir, a thick drinking yoghurt, is often served with breakfast.

Nightlife : Ashgabat has an opera and ballet theatre, which shows both Russian and European works and a drama theatre. There are also a few restaurants offering dancing.

Shopping : The Sunday market is the best place in the world to buy the misleadingly named Bukhara rugs, which are actually made in Turkmenistan. There is a shop in the Art Gallery which sells traditional Turkmen handicrafts, silver and costumes including the distinctive Turkmen sheepskin hats. The central bazaar in Ashgabat is a good place to buy food and curiosities. Shopping hours : Mon-Fri 0900-1800. Bazaars open at dawn.

Special Events : A number of festivals in Turkmenistan provide interesting spectacles for visitors. The following is a selection of special events occurring in Turkmenistan in 2004 : Apr 27 Akilteken Day, celebration of the Akilteken horse with parades and races. May 25 Day of the Turkmen Carpet. Nov 30 Harvest Festival.

Social Conventions : Lipioshka (bread) should never be laid upside down, and it is normal to remove shoes, but not socks, when entering someone’s house. Shorts are rarely seen in Turkmenistan and, worn by females, are likely to provoke unwelcome attention from the local male population.

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Information provided by Turkmenistan Tourism Board.


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